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In the Finland of Brazil

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Along the 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.

The 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.

Martti Vartia

In the Koskenkorva restaurante we met the owner, the Finnish sculptor Martti Vartia.


 
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