President Dutra highway in Rio de Janeiro state, near Itatiaia,
one finds Penedo. It’s a tourist area exhibiting Finnish
culture, located in one of the most luxuriant nature reserves of
Brazil’s Atlantic forest zone.
town began in 1929 as a small immigrant colony in this region,
conceived and established by Toivo Uuskallio, the Finnish son of
a craftsman. His father made furniture, weapons, and the “Kantele,”
a typical Finnish stringed instrument (next photo). Toivo wanted
to find a place in the tropics where the climate that would
permit a more nature-oriented lifestyle—part of his project was
a vegetarian diet and abstention from alcohol.
Toivo came to Brazil
for the first time in 1927 and returned in 1929, after widely
publicizing his project in Finland. By 1940 around 300 Finns had
joined the colony. Toivo began to develop his ideas when he
bought the Penedo estate. Today tourism is Penedo’s main
attraction, offering country inns, restaurants, various craft
products, and hikes along the trails of Itatiaia National Park.
My wife and I took a
trip to Penedo in December 2009. After our trip I launched an
insistent quest of my own, looking for the particularly Finnish
artisanry behind the wooden souvenirs and other products one
finds in Penedo’s stores. We spent a week traveling along the
“trail” of impressive people who helped us put this story
together, visiting their workshops and learning their secrets.
This article presents
a brief summary of this trip through our Brazilian Finland,
perhaps unfair in its brevity, compared to the impressions we
had in these places.
In the Koskenkorva
restaurante we met the owner, the Finnish sculptor Martti Vartia.