Brazil’s Atlantic Coastal Plain begins in the northeast of South America at Cabo San Roque and expands southward ending in Rio de Janeiro. The Coastal Plain is located between the Atlantic Coast and the escarpment which runs parallel to the plain. This area is characterized by its warm and humid climate which is ultimately considered tropical. Most climatic patterns have been influenced by the plains proximity to the Atlantic Ocean (Kent 236). The region’s precipitation is considered moderate with rainfall ranging from 1,300 mm to 1,600 mm; essentially the region has little to no real dry season (Kent 237)
The Portuguese began exploring Brazil’s Atlantic Coastal Plain in the early 1500s (Kent 236). In fact, colonization and settlement began in this region (Kent 237). The region quickly became the focus of colonization, and the countries first two settlements, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro were located on the plain. Today roughly 45 million Brazilians call the plain their home (Kent 236). During the early years of colonization, tropical broadleaf forests and brazilwood tree were extensively logged. The Brazilwood could be used as a rich red dye, which became the colony’s first significant export. However, by the end of colonial period, forests were largely nonexistent (Kent 237). This led the colonists to seek another alternative export which in this case was agriculture, especially sugarcane, cacao, and pasture (Kent 237).
Sugar cultivation essentially became the economic backbone throughout the remainder of the colonial period. Sugar cultivation led to the plantation system, which led to the transformation of Brazil (Kent 236). Brazil moved from being an unwanted, remote part of the world to a dynamic and productive colony (Kent 238). The region remained the center of nation’s economic, social, cultural, and political life (Kent 236). The warm, moist, tropical climate combined with the fertile alluvial soils of the plains made the environment of the region ideal for sugar cane production. Subsequently, much of the Coastal Plain, from Bahia northward, was dedicated to sugarcane (Kent 238).
Sugarcane cultivation was very labor intensive and required a dependable and inexpensive labor supply. The Portuguese first tried to use Indians as their primary labor source, but many died from either old world diseases to which they were not immune, or they died from the abuse they suffered while enslaved. With a need for another labor supply, the Portuguese turned to African slavery. To the Portuguese, African slaves were ideal; they were immune to diseases, strong, and had superior knowledge of farming (Kent 239). Today, African cultural elements are still seen throughout the region in various cuisines, religious practices, folk medicine, clothing, and martial arts (Kent 241-242). The plantation society created a basic social and economic unit early in the colonial period, which was an aristocracy of planters and their families (Kent 239). Slavery...