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Curupaití (Curupaity)

Jacarepaguá, Distrito Federal, Brazil

The foundation stone for this federal leprosarium was laid October 1922, during the American Leprosy Conference, but construction had not yet started at the time that Souza Araujo was writing (1925).
(Araujo, H C S. 'The Leprosy Problem in Brazil'. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine, 1925:5 (3) 224)

Curupaiti, located in Jacarepaguá, became a leprosarium in 1928. In that year, 53 patients were transferred there from the Hospital dos Lázaros. The number of the sick and the size of the colony grew tremendously. Access to Curupaiti was made intentionally difficult. It was situated on a mountain side in a suburb on the outskirts of the city. Even so, it was the closest colony to the city of Rio de Janeiro, the then capital of Brazil and the site of intense and innovative activity in the sanitation movement. For this reason and also because it was one of the first leprosy hospitals under the control of the State, Curupaiti became a national reference center for the treatment pf the disease. The colony’s reputation also spread among those in other colonies. As a result, patients in other states confronted the various bureaucratic barriers against movement and arrived at Curupaiti in large numbers.

Like other colonies, Curupaiti had two types of residences: the pavilions, for single patients in the Carville style; and the houses in the villas for couples. There are currently five villas, with 172 houses in total: three pavilions and a home for the elderly men and a pavilion and a home for the elderly women. There is also a mixed gender pavilion/ shelter for couples (Carlos Chagas). In addition, there is a psychiatric building with about nine patients.

About twenty-five ears after the inauguration of the colony, a building was constructed for interned children. Previously these children were either adopted or watched over by a couple within the colony. In accordance with national policies, children born into the colony were taken from their mothers immediately after birth to the Educandário or Preventório; however, because of the horrific conditions and well-known abuses within the Preventórios, those patients who could sent their children to healthy relatives or religious orphanages did so.

… There were two charitable institutions run by the patients: the Caixa Beneficente (founded before 1944) and the SOAC (Sociedade Amigos de Curupaiti), founded in 1972. Through a campaign organised by the Caixa the interned of Curupaiti were able to obtain Promin, the first treatment capable of curing Hansen’s disease.

The internal politics and the day-to-day problems of the colony were resolved by the mayor of the interned (prefeitura interna): a patient chosen by the administration. The interned, who were also employees of the hospital, formed a cooperative called the Mutuária dos Trabalhadores de Curupaiti. The Mutuária functioned more or less like a bank.

The internal guard was also in the hands of a patient, in this case, chosen by the director. This system continued until very recently. The rest of the institutional power was in the hands of the employees who belonged more or less to three groups: the doctors and nurses, the administrators, and the social workers. These professionals had complex relationships with the community and more often that not remained physically and mentally distant. The exception was the department of social work, which, under the direction of Ana Helena Bastos Silva (known as dona Anita, herself a former interned patient) was very much involved in the day-to-day lives of the patients.

Aside from managing the practical activities of the colony, the residents of Curupaiti ran several areas for recreation, including a football field (still used and in good condition), a casino (abandoned), and a lovers’ park (abandoned). Within the community there were also celebrations of almost everything commemorated in the “outside” world: birthdays, religious festivals, weddings, and even Carnival. The samba school of Curupaiti was known as “Ingrossa” (“thickens”) due to its rapid growth.

Of the institutions previously mentioned, all of them, except for the internal guard, the Mutuária dos Trabalhadores, the internal mayor (which became the Division of Community matters), and the Umbanda Center still operate today and continue to attend to the community. More recently, the hospital of dermatology was constructed (in the building where the internal mayor was originally located: in practice the hospital only attends patients from outside Curupaiti); the library and a Centre of Studies, with a library that contains hundreds of medical files and donated books. This Centre facilitates research done by people from outside Curupaiti.

Extracted from a report provided by Elisabeth Poorman

Textual and historical references to this leprosarium

Archive Name
Casa de Oswaldo Cruz - COC/Fiocruz
Arquivo Nacional do Brasil
CPDOC - Fundação Getúlio Vargas
Instituto Estadual de Dermatologia Sanitária (Curupaiti)

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