TOIVO UUSKALLIO: VISIONARY OR MERCENARY? THE STORY OF PENEDO, BRAZIL’S ONLY FINNISH COMMUNITY

Toivo Uuskallio:Visionary or Mercenary?
The story of Penedo, Brazil’s only Finnish community

By Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Toivo Uuskallio in Penedo, Brazil

Visionary Toivo Uuskallio, his wife Liisa, Frans Fagerlund, Enok Nyberg, and Eino Kajander arrived in Rio de Janeiro on August 6, 1927.  Soon after they settled in a German boarding house in downtown Rio and enrolled at a local school that taught Portuguese as a second language. Within months of their arrival (and with very limited Portuguese), they took an 82 mile train ride to the town of Barra Mansa where they would find work at a farm named ‘Três Poços’ (‘Three Wells’).

Toitvo Uuskallio had left Finland with a mission: to find the perfect place for a religious, vegetarian and alcohol-free community where life could be spent in harmony with nature without the burden of a money-driven society blinded by consumerism, and drenched in the blood of war.

Penedoon lähtijöiden jäähyväishetki Helsingissä

“I received a divine call to leave the homeland and emigrate to the distant South. Certainly in the minds of many I was completely crazy to invent that sort of thing. It was not surprising that my followers and I were subjected to so many reproaches. Maybe they thought I was a bit soft in the head. To my great joy I also found friends whose minds were open to this brand new concept.”

Toitvo returned to Finland in 1928 where he published the book ‘Matkalla Kohti Tropiikin Taikaa’ about his experiences and his intentions to found a Finnish colony in Brazil. Aided by Lutheran pastor Pennanen and by Mikko Airila, he begins an intense and successful campaign to gather funds and followers.

Toivo Suni was amongst the first to arrive in Penedo

He returns to Brazil a year later with a considerable amount of cash and a handful of followers, and begins location scouting in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo. He then learns of a 3,500 hectare farm by the name of Penedo, part of the municipality of Resende, that was for sale. Penedo had an abundant supply of natural water that could be used to irrigate a vast agricultural area, and represented a perfect locale for a vegan society.

“We need to pursue a natural lifestyle without worrying about trade and consumerism. A family needs to be able to grow all their food in their own garden while breathing  air with no pollution; enjoy the sunshine and live in peace, away from conflicts and wars”, Uukallio advocated.

Kyllikki Pohjola and Penedo founder Toivo Uuskallio

Nile Valtonen Penedo arrived in Brazil in 1932 at the age of 19. He had been sent by his father to collect money Uuskallio borrowed from him during the campaign of 1928. But, after failing to collect any money and with no means to return to Finland, he was forced to stay.

Martti-Aaltonen, Penedo, Brazil

The following is part of an interview Nile Valtonen gave to a local newspaper in 2007:

“I never wanted to join the colony. I just wanted to recover the money that my father had given him and that Uuskallio had already spent. It was meant to be a loan. I got the wind that Uuskallio was travelling in the United States to raise more money, so I decided to travel to Brazil to be there when he returned. But, he came back penniless. He did not get any of the money he was trying to get. And I had no money to go back to Finland. The money I had I spent trying to get from Rio to Penedo. I was hoping that he would pay me back, so I waited. But, I was never paid, not even after a hard day’s work.

Group Photo, Penedo, 1960

He was both a deceiver and an idealist. The idea of only eating vegetables did not work because there was nothing there. All we had were beans and rice he bought on credit at the store near the train station. Fagerland, who was a very close friend and arrived with him in 1929, gave all the money he had, more than 100 thousand marks, and never earned one piece of land. Toivo Uuskallio wanted to control everything.

I married in 1939 when I realized that I really couldn’t return to Finland and there was war. When I got married, I wanted a piece of land to settle down with my wife at the location I was already living, but Uuskallio would only give me a piece of land on the outskirts of the property. Later on a group of Finns sued and we won. I got the place I wanted. My friends and I deserved one-third of the farm (200 acres), but we were given 70 acres instead. The cost for my piece of land was based on the money my father gave him as a loan.

I never saw my father again. He died in 1960, and my mother followed him soon thereafter.

Toivo Uuskallio died when he was 60 years old. He died of starvation. He firmly believed in fasting and that not eating is a healthy thing to do. I remember one time I saw him with banged knees and scrapped elbows. He was very weak. He told me that he was feeling ill because of contaminated food and that after fasting he would get better. He ate a lot of bananas, but bananas alone can’t sustain a man.”

It is estimated that 300 Finnish emigrants joined Toivo Uuskallio in Penedo.

Penedo is located on the outskirts of the Itatiaia National Park in Brazil

After heavy cultivation of the soil and fires that devastated the region, Brazil’s only Finnish colony begun seeking alternative ways for making ends meet.

Tourism became an alternative that worked very well as the small town of Penedo is now a tourist attraction with a network of hotels, restaurants and an array of shops that attracts more than 240,000 visitors per year. In 2005, Penedo was chosen as one of the seven best tourist destinations in Brazil by the Brazilian Tourism and Culture Agency (Movimento Brasil de Turismo e Cultura).


Waterfalls in Penedo

Penedo, Brazil

Penedo, Brazil

Penedo, Brazil

References:

City of Penedo, The History of. (penenedo.com)
‘Finland of Brazil’ by Diego de Assis
Finnish Migration Institute

Thanks to Irene Nousiainen.

Links:

Satumaata etsimässä – suomalaisia utopia yhteiskuntia http://www.helsinki.fi/jarj/polho/vanhat/sointula.html (in Finnish)
Kaikkoavat Paratiisit http://www.utu.fi/hum/historia/yh/kirjat/index.html (in Finnish)
Kaikkoavat Paratiisit http://www.utu.fi/hum/historia/yh/lisurit/melkas_eevaleena.html (in Finnish)
Finns Abroad http://www.migrationinstitute.fi/db/articles/art.php?artid=4 (in English)
Articles of Siirtolaisinstituutti http://www.migrationinstitute.fi/db/articles/index.php
Suomi-Brazil association http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/brasil/ (in Finnish)
Links of Suomi-Brazil association http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/brasil/linkkej%E4.htm