Chapter 11 Chapada Velha

Chapada Velha was where the first diamonds of the State of Bahia were harvested. With the discovery of fantastic quantities of diamonds and gold in Lençóis, Mucugê, Andaraí, Rio de Contas etc the region acquired enormous importance and a name: Chapada Diamantina – the word chapada means a region of steep cliffs and Diamantina refers to the diamonds found there in the mid 1800´s when Lençóis was an important center of diamond mining. Today, nobody knows anything about Chapada Velha. It was soon forgotten.  Oscar

Chapada Velha

By Liandro Manoel de Souza, Historian (UNOPAR).

Chapada Velha, belonging to the municipality of Barra do Mendes, was where the first diamonds of the State of Bahia were harvested. According to the historian Francisco Borges de Barros¹, José de Matos, from Diamantina, Minas Gerais, collected diamond in the town of Chapada Velha. This is confirmed by Olympio Barbosa: “When Ensign José de Matos picked up diamonds in the Chapada Velha, the gold-digging was already thriving.”

It is uncertain when the settlement of Arraial de Chapada Velha began, but as of 1843 it became a true human nest, where people from all over the state of Bahia and neighboring states formed a cluster of more than 4,000 inhabitants in a short space of time, which prompted its elevation to the category of District of Peace in 1911. On March 30, 1938 the district is revoked by State Decree nº 10.724, thus returning to the category of simple town and from there on the total decrease in population didn´t take long. In the beginning, at the height of the mining, Chapada Velha wedged between gigantic cliffs of beautiful mountains where the vegetation was exuberant. It seemed to be a European fairy tale, and the town enjoyed wealth, luxury and liberty. The political leaders were “colonels and captains of the National Guard”, who on festive days wore their gala dresses, fine uniforms with embroidery braided with gold threads. Their residential and commercial houses were built Colonial style and their facades denounced the prosperity of its owners.

The Governor of Bahia, Luiz Viana, sent troops commanded by Colonel Policarpo Ferreira Campos, who tried to enter Chapada Velha to arrest Captain Clementino de Matos, but the troops were repelled by valiant men who defended their homes and families with their lives, because of the truculent actions of a biased government. After a few days of intense fighting, the residents of Chapada Velha were forced to raise a white flag of peace, because they did not have enough ammunition to face the angry soldiers who even countered with a cannon, but in an inhuman attitude, Colonel Policarpo did not heed the request and marched ruthlessly on Velha Chapada causing a massacre.

At the exit of the Chapada Velha, men of Colonel Militão Coelho who accompanied the police force, arrested a peasant and his son while leaving  bushland where they were collecting honey. The man Apolinário Alves dos Reis was barbarically castrated while his son Antonio Alves watched the horrendous scene that wrecked reaped the life of his poor father. The child was only spared because a rebel protected the boy. Another fatal victim of the Expedition of Colonel Policarpo Ferreira Campos and Militão Coelho´s gunmen  was José Crispim Pires, who was also coldly murdered for no reason, since he was in his field and did not participate in the defense of Chapada Velha.

Descending to Barra do Mendes, the assassins picked up another peasant returning from the grocery shop where he bought a liter of salt, and the scene was repeated with José Vital de Oliveira, only this time the action of the criminals went much further than of castration and murder, in a totally anti-Christian act, crucified the victim’s body in a fence stake, and left the widow Maria Cipriana with four little children with the most cruel of deeds..

These and many other crimes remained in complete impunity. With the advent of the Republic and the death of the Commander, Captain Clementino Pereira de Matos, the Chapada Velha gained new ruler, Lieutenant Colonel Horacio de Queiróz Matos, who did everything to foster its development but the constant conflicts in which he was forced to engage with other local chiefs, did not allow him to carry out his project. Having to move from Chapada Velha, the town  fell into decay, preceded by Getúlio Vargas’ fateful rise to power and, consequently, the extinction of the National Guard.

Horacio de Matos was assassinated in the Capital of Bahia and Chapada Velha fell into decay. After the emancipation of the then Village of Barra do Mendes, the already Arraial had its stroke of mercy deferred, to the rejoicing of its old executioners. The ruin of the garimpos in the mountainous area of ​​Barra do Mendes, had a direct impact in the collapse of that paradise. Its inhabitants moved to the neighboring towns and everything was gradually fading away. Only the Church remained, enduring for many years but at last surrendered, closing with his fall all that last vestige of wealth, bonanza and culture.

¹ “The Margin of the History of Bahia” of 1843

² Author of “Little Album of Lençóis”


Thanks to Liandro’s research, I had access to the historical data of the Chapada Velha, unknown to the new generations. Here I express my gratitude and admiration for his exhaustive work.

Graças às pesquisas do Liandro tive acesso aos dados históricos da Chapada Velha, desconhecidos das novas gerações. Aqui expresso minha gratidão e admiração pelo seu exaustivo trabalho.

Photos by Oscar Ribeiro w/exception of shot #4.