Tuesday, 21 July 2009


"Prohibition was supposed to be rigorously upheld, but after a day spent hacking at the encircling jungle, the workers headed to the bars and bordellos that sprang up around the site. Knife fights erupted; venereal disease was rife. Along with prohibition, Ford’s other rules were also resented, particularly the imposed diet of brown rice, whole-wheat bread and tinned peaches. When a new cafeteria was introduced in place of waiter service, the men rioted, destroying the mess hall and wrecking every vehicle on the property.

Meanwhile, some of the Americans brought in to run the project went mad. One man hurled himself from a boat into a nest of crocodiles. The wife of one official recalled the flying bugs with “claws just like lobsters.”

Grandin paints a Conradian portrait of Einar Oxholm, the Norwegian ship’s captain appointed manager of Fordlandia. We see him sipping rum (in defiance of company policy) as the fledgling community disintegrated. Oxholm was honest, but otherwise entirely unsuited to his task, knowing nothing whatever about cultivating rubber or managing men on land. He would finally return to the United States, leaving behind the graves of four of his children.

Indeed, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” resonates through every page of this book, as the white men struggle and succumb to the jungle. In 1929, two Ford employees, Johansen, a Scot, and Tolksdorf, a German, headed upriver with orders to collect rubber seeds. Instead, they went on an alcoholic bender, marooned their cook on a deserted island and ended up in the tiny town of Barra. There Johansen, the self-proclaimed “rubber seed king of the upper rivers,” bought some perfume from a trading post and was seen chasing goats, cows and chickens, attempting to anoint the animals with perfume and shouting: “Mr. Ford has lots of money; you might as well smell good too.” A drunken man spraying perfume into the jungle is an oddly fitting image for the entire enterprise."

- New York Times

The Ruins of Fordlandia article.