Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
“This trip into the Amazon would help to understand the real potential of Fordlandia: if it were all just an enormous glass container, a cavity made of precious crystal, into which an eccentric millionaire had poured his eccentric dreams; or if, in fact, it really was a pioneering adventure whose goal was to raise the flag of progress in an unknown territory, as unknown as it was beautiful, never to leave.”
“So, don't you think, then, that to tamper with Eden is to destroy it?”
Eduardo Sguiglia's novel Fordlandia, the source of these two quotations, is a fictionalized account of the real-life rubber plantation established by Henry Ford in the Brazilian jungle during the 1920s. Ford's errand into the Amazon wilderness served a dual purpose. He sought to establish a source of raw rubber for automobile tires other than British-dominated Malaya, while inculcating “backward” peoples with the work ethic and the faith in material progress that characterized Fordism. Ford regulated life in his self-named company town with a giant clock, whose piercing whistle imposed time discipline over the indigenous workforce, just as he hoped social dancing and proper hygiene would civilize the natives' manners. But Fordlandia was not the success its sponsor envisioned. A cultural clash occasioned by the volatile mix of Anglo managers overseeing Indian workers and Afro-Caribbean migrants, as well as a rubber-tree blight, doomed Ford's adventure into the twentieth-century global frontier.