Uncovering Luxembourg's industrial heritage in the Grand Duchy... and Brazil (II) 'A colônia luxemburguesa' showcases a tropical version of Luxembourg's industrial south as part of the Remix Esch2022 programme

Nestled in the south of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg lies the Land of the Red Rocks referred to as the Minett by local residents. This region owes its name to the valuable ore that ignited the steel industry in Luxembourg. The region bears witness to an impressive industrial heritage which has been redeveloped into various tourist and cultural attractions. As part of the Remix Esch2022 programme with the University of Luxembourg, we also discover traces of Luxembourg's industrial heritage in Brazil: the mysterious colônia luxemburguesa João Monlevade.

After (re)examining the history of the steel industry in Luxembourg and casting a light on the redevelopment of the iconic landscape of the south of the country, in this second article we uncover a tropical version of Luxembourg's industrial south situated in Brazil!

A colônia luxemburguesa, Luxembourg's industrial heritage across the Atlantic

Migration played a major role in the economic development of the Grand Duchy during its industrial revolution. However, a relatively unknown event marked Luxembourg's industrial history, namely a wave of migration of Luxembourgers to Brazil. One hundred years ago, as part of the development of iron and steel industry in Luxembourg, the conglomerate ARBED inaugurated its Brazilian subsidiary: Companhia Siderúrgica Belgo Mineira in the State of Minas Gerais. At the time, the lack of skilled labour resulted in a massive exodus of Luxembourgers to Brazil to build this colossal factory on the outskirts of the industrial city.

The Luxembourg-Brazilian filmmaker and historian Dominique Santana has made a prodigious discovery: João Monlevade, a little known tropical version of the industrial south of Luxembourg, where she grew up. As part of Esch2022, she has developed the A colônia luxemburguesa project, which explores a century of industrial, cultural and social heritage, in association with Samsa Film, the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) of the University of Luxembourg and the Centre national de l'audiovisuel (CNA - National Audiovisual Centre), with the support of the Film Fund Luxembourg.

One hundred years ago, ARBED inaugurated its Brazilian subsidiary: Companhia Siderúrgica Belgo Mineira, in the state of Minas Gerais.
© Samsa Film, all rights reserved
Filming of the documentary 'A colônia luxemburguesa': Amandine Klee (left) - Dominique Santana (right) in front of the ARCELORMITTAL factory in João Monlevade.
© Samsa Film, all rights reserved

A colônia luxemburguesa, a transmedia project

This is the first transmedia project to be developed as part of a PhD in History. As such, scientific research, the world of film and new media have joined forces to help us unearth Luxembourg's industrial heritage in Brazil. In fact, the project includes an interactive documentary and two kiosks situated in Luxembourg and Brazil called [L]aço. It is a play on words based on the two concepts 'laço=ties' and 'aço=steel', which literally translated means 'ties of steel'. This concept embodies the main objective of the project: to resurrect the transatlantic ties forged over a century between the two steel-making communities.

The official launch of the interactive documentary will take place on 4th March 2022 in Belval (in the Hall des Poches à Fonte), together with the inauguration of the [L]aço kiosk, which will be situated on the Place de l'Académie until October. A Colônia Luxemburguesa will also be integrated in the LuxCityFilmFest programming alongside other activities (such as a public screening and masterclass).

The Brazilian [L]aço will be on show from 26th February to 4th March 2022 in Belo Horizonte, Circuito Liberdade (Garden of Liberty Palace) and then from 9th March to October in João Monlevade, Praça do Povo (The People's Square).

The cities of Esch-sur-Alzette and João Monlevade will take advantage of the synergies created to sign a town-twinning agreement.

A colônia luxemburguesa

A colônia luxemburguesa is an interactive project that aims to build and strengthen ties between Luxembourg and the State of Minas Gerais in Brazil.

The documentary invites us to uncover the story of Companhia Siderúrgica Belgo Mineira, the Brazilian subsidiary of the steel giant ARBED (now ARCELORMITTAL), located on the outskirts of the industrial city.

A participatory project to shape history

The project is at the forefront of the latest scientific developments in Digital public history. Moreover, a crowdsourcing platform is available online to share your memories with the filmmaker and researcher Dominique Santana. The call for participation was launched in March 2021 and will remain active throughout Esch2022, as well as during subsequent years. Communities will also be able to take part physically by visiting the [L]aço kiosks during the Esch2022 programme of events.

If you are directly affected or know people who have first-hand experience of this story, go to the project website or visit the [L]aço kiosks. By sharing your memories, you are helping to re-establish these ties and playing an active role in history!

The long-term objective is to create a digital archive collection - a shared and constantly evolving work - and thus (re-)build the shared historical heritage together with the different communities.

'A colônia luxemburguesa': a participatory project to (re)construct history.
© Samsa Film, all rights reserved
Filming of the documentary 'A colônia luxemburguesa': interview at João Monlevade by Dominique Santana.
© Samsa Film, all rights reserved

Brazilians of Luxembourg origin rediscover their roots

Finally, let us re-trace these roots: since 2018, a total of 8,259 Brazilians have acquired Luxembourg citizenship. Between 2018 and 2020, they were second national group (behind the French) to be granted Luxembourgish nationality... and the first one in 2022, with 3,275 people, most of them through the reclamation procedure.

This time, the story of emigration is being played out in the opposite direction… Presently, Luxembourg is opening its arms to the descendants of Luxembourgers who left to live in the depths of the jungles of Brazil in order to build a colossal steel empire on the other side of the Atlantic.