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Massangana Sugarcane Mill and Plantation

A word of African origin, possibly from Angola, ‘massangana’ in its masculine form ‘massangano’ (massanganu), means “confluence; influx; place where two rivers join into one”.

Massangana Sugarcane Mill and Plantation

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 05/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

[...] Massangana remains the source of my intimate oracle: to impel me, to stop me and, if needed, to rescue me, the voice, the sacred tremor, would always come from there [...]
(Joaquim Nabuco, Minha formação).

The Massangana Sugarcane Mill and Plantation goes back to the beginning of the Portuguese colonisation period in the 16th century. Situated on the banks of the Ipojuca River, in the Pernambuco municipality of Cabo de Santo Agostinho, approximately 40 kilometres from Recife, its probable founder was Tristão de Mendonça, who received the land from Duarte Coelho, the first titleholder of the Captaincy of Pernambuco.

A word of African origin, possibly from Angola, ‘massangana’ in its masculine form ‘massangano’ (massanganu), means “confluence; influx; place where two rivers join into one”, an appropriate designation for the location of the plantation, in whose lands the Massangano and Algodoais streams meet.

The history of Massangana is similar to several other plantations in Pernambuco’s Atlantic forest region. The area was a forest inhabited by Indians. The Portuguese colonisers conquered the land, cleared it and built a factory for the production of brown sugar to export to Europe.

With traditional architecture from the period, the mill is an architecturally representative patrimony of rural society in Northeast Brazil. It also has significant historic value, making up part of the childhood of the abolitionist and public figure Joaquim Nabuco, who was baptised in its chapel by the parish priest of Cabo, on 8 December 1849, and where he spent the first eight years of his life.

In his book Minha formação (My Education) (1900), Nabuco dedicates a chapter to Massangana, making a physical description of the place, at the time a plantation belonging to his godmother Mrs Ana Rosa Falcão de Carvalho:

[...] The land was one of the most vast and picturesque in the Cabo area... Never will this background that represents the final longings of my life be forgotten. The population of the small dominion, completely closed to any outside interference, like all other slave manors, was made up of slaves, distributed throughout the rooms of the ‘senzala’ (slave house) the large black shack beside the living quarters, and the tenants, tied to the owner by the benevolence of the clay house which smothered them or the little culture that he allowed them to have on his lands. In the centre of the little slave corner rose the residence of the landlord, facing the milling buildings, and having behind it, on the waves of the land, a chapel invoked to St Matthew. On the pasture’s slopes, isolated trees housed under its foliage groups of sleepy cattle. On the plains the cut sugarcane extended over the tortured flat of ancient trees carried by mosses and vines which shaded both banks of the small Ipojuca River. It was by this water, almost sleeping over its sandbanks, that the sugar left for Recife; it fed a large pond close to the house, surrounded by alligators, which the negroes used to hunt, and named after its fishing. Further away began the mangrove swamps which reached the coast of Nazaré... During the day, in the great heat, the ‘sesta’ (siesta) was taken, breathing in the aroma, spread all over, of the vats where the syrup was heated. The sunset was stunning, entire pieces of the plain transformed into gold-dust; dusk, the time of daisies and nightjars, was pleasant and healing, afterwards there was the silence of the majestic and profound starry heavens. All of these impressions will never die in me. [...] I sometimes believe that I’m stepping on the thick layer of cane fallen from the mill and hearing the faraway squeaking of the great ox carts [...]

In 1870, through the initiative of the nephew and heir to Dona Ana Rosa, Paulino Pires Falcão, Massangana was rebuilt – it had been an “engenho de fogo morto” (no longer manufacturing sugar) – turning it into a plantation and supplier of sugarcane to the Santo Inácio mill . Later, due to problems with debt, it passed into the control of Santo Inácio.

In 1972, it was assimilated by the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (Incra) which, after restoring it, opened the Massangana Museum, donating it in 1983 to the State of Pernambuco.

In 1984, with a view to its preservation, the State Government declared Massangana an Historical Monument of Pernambuco and, in the same year, the then-governor Roberto Magalhães awarded the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation (Fundaj), in a lending arrangement, the administration of the plantation.

It was declared by the Foundation of Historic and Artistic Patrimony (Fundarpe) as Parque Nacional da Abolição Engenho Massangana (Massangana Plantation National Park of Abolition) and, in the 1990s, Fundaj transformed it into the Massangana Plantation Scientific and Cultural Centre (CCEM), where three projects were developed: Mills of Science, Invention and Culture, in a space reserved for scientific research and patrimonial education. The Centre consisted of a 36-seat auditorium, with a sound booth, air-conditioning, TV screen, projector, slide projector, video, big screen and other equipments for delivering courses and seminars; a library; a meeting room; accommodation for 28 people (14 apartments with two beds, a small study room, bathroom and air-conditioning) and a dining hall.

Open for public visits from 8am to 5pm, it received students from primary and secondary schools, especially public ones, for enjoyable and educational activities based on the social history of Pernambuco, particularly the abolition of slavery and the struggle of the abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco. It also had a small library for scholarly research, named the Sala de Leitura Dona Ana Rosa (Mrs Ana Rosa Reading Room) and a 19th-century mill, currently deactivated.

The plantation preserves the colonial main house, built on a slope, with an attic, enormous rooms and a terrace leading to the service area; St Matthew’s chapel, situated on the highest point of the land; and on the lowest point, the workers’ housing, which was transformed into guest accommodation at the time of the Massangana Plantation Scientific and Cultural Centre.

Currently in a process of physical restructuring and restoration of its facilities, the plantation should soon return to promoting cultural activities and patrimonial education.

Recife, 30 June 2008.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


sources consulted

ANDRADE, Manuel Correia de. Presença de Massangana. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 1996.

ENGENHO abre a porta ao turista. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 19 jan. 1994. Caderno E, p. 6.

GALVÃO, Sebastião de Vasconcellos. Diccionario chorographico, historico e estaiístico de Pernambuco. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Oficial, 1908.

MASSANGANA, no Cabo: o engenho da ciência. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 4 ago. 1992. Ciência/Meio Ambiente, p. 4.

NABUCO, Joaquim. Minha formação. São Paulo: Instituto Progresso Editorial; 1949.

SILVA, Leonardo Dantas. Massangana. Noticia Bibliográfica e Histórica, Campinas, São Paulo, ano 33, n. 182, p. 226-230, jul./set. 2001.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Massangana Sugarcane Mill and Plantation. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.