Helvécia, a small village in the state of Bahia, northeastern Brazil, is what remains of two vast farms founded by a Swiss immigrant. Helvetia I and Helvetia II were both created by Johannes Martin Flach, born in Schaffhausen in 1787.
Flach became a confidant and close friend of Maria Léopoldine, who became Empress of Brazil when she married Dom Pedro, a Portuguese crown prince, in 1817. Flach received the land from the Léopoldine Colony and managed it from Rio de Janeiro.
At the time of the abolition of slavery in 1850, the plantation was an important part of the country’s coffee production. Coffee made up 40% of exports in Brazil, the largest coffee producer in the world. The Brazilian coffee industry was dependent on slaves; in the first half of the 19th century, 1.5 million slaves were brought in from Africa to work on the plantations.
Today, Helvécia is home to three families descended from German immigrants and one family descended from Swiss immigrants. More than 80% of the current population are of African descent. European and African cultures exist here in an ideological clash, with Christian evangelicals still pointing at black people for practising “evil” rituals. Slavery still casts its long shadow.
All Images: Dom Smaz, Text: Thomas Kern/swissinfo.ch