ONBOARD TOWARDS BRAZIL
THE MALTESE IMMIGRATION
by Almir da Silveira (Brazil)
Beyond the line of grey cargo ships and the terrible heat, the SS. Province reached the port city of Santos. After a month on board, father Charbon and his flock of seventy three people had finally arrived in Brazil, their new homeland. In the same month of April, another ship left Malta bringing another 106 souls to work in the coffee plantations. Though they would also come to work in the plantations, their final destination would not be the same.
The year was 1912 and the opening of the twentieth century which found Malta with an increasing population, a high rate of unemployment and the absence of a developing industrial sector. With the detraction of Malta's naval importance, the problem became even worse, and a great number of Maltese started to leave Malta.
Most of the Maltese emigrants arrived in Brazil holding a British passport and were, therefore, considered by the Brazilian authorities to be British citizens, and not Maltese. Add to it the fact that some of the emigrants had their surnames changed to have an anglicized touch in them. Despite the lack of trustworthy statistics, as Dr Bonnici from Maringa State University explains in his article, we can divide the Maltese emigration to Brazil into three different periods with distinct purposes.
The first group of emigrants arrived in the first decade of the twentieth century to work in the coffee plantations. By that time Brazil's economy was heavily based on the coffee monoculture, and coffee was the most valued asset of the nation. There was a demand for people to work in the plantations, and a great number of European emigrants came to Brazil. The first group of Maltese headed to the plantations in Sao Paulo, while the second group was sent to rural activities in Fortaleza, in Northern Brazil. From these two groups that arrived in Brazil, many of the families returned to Malta.
The second group of emigrants arrived by the end of the 20's to work for the British enterprise of building and maintenance of Brazilian railroads. The few miles of Brazilian railroads were an impediment to the flow of the Brazilian production proceeding from other regions. It was in the twenties that the railway expansion boomed and President Washington Luis summarized its importance in his well known motto: "Governing is a railway building." Almost all the Maltese that came to Brazil at that time met Mr Dominic Collier from Floriana, who held an administrative position in the Sao Paulo-Parana railway company.
The third and last Maltese immigration to Brazil in the 50's and 60's differed totally from the previous two and had a religious purpose. During the fifties the State of Parana experienced an economical development and the spiritual need of the population were increasing. The Franciscan Order of Malta had been required to send some sisters to help with the growing diocese of Jacarezinho. Throughout the fifties and sixties a great number of priests proceeding from the islands of Malta and Gozo arrived to Brazil. Priests coming from Zebbug, Naxxar, Birkirkara, Floriana and many other Maltese and Gozotian cities were sent to a great number of dioceses, not only to the State of Parana but also to the States of Sao Paulo and Pernambuco. In 1977 father Walter Ebejer was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Vitoria do Sul. Father Ebejer is author Francis Ebejer's brother.
Presently, many families of Maltese background can be found in several Brazilian cities; quite a few remained from the first and second immigration groups and most of the others are priests in the clerical work. Among them we can find the Busuttils, the Zammits and many other Maltese descendants; and if we take a look at the telephone directory we will find many other Maltese surnames, such as Azzopardi, Balzan, Cutajar, and so many others which sound familiar to any Maltese. Among the priests, Father Xavier from Luqa is well know to all those who got married in the beautiful parish of Osasco