The hilly – and in places almost mountainous – region of south-central Paraná makes a good stopover between Curitiba and the Iguaçu Falls for anyone interested in European, especially Ukrainian, immigration. As none of the towns in the region are especially distinctive, it’s better to use them more as bases from which to visit nearby villages and hamlets where the pioneering spirit of the inhabitants’ immigrant forebears remains. The houses, made of wood and sometimes featuring intricately carved details, are typically painted in bright colours and are usually surrounded by flower-filled gardens. Because of the ethnic mix, even small villages contain churches of several denominations; most hamlets have at least a chapel with someone on hand to open it up to the rare visitor.
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Serra do Tigre
Serra do Tigre
Without any doubt, the most interesting and most eye-catching Ukrainian church in Paraná is in SERRA DO TIGRE, a small settlement south of Mallet that still retains much of its Ukrainian character. Built in 1904, Igreja de São Miguel Arcanjo, spectacularly positioned high upon a mountain top near the heart of the village, is the oldest Ukrainian Catholic church in Paraná. In traditional fashion, the church was constructed totally of wood – including, even, the roof tiles – and both the exterior and the elaborately painted interior frescoes are carefully maintained as a state monument.
Ukrainians in Paraná
Ukrainians in Paraná
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European and North American companies were contracted to construct a rail line linking the state of São Paulo to Rio Grande do Sul. As part payment, large tracts of land were given to the companies and, as in the United States and the Canadian West, they subdivided their new properties for sale to land-hungry immigrants who, it was hoped, would generate traffic for the rail line. Some of the largest land grants were in south-central Paraná, which the companies quickly cleared of the valuable Paraná pine trees that dominated the territory. Settlers came from many parts of Europe, but the companies were especially successful in recruiting Ukrainians, and between 1895 and 1898, and 1908 and 1914, over 35,000 immigrants arrived in the Ukraine’s “other America”. Today, there are some 300,000 Brazilians of Ukrainian extraction, of whom eighty percent live in Paraná, largely concentrated in the southern centre of the state.
As most of the immigrants came from the western Ukraine, it’s the Ukrainian Catholic rather than the Orthodox Church that dominates; throughout the areas where Ukrainians and their descendants are gathered, onion-domed churches and chapels abound. While the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in general, is gradually becoming sensitive to the need to concentrate resources on social projects rather than in the building of more churches, new Ukrainian Catholic churches are proliferating in ever more lavish proportions, sometimes even replacing beautiful wooden churches built by the early immigrants. In Brazil, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is extremely wealthy, and its massive landholdings contrast greatly with the tiny properties from which the vast majority of the poverty-stricken local population eke out a living. Priests are often accused of attempting to block measures that will improve conditions: they are said to fear that educational attainment, modernization and increased prosperity will lessen the populace’s dependence on the Church for material and spiritual comfort, so reducing their own influence.
The Ukrainians’ neighbours (caboclos, Poles, Germans, and a few Italians and Dutch) frequently accuse them and their priests of maintaining a cultural exclusiveness. While intercommunal tensions certainly exist, the few non-Brazilian visitors to this part of Paraná are treated with the utmost civility, and if your Portuguese (or Ukrainian – the language is still universally spoken, in rural areas at least, by people of all ages) is up to it, you should have no problem finding people in the region’s towns and hamlets who will be happy to talk about their traditions and way of life.