City of Dwarfs

In a remote corner of northeastern Brazil, a pair of septuagenarian sisters are among the last living legacies of a place once populated primarily by dwarfs.

Story by Giulia Valentina Paolini & Bruno Pitzalis | November 19, 2014

A remote rural municipality in northeastern Brazil, Itabaianinha used to be known as “a cidade dos anões”— the city of dwarfs. A century ago, marriage between close relatives was common here, which may explain the widespread hormonal deficit found among the town’s population.

In the late 1990s many residents of Itabaianinha began traveling to São Paulo to receive a new hormonal treatment that involves the absorption of growth hormone, causing the multiplication of cartilaginous cells at the bones’ extremities and allowing for increased growth. The treatment can only be applied to patients fifteen years and younger, because after puberty cartilage has already turned into bone. Nowadays, Itabaianinha’s population of dwarfs is disappearing, with only an estimated one hundred remaining, predominately in the small village of Carretéis, ten miles from Itabaianinha center.

Beatriz and Joana Nascimento are twin sisters living in Itabaianinha. These siblings, now seventy-two, were too old to receive the growth treatment when it first became available in Brazil, and thus are among the last dwarfs of Itabaianinha.

* * *

Together, Giulia Valentina and Bruno are a creative couple of reporters, with an ironic and unconventional point of view. For more, visit


Behind the Scenes with a Narratively Illustrator

Illustrator Ryan Raphael gives us an inside look into his process when creating the art for the Narratively story Inside the Queer-Centric Frat That Dared to Question What a Frat Even Is.


Faces of Freelance: Meet Carolyn

An award-winning producer on how freelancers bring freedom and innovation to structured work environments.


Mission Impossible: Finding the Perfect Name for My Kid

A new dad on the nightmare-inducing challenge of coming up with a timeless but fresh, cool but not too cool name for his son.


Adventure Is in My DNA

A filmmaker and surfer proudly explores her Indigenous roots, and discovers that thrill-seeking runs in the family.


These 4 Women Are Taking on a Politician Near You

The coalminer’s daughter. The bartender. The police brutality activist. The grieving mother. Each looked at the man representing her in Congress and said, “I can do better.”


The Grieving Mom Fighting for a Healthcare System That Actually Works

Amy Vilela lost her daughter when she couldn’t afford the medical bills. When her Congressman told her he wouldn’t support universal healthcare, Amy said, “I’m running.”


This Ferguson Activist Wants to be Missouri’s First Black Congresswoman

Cori Bush is a registered nurse, a pastor and a mom. After taking to the streets to protest police killings, she looked in the mirror and said, “why not politician, too?”


How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Pulled Off the Biggest Upset in Congressional History

In early 2018, we introduced you to a bartender from the Bronx trying to pull off what many said was impossible. Here’s how AOC became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.


This Coalminer’s Daughter Is Mad as Hell—And Running for the U.S. Senate

Paula Jean Swearengin has seen West Virginia’s land exploited, its people fall ill, and its politicians do nothing. So she decided to do something herself.