SALÉ, A LAKE IN THE LOWER AMAZON, BRAZIL
By Renato Athias
For some years by now I have been trying to understand the presence and the culture of Moroccan Jews in the Amazon. The reason is that my grandfather, Jacob Athias, was one of them. He left the Mellah of Salé in the beginning of the last century, and, like so many others, moved to the Amazon region.
Several Brazilian intellectuals have investigated and contributed with very impressive studies on this topic since the seventies. I think I’ve read all the studies that have already been published. These historical studies are very important and usually have an approach that I would say “memoirist.” Among these researchers, I would like to mention three: Abraham Ramiro Bentes (1912–1992), born in Itaituba, Pará who pioneered this topic. He was a general in the Brazilian army and for many years led the Shel Guemilut Hassadim Synagogue in Rio de Janeiro. I had the opportunity to meet him briefly in Rio de Janeiro because my father lived on the same street. Bentes wrote several books, all of them very good, among which I would like to quote: “Das Ruínas de Jerusalem à Vederjante Amazonia” (From the Ruins of Jerusalem to the Green Amazon). Another important and fundamental researcher to give a more academic character to this field of studies on the Jews of the Amazon was Professor Samuel Benchimol (1923–2002). He was born in Manaus. An economist and social scientist, Benchimol taught for more than 50 years at the Federal University of Amazonas. He was a member of the Academy of Letters of State of Amazonas and one of the founders of the Jewish Committee of the Amazon (CIAM). When I was still living in Manaus, I had the great pleasure of meeting him at CEDEAM (Center for Studies and Documentation on the Amazon / UFAM) that he founded in the 1970s. Among his books is the well-known “Eretz Amazonia”(the only one that was translated into Hebrew) about Moroccan Jews in the Amazon. This book includes an impressive list of names of people buried in the Jewish cemeteries all over the Amazon. The third important author is the historian Reginaldo Heller from Rio de Janeiro. He wrote a remarkable book, “Eldorado Jews: Reinventing an Identity in the Amazon: Immigration of Moroccan Jews from North Africa to Brazil (Pará and Amazonas) during the XIX century”.
In these books we will find names, facts, ethnographic situations and a very long list of names of Moroccan Jews who settled in the Amazon. They were all merchants, masters at doing business and, above all, they were experts in gathering from the Amazon. They lived in the main riverside towns of the lower Amazon River and its tributaries. These merchants were the exponents of the region’s development, as brothers David and Elias Salgado point out in their book “History and Memory — Jews and the Industrialization of the Amazon.” The Journalist Henrique Veltman and photographer Sergio Zalis wrote a photojournalistic report in 1983 entitled “The Hebrews of the Amazon,”which was commissioned by the Tel Aviv Museum of Diaspora (Beit Hatefutsot). This report shows various biographies of Moroccan Jewish traders permanently settled in the lower Amazon and fully integrated into the local culture. However, a survey associating these Moroccan Jews with their places of origin in Morocco is still an interesting project to be done. I have timidly attempted to at least make a list of Jews from the lower Amazon that came from the Mellah fo Salé.
On my last trip to Morocco (2015) I had the opportunity to read a book that impressed me greatly with the density of the descriptions of Jewish culture in many Moroccan cities. It was written by the Moroccan historian, Haïm Zafrani in Paris and entitled “Deux mille ans de vie juive au Maroc: histoire, culture, religion et magie”(Two thousand years of Jewish life in Morocco: Religion and Magic). Zafrani shows what the life of these Jews was like; presents numerous historical data; describes the legal relationships of the Mellah with the Medinas; lists the main professions for Jews in Morocco, the Riks and, above all, the important literature produced by hahamim Jews in the different historical periods of Morocco, like Or Haïm haKadosh. Haim Zafrani himself says “the Jewish literature produced in the west Muslim”. The book is based on impressive research. I “take off my hat to him.” For by reading this book, I learned that up to 1956 there were almost 300,000 Jews living in more than 65 Moroccan towns in the Mellah of the Medinas. Therefore, there was a significant population whose ancestors arrived in Morocco long before Islam. Many of these left Morocco on different waves and are now part of the great diaspora of Moroccan Judaism scattered across all five continents.
The city of Salé is located near Rabat, the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, from which it is separated by the famous Buregregue River. Salé, with its impressive Medina, has a very old and very peculiar history. It was founded in the 9th century BCE by the Phoenicians who called it “Salla.” Later, it had periods of significant development in the time of the Ifrenidas dynasties in 11th century EC and of the Almóadas, in the 12th century CE and of Merenidas, in 14th century EC, mainly because of its strategic commercial position in the land route that connects Fez to Marrakech. But above all, Salé was important as a port on the Atlantic coast, the main hub of trade between Europe and Morocco.
With the arrival of Jewish refugees from the Iberian Peninsula during the 16th century, Salé underwent a huge transformation as a rivalry was created around commerce with the neighboring city of Rabat. These Sephardic refugees, with their mercantile spirit, created a new political administration that later became known as the Republic of Salé (or Republic of Buregregue). They led commercial expeditions as far as Cornwall in England. These merchants were recognized for their audacity and cunning. Salé’s corsairs left the image of “Sallee Rovers” in the British memory and historiography. Until the eighteenth century, piracy allowed their influence to expand in the region, and there have been reports that these corsairs reached countries far away as Iceland and the New World.
Recently, I have been studying French explorers, naturalists and ethnographers who have passed through the Lower Amazon (generally from French Guiana). I have studied those who have written about this region, which has been critically important since the time of the famous administrator of Portugal, Marquês de Pombal. Now, a new market has been established at the international level for materials gathered using traditional methods. Among these authors I would like to mention, Paul Le Cointe, who was born in Tournon sur Rhône, France in 1870 and died in Belém do Pará in 1956. Paul Le Cointe was an engineer, naturalist and cartographer. He established himself first in Obidos, then in Alenquer. Between the years of 1892 to 1893 he was responsible for laying the telegraph lines between Belém and Manaus. From 1895 to 1896, along with Jules Blanc, he explored the entire basin of Cuminá River, then travelled on the Apiramba River in regions previously explored by Henri Coudreau and his wife Octavie Coudreau. Until 1900, Paul Le Cointe worked as a cartographer, drawing the boundaries with an instrument known as the “theodolite” for the farms in the Trombetas basin and making a map of the region (see below). On his return to France, Le Cointe became a professor at the University of Nance. In 1920 he decided to return to Brazil, where he became the first director of the Industrial Chemistry School of Pará. In today’s chronicle, I want to show a map  he drafted in 1900 but only published in 1911.
This is a different map because he puts the names of farm owners (gatherer farms) on the map itself. He must have interviewed a lot of people to be able to do this cartography. The most interesting thing for me, analyzing this map, is that it is very close to the Great Lake in the region of Óbidos and Oriximiná. My father, Solomão and my uncle Jônathas, were born and raised there. My grandfather Jacob, his countryman David Azulay, and friends Moisés Benguigui and many other Jews worked for many years as gatherers and river traders there as well. And let everyone be amazed! The name of this lake on the map is “Salé”. Seeing this, my imagination runs rapidly, and I begin to see the concentration of Moroccan Jews originally from Salé that settled near the region. Seeing this map, I felt the urge to see the places of origin in Morocco where Moroccan Jews came from. And I wanted to examine the relationship between them and the places where these Jews arrived in the Amazon. We have news of other Jews who settled in the lower Amazon River, such as Aziz Azulay, Jacob Azulay, Isaac Hassan, Elizer Benitah, David Isaakhah Benzaquen, Zacharias Elmescany, Aben Athar, among others, who also came from Salé. 
In all the conversations I had with people in the Moroccan diaspora who lived in Salé, they always emphasized the way of doing business and negotiating. In fact, on my visits to Morocco, starting with my first visit in the 1980s, I found it very peculiar that they bargained and sold their products. In fact, I read several texts by anthropologists who relate Moroccan identity to the way they do business. Currently there are even texts published on the internet with the step-by-step for tourists who go to Morocco to learn how to bargain in the souks of Moroccan medinas. One of these sites is titled: “Negotiate in the Moroccan souks in seven stages” . For those who have had this experience, it is worth remembering the stories of Moroccan deals. When we are together, as a family, we always remember how my sister Yolanda left a Meknes souk establishment with a rug she did not want to buy but which she now describes as the best deal she ever negotiated, recalling the hours she spent bargaining.
My grandfather Jacob Athias certainly innovated when he began his trade on the banks of the Trombetas. He started in the middle Amazon region, building his residence in Óbidos, working to Sena Madureira, in Acre. In Oriximiná, he established himself with a trad and later acquired a farm to enlarge his business. He promoted various commercial activities, such as a regional extraction (gathering) scheme, cattle trade through the “charqueada,” which he had learned from his father while still in Salé, and buying and selling firewood for steamships. In the 1920s, he founded the diversified “Israelite House” (Casa Israelita), which today would be a kind of mini-market, selling food, haberdashery, shoes, popular medicines, perfumery and a range of household goods (dry and wet) because he knew the needs of the population exactly from years of haggling on the Trombetas River. My father, Solomão, told us that my grandfather knew very well how to talk to the people who entered his establishment; the customers always left satisfied. According to him, his first customer, on a Monday, could not leave the Israeli House without taking anything, because if this happened, he would have a difficult week in sales. He ran and gave a product just so he did not see his first customer leaving empty-handed. There were many other traders in Oriximiná, and the competition was stiff. He received his goods from traveling clerks who arrived there with pre-arranged orders.
My father also worked at the counter with my grandfather. One day, a salesman, came to Oriximiná selling “Royal Briar” perfume, which was very famous at the time and well known by the population of Oriximiná. This traveling salesman stopped selling to my grandfather, giving preference to other merchants. My grandfather did not like this clerk’s attitude. A few days later, a well-known person in the city died, relatives went to the Israelite House to buy something for the funeral. My grandfather always brought the news from Belém. As the relatives mourned the death, my grandfather donated a bottle of Royal Briar perfume for use on the deceased body during the funeral, stating that perfuming the deceased body was a new fashion in Belém. And so it was done. From this day forward, the famous Royal Briar became known in Oriximiná as the perfume of the dead. Perfume sales ran aground. The traveling salesman failed to meet his goals.
My grandfather’s story represents a lot of the processes involved in the socioeconomic transformations of the Lower Amazon. Despite his immigrant life, his economic success was also unique, for only he could conduct his business in the way he did, depending on circumstances and personal motivation. Jacob developed in Alenquer a deep relationship with all the inhabitants, adopting the lower Amazon that knew very well as his home. It was there that he began with pottery, a pioneer in the region, producing bricks and tiles in his studio, Yaci. He joined the main local leaders, became one of the founders of the Masonic Lodge, and built the headquarters of his International Football Club.
Salé’s Moroccan identity, for its history, culture and ways of relating to others in its various languages, Berber, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic (ah’biah), Ladino, is integrated in this immense diaspora of Moroccan Jews in the Amazon. It helped create a broad international network of communication and commerce that started with the merchants based in the Republic of Buregregue and preceded the globalized capitalism of the today. Jacob Athias of Salé, died in Alenquer and was buried with all the honors of the traditional Sephardic Jews of Morocco on 31 August 1974. He had never returned to his native land. Jacob’s biography is both extraordinary and common, identical and different from many other Jews, who helped establish and continue to be part of the people of the Lower Amazon.
 I would like to thank my cousin Gisèle Fhima Rainglas, born in Salé, for introducing me to Haïm Zafrani and all his literature on Jewish Morocco.
 Thanks to Emilie Stoll for show me this map, in a delicious lunch at a restaurant next to the Museum of Natural History, Jardin des Plantes, in early spring of 2017 in Paris. To be better visualization just click on this link below. It has a great resolution through the Stanford University website https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/2940277
 Thanks Yehuda Benguigui for remind others names.