Updated on June 20, 2012
Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso, in Manaus, recreates a rubber estate (seringal) from the Amazon Rubber Boom, or Rubber Cycle, which lasted roughly from the end of the 19th century to the early 1920s. Once the set for the movie A Selva (The Jungle, 2002), directed by Leonel Vieira, the museum is located on Igarapé São João, a waterway on the left bank of the Negro River, a 20-minute boat ride from Manaus.
While the splendid Teatro Amazonas and Palácio Rio Negro, formerly a rubber baron's home, tell of the Rubber Cycle elite's privileges, Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso affords visitors a glimpse into the unjust production system which made that wealth possible.
The name of the museum, which means Paradise Village, is a vicious irony considering the conditions faced by seringueiros, or rubber tappers, during the Rubber Boom: a strenuous workload, meager pay, risk of attacks by poisonous snakes, jaguars and native tribes, and a bondage contract which forced them to purchase their supplies on credit from the rubber estate's aviador, or the middleman at the general store, and thus kept them perpetually in debt.
Besides a replica of a rubber baron's home, the museum tour includes a rubber tapping demonstration, a visit to the thatched shack where the latex was cured into a ball (pela) weighing up to about 80 pounds, and a stop at the Barracão de Aviamento, or general store, where tappers turned in the pelas and bought supplies.
The museum is the creation of Bahia native Veralúcia Ferreira de Souza, Amazonas State's first museologist, who also created the Rubber Museum in Rio Branco, Acre and several other museums in Brazil. The Amazonas Secretariat of Culture, Tourism and Sports, which invested in the movie in view of its importance for cultural diffusion, maintains the museum.
A Selva: The Movie
A Selva (Portugal/Spain/Brazil, 2002), directed by Portuguese Leonel Vieira, has an international cast featuring Diogo Morgado (Portugal), Karra Elejalde (Spain), Maitê Proença, Chico Diaz and several other Brazilian actors. The movie is based on the eponymous novel by Portuguese writer José Maria Ferreira de Castro (1898-1974).
Like in the novel, the plot revolves around Alberto, a young Portuguese monarchist who exiles himself in Belém after taking part in a failed monarchist revolt. Lured by the perspective of striking it rich in the Rubber Boom, Alberto goes to work at Seringal Vila Paraíso and is immersed in a brutal reality which will change his way of looking at mankind.
Although the movie received some harsh reviews, especially in Portugal, where the degree of expectation about it was highest, it has also been praised as a worthy attempt at recreating (rather than faithfully adapting) Ferreira de Castro's work.
Shooting on location involved some challenges such as transporting the cast, crew and horses by boat daily between Manaus and the set and protecting the equipment which was left on the set overnight from humidity.
A Selva by Ferreira de Castro
A Selva (1930) by Ferreira de Castro is considered one of the most important Portuguese novels of all time, noted, among other qualities, for its humanistic point of view and striking descriptions of the Amazon, often said to be the novel's main character, with its lush ferocity and all the collective human drama it contains.
The novel has been translated to several languages. Jungle, a translation to English by Charles Duff, was published by Viking Press in 1935 and, unfortunately, is not widely available.
Though not autobiographical, the novel stems from the experiences lived on an Amazon rubber estate by Ferreira de Castro between the ages of 12 and 14.
Like many other Portuguese citizens – not all of them as young – twelve-year old Ferreira de Castro emigrated to Brazil, alone, to seek fortune. He was particularly motivated by an urge to impress a girl he had fallen in love with. His poor, widowed mother was under the assumption he would be cared for by a fellow countryman in Belém.
However, upon arrival Ferreira de Castro was refused help and shelter by the said man and, instead, was sent to work at a rubber tapping estate called Paraíso on the margins of the Madeira River.
Ferreira de Castro didn't disclose publicly the full extent of what he endured on the seringal. It is known that his education allowed him to work at the general store and that his first literary efforts date back to the seringal years.
However, in the preface to the commemorative edition of the 25th anniversary of publication of A Selva, Ferreira de Castro compared the inner wounds that remained from his ordeal to the cuts rubber tappers open on trees; he wrote that a fear of reopening those wounds was perhaps the reason why it took him so long to write about the jungle.
Ferreira de Castro wrote his way out of poverty and hunger in his post-seringal years in Belém by contributing articles to local newspapers. He was finally able to return to Portugal in 1919, where he would become one of the country’s leading authors of the 20th century. The Ferreira de Castro Museum in Sintra, Portugal, to which he left his estate, has, among other items from the Amazon, soil from Seringal Paraíso.
Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso Location:
Igarapé São João, affluent of Igarapé do Tarumã Mirim
Phone and E-mail:55-92-3234-8755
How to Get There:
Boats depart from Marina do David (55-92-3658-6159) at Ponta Negra Beach. The round trip costs about R$40 (check daily real-dollar exchange rates). A round trip on the lotação (public boat, with stops that make each way closer to a 40-minute ride) costs R$14. Many of the boats are affiliated with the Marina do Davi Fluvial Transportation Co-Op (Coop-Acamdaf).
See photos of the boat ride to Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso by John T. Everett on OceansArt.US (link courtesy of Mr. Everett).
The best bus line to get to Marina do Davi is Line 120. See its full route (and those of all the urban buses in Manaus) on Ônibus Manaus by finding the number in the drop-down list and clicking on "Buscar".
Marina do Davi has precarious infrastructure; lack of public restrooms (available at the local bars and restaurants only) and of a proper bus terminal are some of the issues.
However, solutions for the marina are being discussed in public audiences, and the first phase of a major revitalization of Ponta Negra, in whose shared administration the fluvial transportation co-op is involved, was inaugurated on Dec.23, 2011.
The author would like to thank Centro de Estudos Ferreira de Castro, Museu Ferreira de Castro (Sintra, Portugal) and Maria Adelaide Antunes de Brito Coelho, author of the thesis A Selva: Do romance de Ferreira de Castro ao filme de Leonel Vieira for a wealth of information about Ferreira de Castro's life and work, specifically A Selva.