UNSCIENTIFIC racial theories and cruel persecutions are rendering hundreds of thousands of Europeans homeless. Does the advance of genuine scientific knowledge offer these unhappy creatures homes in tropical regions which in the past have proved forbidding to whites?

In recent years white emigration to the tropics did not appear of outstanding importance from the long-time viewpoint. It is true that the tropics contain some ten to twelve millions of white settlers, together with large numbers of sojourners, representing the great white Powers which administer and control the people, industry and commerce of many tropical lands. But Kuczynski and other modern demographers have shown that the increase of nearly all white peoples is declining, or is likely to decline. In normal circumstances, therefore, white emigration to the tropics seemed certain to decrease.

Now, however, the picture is changing, owing to the nationalist evolution of pseudo-biological theories which lead to the persecution and expatriation of numerous ethnic minority groups. To take only one of the afflicted peoples, it is estimated that in 1938 there were 499,682 Jews in Germany, 191,408 in Austria, 356,830 in Czechoslovakia and 3,028,837 in Poland.

This persecution has led various governments and relief organizations to consider the dispatch of white refugees to tropical regions such as British Guiana and the northwest part of Western Australia. We may note in passing how frequently such relief schemes are designed to send the unfortunate refugees to the periphery of settlement. This is because the governments of many countries -- even those which still offer ample living space -- fear the difficulties arising from refugee settlement, the creation of minorities and of minority problems, and the long arms of the persecuting Powers. Sometimes, too, labor fears the competition of refugee immigrants. Racial antipathy also frequently exists. All this increases the importance of sparsely populated tropical countries as potential zones of white refugee settlement.

Another and allied development is the growth of nationalism in the spheres of both politics and economics. Italy's conquest of Ethiopia and the demands of the Nazis for the restoration of their former colonies in order that they may secure tropical products and economic self-sufficiency, are obvious examples. If the chief white Powers continue to demand Lebensraum, and to increase their economic isolation (with a consequent lowering of their living standards), each will inevitably attempt to secure its own section of the tropics, thereby augmenting the importance of that part of the world.


Let us begin by defining the terms "white," "settlement" and "tropics" from the viewpoint of refugee and other white colonization. All the European refugees will be white in the popular sense, but there may be many ethnic (popularly "racial") differences and many variations in climatic experience, which will profoundly affect the emigrants' suitability for tropical life. Of these differences and their causes we have little or no scientific knowledge, but history indicates that, on the whole, South European peoples, such as the Portuguese, Spanish and Italians, fare better in the tropics than emigrants from Northern or Central Europe. We have no scientific information as to the reasons, but they probably lie in the climatic experience of peoples who live in the warm climates of Southern Europe, and in the fact that ethnic groups such as those just mentioned possess an historic mixture of Moorish or other "colored" bloods. The Jews appear to do fairly well in the moderate tropics, such as Curaçao in the Dutch West Indies; and this matter should be investigated more closely, for the Jews are the chief people likely to figure in refugee emigration.

"Settlement" may be defined as permanent colonization in which the whites follow all necessary occupations, including manual labor, and in so doing maintain their standards of health, energy, civilization and culture, from generation to generation, without mental or physical loss. Here we must emphasize the great difference between sojourners and settlers. The administrating officials, missionaries, soldiers, traders and planters of the great white Powers such as Britain, France, The Netherlands, Italy and the United States, are in most cases only sojourners, who retire with their families to their own countries on the termination of their service. The refugees, on the contrary, must in general be settlers, who will engage in manual labor and who will leave behind them descendants to live permanently in the tropics.

What do we mean by "tropics?" Of the many definitions let us select the one which embraces areas with an annual temperature of 70 degrees or more. This is not the same as saying that the tropics are that part of the globe lying between the parallels of 23½ degrees North and South latitude, even though this area coincides in part with the 70 degree isotherm. Altitude, winds and ocean currents create tropical conditions in some localities north and south of these parallels, and, conversely, produce cooler conditions in some places nearer the Equator. Southern Florida lies mathematically outside the tropics; but its projection into warm seas, its low altitude, and its high proportion of hours of sunshine give it a moderate tropical climate. Within the limits of the 70-degree isotherm there are several different types of climate, and these variations exercise all-important controls over white settlement. In broad outline we can distinguish between the equatorial tropics, the tropical deserts, the monsoonal tropics, the trade wind coasts and islands, and the mountains and high plateaux.


Unfortunately, the leading scientists of many countries disagree over the question as to how far whites can settle in any or all of these types of tropical zones. One school of thought, typified by Dr. Ellsworth Huntington, considers that almost insurmountable difficulties confront whites as permanent settlers in most tropical regions. The climate is too deleterious. Huntington believes that like all living organisms white people have a biological optimum, and that the tropics lie beyond it. Other scientists, such as General Gorgas of Panama Canal fame and Sir Raphael Cilento of Queensland who base their views on the history of those regions, believe that as the whites gradually conquer tropical disease, they will settle the tropics. Sir Andrew Balfour, a great authority, held that the whites would never conquer the hot low tropics, even if they freed them from disease; but towards the end of his life he became more hopeful about settlement possibilities in the milder tropical zones. The need of differentiating carefully between various types of tropics is now becoming apparent to almost all scientists engaged in tropical work.

Clearly, white settlers in the tropics undergo certain disabilities. History, statistics and the laboratory work of various scientists prove that high temperatures are physiologically deleterious to energy; and it is suspected that these factors also have mental and nervous effects. The influences of other factors, such as moisture, winds and altitude, are not yet evaluated. Scientific knowledge is teaching the white man methods of counteracting tropical diseases and the disadvantages of isolation, and is providing him with suitable housing, clothing and diets. In a later section reference is made to the necessity of both men and women taking strenuous exercise or engaging in manual work. Yet in spite of these advances in knowledge, it remains a fact that white people of the tropics live under disabilities.

Modern scientists are seeking a clear view of the problems involved by utilizing three methods of research -- history, statistics and the laboratory. Unfortunately, history is not an accurate guide, for a few years of progress in medical science can completely change white prospects. The statistical method, too, is far from adequate. It is difficult to secure and compare satisfactory figures on climate, heredity and so on, even in well-developed tropical countries. The laboratory method is also uncertain, for, although individuals can be tested in laboratories under artificial conditions of heat, moisture and air movement, we cannot produce the exact conditions they face when undergoing acclimatization on the spot. Still, by combining all three methods we can form an opinion as to whether white settlers are making sufficient progress in the tropics to warrant sending refugees to join them or whether we should develop other areas for settlement.


Let us first turn to history. From 1500 onwards, European nations made a great attempt to conquer the tropics. This of course was before the advent of scientific knowledge. The Portuguese, Spaniards, English, Dutch, French and other peoples poured into tropical Asia, Africa, America and Australia, and either conquered or destroyed the indigenous colored peoples. Before long, however, tropical races and tropical diseases began to take their toll. In lands such as India, Java and East Africa the whites held sway as administrators or traders, and still do; but each generation returns to its homeland, and families which remain are usually absorbed by the colored peoples, like a rivulet entering an ocean. In sparsely inhabited countries, such as the West Indies, the whites destroyed the natives; but instead of themselves forming large working communities, they brought in negro slaves, and these increased so rapidly that, in general, they absorbed the small groups of white workers who had originally replaced the indigenous races. In India, the Portuguese tried to maintain their hold by the interesting experiment of deliberately breeding a half-caste people. This experiment failed, and the surviving ethnic group is being absorbed.

Nevertheless, these pre-scientific waves of white immigration into the tropics left interesting survivals in various places, particularly in America. The West Indies and the American tropics contain many small groups of pure white people descended from Europeans, both northern and southern. Several of these groups have been examined by the writer. They completely refute the popular conception that white settlers cannot survive in the tropics for more than three generations. In 1933 the writer visited islands in the Dutch West Indies and traced pure white families of Scottish and Dutch descent back to about 1680.

But in general the white settlements in these regions failed. In the case of the British West Indies the obvious reasons why these settlements faded out were: the hot climate, isolation, disease, inadequate diet, excessive use of alcohol, poor housing, unsuitable clothing, ill-treatment, wars, political and economic mismanagement (both in the islands and mother countries), and the introduction of colored workers, who undercut the whites economically and absorbed them by intermarriage and miscegenation. But while the factors which caused the failures are apparent, it is impossible to give each factor its proper valuation. Many authorities lay emphasis on climate and disease. The writer believes, however, that the presence of colored workers of low social and economic standards was the most vital factor.

Some four centuries after the beginning of the invasion of the tropics described above, there came what may almost be termed a second and "scientific" invasion. The change, which was gradual, was due to improvements in such things as medicine, sanitation, transport, clothing and diet. Early in this revolution Gorgas and others transformed the Panama Canal Zone, lying in the low tropics and a "pest hole of the world," into a district fairly suitable for whites provided they keep within close and strongly protected limits. A little later, white settlements in the tropical margins, especially in Florida and northeastern Queensland, became healthy and prosperous. In Florida the white population increased from 678,000 to 1,035,000 between 1920 and 1930, and now includes thousands of genuine settlers engaged in manual work. By 1933 the whites of northeastern Queensland comprised a working population, largely sugar growers, of 184,831. In view of such progress, scientific optimists like Gorgas and Cilento proclaimed that the white man could hope to conquer the whole of the tropics.

Subsequent events proved that these views were incautious. The medical scientist has done much to overcome the ravages of hookworm and pellagra. He has almost conquered yellow fever by controlling the house mosquito, Aëdes aegypti. But he has made relatively little progress against the malarial mosquito -- the wider-ranging insect of the swamps -- and, apart from all climatic considerations, malaria can defeat the whites in the low tropics singlehanded. Sir Andrew Balfour estimated that malaria killed 2,000,000 people annually. Many other difficulties are still unsurmounted. One finds, on visiting Panama, southern Florida and tropical Queensland, that local medical scientists, educationists and others consider that the experiments in their regions are still too young to form the basis for definite conclusions, and that the permanent success of those experiments is still in doubt.


Leaving these general and historical questions, we can turn to a consideration of those regions of the tropics in which white refugee emigrants may hope to meet with some success. Let us commence by eliminating certain regions where the prospects are hopeless. First, the writer believes that if refugees are to form white working settlements it is most unwise to send them to areas of dense colored population. White manual workers would have as little chance of success in the temperate but crowded areas of China or Japan as they would in Java, the Ganges basin and other densely inhabited tropical regions. Americans and South Africans know only too well how dense colored populations, particularly when organized under the plantation system, can undercut white workers, create "poor white" problems, and even in some cases absorb the whites racially. With very few exceptions (such as Florida, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and parts of Brazil and Colombia) tropical America presents a picture in which the Indians and Negroes are seen to be gradually absorbing the white immigrants. It seems probable that eventually all the American tropics will be inhabited only by mixed races.

Tropical Queensland shows a striking reversal of the process. From 1863 until about 1910 the Queensland sugar growers worked their plantations with Kanakas from the South Sea islands. The Polynesian death rate reached the appalling annual figure of 70.9 per 1,000, and, as the natives gave their diseases to the whites, the expectation of life for white males at birth declined to 41.3 years, a figure 12 percent lower than the average for Australia. With the introduction of Federation and the White Australia Policy, the Kanakas were repatriated. The death rate for tropical Queensland is now the lowest in the Commonwealth.


Of the various tropical areas which we have classified we can at once rule out the hot, humid, equatorial tropics and the deserts as entirely unsuitable for white settlement. As stated above, Sir Andrew Balfour considered the equatorial tropics hopeless, regardless of all questions of disease; and visits to regions such as Java, Panama and the north coast of South America make one feel that the monotonous, humid heat of these regions places them in general outside the range of white tolerance. True, here and there white colonists have survived, or have even done well under very favorable conditions. Earl P. Hanson, for example, draws attention to the healthy cattle ranchers of Marajó Island at the mouth of the Amazon. In places like Panama, whites of the second generation engage in manual labor; but they are protected in especially sanitated areas at great expense.

It is hardly necessary to state that permanent white settlement in the tropical deserts is virtually impossible. Whites may live in well-watered oases, or may engage temporarily in the mining industry in the desert itself. Sparse pastoral settlement may penetrate into arid zones, as in North Australia. But the number of whites so occupied is too small to be important.


The wet-dry tropics of monsoonal summer rainfall include some of the most deceptive portions of the earth. Terrific summer rains are followed by a long winter drought. Close agricultural settlement is generally too costly because of the need for drainage in summer and irrigation in winter; while the soils are often poor due, among other things, to leaching by the summer floods.

These conditions account for the almost empty state of the 1,000,000 square miles of tropical Australia.[i] There have been many attempts to introduce white and Chinese labor in this region. Nor are prospects for settling refugees in the Kimberley districts of northwest Western Australia much more favorable.

Queensland experts recently submitted an account of conditions in tropical Australia to authorities in the dry regions of Nigeria, India and the Dutch East Indies. The only hopeful reply came from the Nigerian experts who expressed the opinion that Negro families could settle in tropical Australia, using Zebu cattle or water buffalo and growing poor seasonal and subsistence crops such as millet. But they felt it unlikely that the annual income of these families would exceed $15 a year.

In a different part of the world -- the hinterland of British Guiana -- a commission of investigation reported last year that a refugee settlement might be established on some tropical grasslands at a rather low elevation. The writer has not visited this region and cannot give a first-hand opinion on possible risks connected with such matters as disease and miscegenation. The report of the commission, however, does not seem to give sufficient weight to the highly important limiting factor of isolation. The commission points out that only a large-scale settlement would warrant the expense of establishing adequate communications; yet it proceeds to advocate the foundation of a small experimental colony. The history of the American tropics contains numberless attempts and failures to establish small isolated settlements. The comparatively recent collapse of Murray's attempt in Bolivia, and of the Tomenotti Concession in Peru, carry a distinct warning on this point.


In the trade wind and marginal tropics, developments in scientific medicine, sanitation, transport, diet, housing and clothing offer white settlers reasonable hopes of success. Unfortunately, the most suitable of these regions -- southern Florida, the West Indies, Hawaii, northeastern Queensland and the like -- are in most cases already settled, usually by colored peoples.

The Queensland tropics might prove quite satisfactory for refugee settlers, but like southern Florida it is a comparatively small area and is already closely occupied. The Queenslanders enjoy splendid health and satisfactory fertility. Yet the fact remains that the population is comparatively new to the tropics. Doctors are not altogether satisfied that the climate is suitable for women, and educators have informed the writer that they are not sure that the mental development of children above the age of sixteen years is as satisfactory as that of children in cooler climates.

The outstanding contribution made to tropical knowledge by the north Queensland people is that white settlers can engage in hard manual work -- indeed, thrive best with it. Working in a climate ameliorated by the trade winds, the Queensland whites are successfully conducting their sugar industry with their own manual labor, something which American authorities told the writer would prove beyond white powers. Many of them are of North European descent. In the northern and hotter sugar districts, however, the tendency is for these to be replaced by Italian emigrants. This may be due to economic factors; but one suspects it is only further proof that colonists from South European countries are more suited to hot climates than those from Northern Europe.

The writer discovered some important evidence on the question of manual labor while studying settlement in Panama. For many years European whites have engaged in very heavy labor in the workshops there, and are now being joined by strong and healthy sons who have been born and raised in the Canal Zone. Even in that climate white prisoners of North European descent remain healthy if they are worked in the open air. At the Gatun Dam, Central Europeans proved more efficient than Negro labor, provided they were kept within the area fortified against disease. The same story is now coming from many tropical regions. The writer feels that male whites have enjoyed better health than their womenfolk in the tropics largely because they have taken more strenuous exercise. Recently the health of the women has improved, due undoubtedly to their increased participation in outdoor games. The trouble is that white men and women rarely will do the work necessary to keep them in trim if they have colored servants. Here again we warn against sending refugees to regions of dense colored population.


The last division -- the high plateaux -- offers, in the opinion of the writer, by far the best prospects for refugee settlement. In parts of Central America or in a region like Portuguese Angola the annual average temperatures are comparatively low, the rainfall is good, the soils are satisfactory and the native peoples are not numerous. The main difficulties concern communications, economics and politics rather than the environment. In Angola, however, large-scale settlements could develop satisfactory communications and profitable industries if they received government support. A white settlement on these plateaux would have particularly promising prospects, owing to the markets offered in the nearby Rhodesian mining districts. True, scientists are still uncertain as to the ultimate effects of the monotonous climates of tropical plateaux, or of very high altitudes such as those in parts of the South American tropics. But information from regions like Costa Rica and the plateaux of Rhodesia and East Africa is in general encouraging.

The studies on Costa Rica by C. L. Jones, L. Waibel and the writer have drawn attention to the possibilities of establishing white refugee settlers in a plateau region almost free from American Indian peoples and settled for about four centuries by whites of Spanish descent. The latter are rapidly increasing, and now number about 400,000. Waibel shows that comparatively large areas remain unoccupied. The climate is satisfactory, the rainfall and soils are excellent, and communications could be established with the Pacific. From another point of view, the situation in Costa Rica is equally satisfactory. Almost every tropical country needs diversification in its industries. Costa Rica, with its heavy rainfall and steep plateau slopes, has ample water power with which to undertake manufacturing.


The history of many tropical regions reveals the disadvantages and dangers of permitting the development of one-crop economies. Too often a great white nation, after acquiring the management of a tropical country, replaces its normal economy by expanding one or two products, such as sugar, bananas or coffee; and then after a time reduces it to a calamitous state by declining (or being unable) to pay a reasonable price for the very products which its policy has engendered. For instance, many of the troubles of the British West Indies spring largely from the fact that the British built up a one-crop sugar industry, and then proceeded to foster the home production of sugar beet. Frequently, of course, the capital supplied by the exploiters has been valuable -- indeed essential -- to the tropical countries concerned. Nevertheless, the tale of what has happened is in parts thoroughly disgraceful.

All these countries today need more than almost anything else the establishment of industries to make them less dependent upon the markets, the booms, the crises, the political somersaults and the wars of the great white nations. Refugees, speaking generally, might participate usefully in this development.

However, as already mentioned, there are other factors which bring the qualifications of refugees and other whites for tropical colonization into doubt. There are great differences, both of a psychological and physiological character, in the racial and individual qualifications of the persons concerned. We have already seen that Southern European peoples are probably better fitted than Northern Europeans, brunette women may in general do better than blondes, and so forth. Unfortunately, although many general observations have been published, comparatively little laboratory work has been carried out on the spot regarding acclimatized and unacclimatized whites. The establishment of a research laboratory in a center such as Panama might produce results of world importance and, by disclosing the causes of mental or physical unsuitability, save millions of lives and dollars. The varying economic factors must also be examined and classified. We must study the qualifications of white refugees and other potential emigrants to the tropics in the light of existing industries and markets, paying due attention to those which might be developed. It is nearly always assumed that the immigrants must engage in primary production. In point of fact, many tropical regions offer prospects for manufacture, and many of the refugees are city folk suited only for industrial production. Since many tropical areas possess water power not far from potential markets, these possibilities merit examination.


After a lengthy study of the problems sketched in the preceding pages, the writer believes that there are fair, if somewhat uncertain, prospects for white refugee settlement on the tropical plateaux, in the trade-wind islands and coasts, and in the marginal tropics. In such regions refugees would have prospects at least as promising as in Alaska. Large parts of these areas must be excluded from consideration, however, either for political reasons or because they are already occupied by colored populations who would undercut the whites economically and ultimately absorb them. It also must be clearly stated that some scientists still fear that the climate, even in the moderate tropics, is psychologically and physiologically enervating for white persons.

We now possess much helpful knowledge about tropical climates, diseases, sanitation, soils, the need of adequate communications, the value of manual labor, the necessity of correct diets, the great danger of alcoholic excess, the proper types of housing and clothing, and certain political and economic pitfalls which must be avoided. But we need a long-time test of settlement under the new conditions which will be developed as a result of this knowledge, and must conduct an immense amount of further scientific investigation, before we can claim to be adequately equipped to speak definitely about each of the factors which control white settlement in the tropics.

Behind the other matters which have been discussed here looms the problem of expense. When we remember what it cost in time and money to send to Europe an American army numbering some two millions, even when the job was undertaken by one of the world's most powerful and wealthy of countries, we can realize the difficulty of the task that may confront us in trying to transplant even a small part of those who must seek new homes. Their number may reach eight millions. Emigration to regions such as Costa Rica may supply an answer to a fraction of the problem. But the real solution must be at the source: the utter eradication of the completely unscientific racial doctrines, the intolerance and inhumanity which have created the problem. The world's resources, material and spiritual, would be far better used at the present time if they were concentrated on removing the cancer itself rather than in attempting the almost impossible task of ameliorating its constantly spreading results.

[i] The northern Queensland plateaux and coastlands are an exception; they are watered throughout the year by both monsoonal and trade-wind rains, and the soil is particularly fertile.

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  • A. GRENFELL PRICE, Master of St. Mark's College, University of Adelaide; author of "White Settlers in the Tropics" and other works
  • More By A. Grenfell Price