The American Society is organizing a day-trip to the historical port town of Santos this Saturday, Nov. 1, from 8.30am to 6pm. Learn all about the first settlements of Brazil, the Indian tribes that greeted Portuguese explorers when they arrived in 1501 and the history of the thousands of immigrants who came to work on the plantations in the late 19th century when slavery was abolished.

Ride in a turn-of-the-century streetcar through Santos’ historical center.

Have a coffee in the old Coffee Exchange where Brazil’s green gold has been traded for the last 300 years.

Enjoy a sail around the Bay in a motor-schooner and a visit to the old Santo Amaro fortress.

Drive along the beach beside the world’s longest Garden (6 km), registered in the Guinness Book of Records.

Take a stroll through the Zoo-botanical Park with 6,000 orchids, a large variety of tropical birds, small animals and other plants.

Depart 8:30 AM from:

BLUE TREE TOWERS NAES UNIDAS
RUA FERNANDES MOREIRA, 1371
CHCARA SANTO ANTONIO
(TEL 5189 6555)

Participants should arrive by 8:15 am on Nov 1st as the bus will leave promptly at 8:30 am. We should return to the same location by 6 pm for people to pick up their cars. The drive is approximately 1 hour.

Parking information: Parking is included for those who wish to leave their cars in the Blue Tree Towers parking lot for the day.

Price per person: R$ 95 for American Society members and R$ 105 for non members

Includes: Executive Tour Bus, Bi-lingual Guide, Admission to the Coffee Exchange and Zoo-botanical park, Schooner ride, Ticket for the streetcar, as well as mineral water and soft drinks on the bus.

EXTRA: Lunch is la carte” and not included in the price.
To make your reservation or for more information email juliacalhoun@hotmail.com or call American Society at 5182-2074.”

By Lynea Newcomer
This past weekend I went to the Chapada Diamantina, a national park in the state of Bahia. The name means, roughly, diamond plateau, due to the vast amounts of diamonds extracted from here. The era of the Panama Canal construction (1880s) was the peak period and then the supply diminished and the emerging market in South Africa slowed the market here considerably. Since 1985 this land has been protected from further extraction (of various gems/and less valuable stones), and is a spot of much tourism by Brazilians and foreigners. You can go with a tour company, get a local guide (of which there are MANY) or just go explore yourself. Lacking info and means of transport (the park is large and it is best to have a car to get around), I went with a tour group from Maceio. And here begins my little adventure . . .
Ill start by saying that after a several day trip in close bus style quarters, we all know how well you can get to know someone. Some people you may need a couple weeks. Not so here. About 40 Brazilians and me loaded into a bus last Thursday evening to set off for the supposedly 12-13 hour bus ride (it ended up being at least 14 hours due to a flat tire during the night, shocker).
The program for the first day was altered due to this unforeseen delay, and we ended up doing a hike to see the cachoeira do sossego, a beautiful waterfall. To get there, we started off on a walk through the dry, scrubby forest, lots of cactus and hardy plants covered in fuzz, rocky terrain. Soon, we entered a riverbed dotted, or splotched rather, with large boulders and little boulders (if that is an allowable description, I dont know, but somehow small boulders exist in my mind), incredible composites of varying little pieces of green, rosy and white quartz. Boulder jumping along, I was happy to have 2 young boys along who enjoyed this as much as I did (the parents were more than a bit behind, and the young adult crowd was a bit slower as well).
Some notes about Brazilian hiking style, or at least the northeasterners: the slightest breath of cooler air (due to alt.) brings comments of being cold, women strip to their bikinis and everyone bemoans the lack of cold beer (although we did run across a hut halfway up whose inhabitants made a cool profit from us in this regard).
Arriving at the waterfall, we all took many a chilly dip and dive (and in several small swim-able pools along the way). That night we stayed in Lencois (named after the way an early settlement looked with all the miners tents made from sheets – lencois). A cute little hippy style town with lots of tourism guides, shops and small hotels. Everyone was pretty whipped after bad sleep on the bus and a long days hike, so after some dinner and cerveja bem gelada, we crashed. Ahhhhh . . . . sweet sleep in the cooler climes . . . pure heaven after a couple months of rather fitful hot climate sleep in Maceió. And a hot shower to boot! Total luxury.
Day 2 included a trip to do some rappel and tiraleza (where you do a trapeze style jump and fly into the water from a way high up) near another waterfall, a visit to a lake and cave to do some snorkeling in the dark, and finally at night, a trip down into a cave do hike around for several hours. I loved the trapeze stuff, and what was truly amazing about this day, and the whole trip in general, was the array of locations and emotions inspired by interacting with so many aspects of nature so quickly. To be diving off a waterfall one instant, and then be retracing the steps of an ancient sea below reaches of any sunbeam the next, Im still overwhelmed, thus this step by step description of my trip, and this attempt at building a scenario so that those reading will perhaps feel a more poetic incorporation of all of this later.
Night 2, returning at 11:30 pm ish, with out having had lunch, just snacks of granola bars, everyone fell on the last open restaurant (stuff closes early because people leave on trips early morn) : a pizzaria. The scene was something like what I imagine a food shortage to be like. As different groups pizzas arrived, singly, everyone’s eyes traced the paths of forks to mouths, and even by round 2, if a slice lingered, if someone paused, someone else would make a move. In the end, we all had plenty of pizza, topped brazilian style with ketchup, and then were off to quick deep slumber.
Sunday we set off with all our belongings and headed to pai inacio, a peak that upon reaching the summit, gives one a spectacular vista of other similar peaks and the vast green plains. On the way there, one guy in our group remembered he had forgotten he was supposed to return to Brasilia and everyone blamed it on his love for his girlfriend (also on the trip).
After this hike, up to the lands of swirling, whistling winds and soaring vistas, we descended yet again, after a bus ride, into yet another cave, to go for a swim (the cave is called Poco Azul; literally, Blue Well). The water is some of the clearest I have ever seen, and does indeed appear to be blue in the little light that reaches it from the mouth about. During September, the angle of the sun’s entering beams makes a blue beam appear. Even without a mask, I could see for tens of meters, and it was nearly impossible to tell where the water started, or hit the rocks.
For those of you who have made it this far . . . here comes the bulk of meaning from the inferences in title of this. Arriving at this well, 2 of the bus tires went flat, exploded really. So the drivers set off early afternoon to try to find replacements. They went to several neighboring cities, and returned with the bus, fixed and ready to go, at 8:30 pm. We were supposed to leave at 4. During the interval, we all lounged, chatted, strolled a nearby stream, I ate some jak fruit, let’s see, saw a beautiful sunset, watched as a nearly full moon rose over the stream and hot country side. I had dinner in a house across the river. Wandered there with one of the many dentists in our group (everyone seemed to be either a dentist, a lawyer or part of a girly girly threesome) and we sat on the open veranda, chatting with the locals, sipping cerveja and appreciating a cool breeze which seconds before had fluttering through the eucalyptus trees in front of us.
Departing, finally, I believe we stopped at 2 am for water and a pit stop. By this point, my entire body was numb; these long legs just do not fit in any transport, and I would gladly have been stretched out on the floor if everyone didnt have so much stuff. Later, greeted by the warm sun early morning, we were also greeted by the federal police (this was around 8 am – mind you we were programmed to return to Maceio at 7 am).
Unfortunately, a bus with clandestine travelers aboard had crashed nearby earlier in the morning, thus spurning document checks in all future buses. Like EVERY trip, the people in our group were somewhat different than what list the police had (about 5 people including me had changed at the last minute, and the tour company had not bothered to update this). So, a fine it was, and substantial at that. Even more unfortunately, one lawyer, the disgruntled type who honestly thought things should work rationally with the police (how idealistic) started to argue with them upon our halt. Thus, they decided to give us the maximum punishment: confiscate our bus. Yup.
So . . . the tour company called and had another bus sent to us from a nearby town. This all took 3 hours, and after completing the remaining 4 and a half hours of the trip, we arrived in Maceio around 3 pm.
At least it was the same day.
Ahh . . . and now I will completely lay myself down to sleep, horizontally at last, thankful for the lack of an outright accident, perhaps the worst thing that could have happened in this hell of a return trip.

If you would like to share your experience in Brazil with us please write to copydesk@www.gringoes.com

Brazilians never celebrated anything on October 31, but little by little, they are jumping on the bandwagon. Halloween is a non-religious autumn celebration with pumpkins and witches, and it has started to share space with the Brazilian springtime spiritual rituals, dia de Todos os Santos and Finados. Both holidays are serious catholic holidays with candles, crying and emotion. Halloween, on the other hand, replaces these with feasting and pranks.

Brazilians are natural partiers, but the catholic traditions always kept Brazilians from celebrating the arrival of November with the same happiness enjoyed in Carnival times. Mexican tradition allows for this type of carrying on, since they have made Dia de los Muertos (Finados) their most celebrated holiday. Watching them mix the macabre with a carnival feeling is awe-inspiring. Their Mayan and Aztec roots give way to an incredible comfort level with death, allowing them to enjoy eating foods in the shape of skulls. Every November 2nd, Mexicans creep tourists out by their displays of skeletons and death. In the interior of Mexico, there is still the belief that celebrating the dead will bring rain, better crops and increased fertility, and of course, good luck.

With such tradition, Mexicans should really downplay Halloween, since they also have pranks associated with their Day of the Dead festival, when young adults steal fruit, flowers and corn on the evening of November 1st, honoring all the saints. Witches on broomsticks don’t mean anything in Mexico. They didn’t mean anything here, either, except in Maranhão, where for some odd reason some celebrate Nossa Senhora da Vassoura”, who wipes the bad away with a broom. Well, the rest of Brazil is accepting the traditions of All Hallow’s Eve, on the night before November 1st, October 31st.

2,500 years ago, the Celts who lived in Ireland and the British Isles celebrated the end of summer. They had a type of fire festival, lighting fires at the tops of mountains to dispel the evil spirits.

They believed that on that date, the dead revisited their old homes as a horde of ghosts, witches, gnomes and other supernatural beings. To confuse them, the Celts went out at night carrying turnips sculpted with human faces with a candle lit inside called a jack-o’-lantern.

Halloween was brought to America by Irish and Scottish immigrants. The turnip was exchanged for the pumpkin, which didn’t exist in Europe. As time went by, Halloween lost its religious roots and became a childish celebration. There is a sect of people who still take Halloween seriously, who call themselves Neopagan, and fundamental Christians are against this holiday.

One group of fascists who are against this party are called the Satanic Panic-ers, who distribute pamphlets and have a comic book called Spellbound. In it, Halloween is described as a satanic ritual where children eat poisonous candies and are kidnapped and sacrificed so that their fat can be used to make the candles that go in the jack-o’-lantern, and so on.

Not even the Celts had devils or deities connected to death in their beliefs. There is no proof that the Celts harmed or killed people other than those who committed crimes and sometimes prisoners of war. Sacrifices, inquisitions and pogroms were, as the Vatican itself shamefully admits, Christian inventions. Another fallacy: the Celts never saw a pumpkin, and they knew that human fat is not a good ingredient to make candles.

Halloween doesn’t harm anyone. Unicef has been collecting funds for its programs to help children worldwide on Halloween. Each year, hundreds of Neopagans get together on Halloween, dress in green, and meet to donate blood and food to the needy. They also clean parks and take flowers to hospitals and old-folks homes. Why don’t we join in and celebrate Halloween and this type of witchcraft?

The above text is a rough translation of an article by SRGIO AUGUSTO

Brazilians do not go trick-or-treating the conventional way (they celebrate buffet-infantil style), but some have started to do so in their apartment buildings and complexes. A friend of mine sent her children out trick-or-treating without notice, and she came back with very interesting loot (whatever the resident could come up with…) If you are interested in trick-or-treating in your building, I recommend you talk to the sindico and get permission to advertise the event, asking those who want to participate to hang something on their door. Choose an early time for young trick-or-treaters and a later time for the older ones! Believe me, the Brazilians will join in on the fun.

Postscript by Monica Trentini

Celebrate Halloween at home or at school with a festive Halloween Pizza cookie, or give your friends big cookies decorated with candy corn! Share the Halloween spirit at work, too! Call Monica at (55 11) 3739-2599 or 8111-5920 or write to cookiedoughtogo@yahoo.com Stateside orders accepted.”

By Ashley Riley Lopes
Anyone who has ever moved remembers being the new kid at school. Or maybe the first day on the job-looking around smiling at your coworkers, wondering who will end up being your friend. A change in surroundings always makes one feel a little different. Like moving to a small town in a foreign country were 90% of the people have never met anyone of your nationality. Yeah, you might feel a bit different.

Though I have been here in Brazil for almost 9 months, moving out of São Paulo and into the Mato Grosso countryside has felt like moving to another country in itself. In São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil didn’t feel all that alien from the States. While the language was obviously different, the environment was somewhat familiar. I was surrounded by my husband’s family and friends, most of whom spoke English. Our city played home to over 20 English schools and three universities, making the atmosphere educated and young. Sure, it was summer there at Christmas, when I was use to snow, but at least they had seasons.

My husband’s job transferred him to Tangar da Serra, Mato Grosso about five months after I arrived in Brazil. Mato Grosso is located in the Central-Western part of the country, and is much less developed and populated than São Paulo state.

It took us two and a half days to cross the Brazilian countryside to reach our new city, hopefully home. We traveled roads filled with potholes and dust, all too symbolic of our change in lifestyle. We stopped in gas stations, washing the dirt from our faces, peering into the cracked mirrors at our pioneer-esque expressions.

It’s winter here now, and the average temperature is around 90F. When we moved here, the natives said I would eventually adjust-it was just something my body would naturally get use to. Having been here several months, I am beginning to worry that I might not make it through the alleged rainy season, which is to follow, and then the scorching heat of summer.

I first moved to Brazil in December, arriving Christmas Eve. My Brazilian boyfriend of three years had convinced me that we could make a life here together. I had traveled throughout Europe and parts of Central America in the past, and had dreamed of taking the leap of living in another country since high school. So I came.

I had thought that I wanted to be different-special. I thought that living in another country and experiencing a new culture would help me grow as a person. I was right, but in my idealistic view I neglected to think about the isolation that comes with being different.

My husband travels a lot with his job during the week, attacking the unpaved, dusty roads like a warrior, sometimes stopping to pay an Indian toll or two. I spend a lot of time getting to know my new surroundings alone. I walk down our city’s main avenue, looking in store windows and people watching. The streets are filled with bicycles, sometimes carrying whole families. When I stop to shop, the salesclerks always ask me where I am from and what I am doing here. Usually, they are true to their Brazilian nature, and try to make me feel at home.

I teach English at a school fairly close to our apartment. At first the students were intimidated by me, looking at me strangely, whispering-Is she really American? What is she doing here?” But now, realizing I am only human, they love to tease me about my accent. I always think to myself, what if I teased them about their English accents?

On the weekends, we often visit a nearby farm, aligning a valley with huge rock walls. We love to rock climb and bring the farmer’s teenage son along. We sit atop the walls and look out over the valley and its beautiful, stretching landscape. I swat a mosquito and take a deep breath.

Though I originally thought I came to Brazil to learn about differences, I guess I forgot that I might be different. Although sometimes insecure about my less-than-perfect Portuguese or differences in upbringing, opinions, etc., I feel really lucky to have landed in Brazil and am able to participate in Festa Juninha (June Parties), watch Motocross rallies in the jungle or wash my hair in a waterfall. I am only now realizing that I have to take the bad with the good-hot, humid winter days as well as pizza with frango/catupiry.

I may have been more comfortable in São Carlos, São Paulo, because it was more like a city in the United States, but change is what I really wanted anyway, right? Maybe I just need a little time to adjust, and maybe Tangar da Serra just needs a little time to get use to me.

If you would like to share your experience in Brazil with us please write to copydesk@www.gringoes.com

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By Ed Rowley
Gonalves is a small, hillside town in Minas Gerais about 220 kilometres from São Paulo. Its main attraction is the peace and quiet it offers, which can come as quite a shock after the constant noise of the city. Other attractions include the stunning scenery, hill walking and some great Mineiro restaurants.

To get there, take Rod. Fernao Dias, turn off at Cambui and follow the signs. The distance from Cambui to Gonalves is less than a quarter of the total distance from São Paulo but will probably make up fifty per cent of the journey time (not including São Paulo’s traffic jams). The road becomes a dirt track as you leave Cambui and wind your way up and down a number of hills. This is the sort of terrain 4×4 car owners dream about; they can instantly transport themselves into the advert that made them buy the vehicle in the first place.

There are a number of pousadas located in the hills surrounding Gonalves, all of which cater for people who have come to ‘get away from it all’. We stayed at the Pousada do Rio, conveniently located in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of a trail that made the previous dirt track look like a brand new German Autobahn. Seriously, if it had been raining I don’t think our little city run-around would have coped. Luckily it hadn’t rained for quite a while and after a couple of tense kilometres we arrived at our destination unscathed. If you are lucky enough to have a 4×4, this place is worth visiting just for the driving alone.

High up on a hill, Pousada do Rio has some great views, a large pool and lots of space. The accommodation is in comfortable chalets, each with its own bathroom, fireplace and rocking chair. They also have a little terrace where you can hang the hammock, which is also provided. Price includes a breakfast consisting of breads, cakes and cheese. You can book in to have an evening meal as well, but there is no menu, you get what’s on offer. A much better option is to make a note of the restaurants you pass and choose one of them.

Lagedo is a lovely little restaurant tucked out of the way at km 7 on Estrada Gonalves x Campestre. They have a limited menu specialising in Mineiro food and home made pastas. The food was simple but excellent and ridiculously cheap. The owners, Edson and Eusa, are exceptionally friendly, and insisted on showing me the kitchen when I told them I had not seen a traditional Mineiro wood-fired oven before. At the back of the restaurant is a bar upon which is spread a whole range of LP records and from which customers can, on a quiet night, choose their own background music.

If you have the energy, a hike to the top of Pedra do Forno is definitely worth your while. It shouldn’t take much more than a couple of hours to get to the top and back down again, although it does get quite difficult as you approach the summit. If it isn’t cloudy, you will be rewarded with a splendid view across the surrounding countryside that will eradicate all thoughts of work and city-life, after all, that’s what you’re there for, isn’t it?

Pousada do Rio
www.pousadadorio.com.br
(11) 3083 4149

Restaurante Lagedo
(35) 9984 5693

Gonalves
www.goncalvesmg.hpg.ig.com.br/

By Ashley Riley Lopes
While trips to Brazil usually conjure up ideas of samba, beaches and scantily clad tanned bodies, next Carnival season, you might want to act like a local and head to one of the most popular inland destinations-Serra da Canastra, a purely breathtaking Brazilian inland alternative.

These days, many Brazilians are choosing to avoid the madness of the beach and head for other forms of paradise inland. Nestled in the hills of Minas Gerias, Serra da Canastra offers visitors an abundance of natural wonders. I ventured there this past Carnival, along with my husband (a native Brazilian and avid rock climber and motorbiker) and some of his college buddies. While some visitors are enticed by the area’s vast motorbike trails and large canyon walls perfect for climbing, I was lured there by tales of amazing waterfall-created lagoons. Though I had originally hoped to spend Carnival on the famous beaches of Florianopolis, I was persuaded to forgo the traditional Carnival experience for promises of hidden paradise.

Luckily one of our companions had a truck with 4-wheel drive, so we made the 6-hour journey from our apartment in São Carlos, São Paulo with ease. Our driver had visited Serra da Canastra over five times and had arranged for us to camp near Pousada Mata do Engenho, a lodge in the area. The lodge provided three large meals a day and the use of their showers and bathrooms for a mere 20 reais (around $7). When we reached the lodge we were greeted with hugs, glasses of pinga (sugarcane liquor) and a traditional Minas Geriasian meal. Eager to see our first waterfall, we set up camp by a nearby stream and set out.

We decided to head for Maria Augusta, a pristine waterfall, towering over 100 ft. It flowed down and created a large pool-like lagoon surrounded by a small sandy-beach. I felt as though I had stepped into a hidden paradise. We all dove in; enjoy the refreshing, pure water. We were able to swim under the waterfall and enter a small cavern behind-the roar of the water was exhilarating. We spent all afternoon there.

In the evening we ventured back to the lodge to enjoy another Minas Geriasian meal and a couple beers. Other visitors crowded there to sing Carnival songs, drink pinga and recount stories of the waterfalls they had visited that day. We built a bon-fire and slept well.

Our second day in Serra da Canastra, we decided to drive to Paraiso Selvagem, another waterfall in the area. After driving for almost an hour through rocky roads, we parked and began the 2 km hike to the waterfall. The hike was through fairly dense jungle and across a wide stream (Hiking shoes or balance recommended). After about 20 minutes, Paraiso Selvagem came into view. Hidden by walls of rock, the waterfall pooled over into a foliage-surrounded lagoon. The brave could climb the rock walls and jump into the deep pool, while the less-brave could swim to the pool’s center and enjoy the view from a large rock there. Since the pool was hidden from the sun by large walls, it turned cold quickly and us females in Brazilian bikinis chose to leave after an hour or so. We hiked back and reached our trucks, just before the rain began to fall. We spent the evening in the same manner as the night before.

The next morning, my husband and I and another couple decided to borrow horses from our lodge and head across the countryside to Vale do Ceu. We obtained three horses and one mulinha (mule), and set out. As we rode higher and higher into the landscape, we passed through beautiful green hills and blue streams. When we reached Vale do Ceu, we tethered our horses, stripped down to our bathing suits, and began the climb into the cavernous waterfall. While our companions decided not to descend farther, my husband and I jumped into the refreshing water and let it carry us into its lagoon. The water pounded on our bodies like a massage and rehydrated us after the long ride. When satisfied, we climbed back up the waterfall, dressed and collected our horses. Knowing we were returning home, our horses’ energy was renewed, and we galloped across the breathtaking landscape.

After our midday meal, my husband and I collected our horses and decided to return to the first waterfall, Maria Augusta that had so captured our interest the first day. Although a little more crowded than desirable, we enjoyed the beach and water, warmed by the sun. Other visitors were busy gearing up to repel the waterfall. We decided to ride to the waterfall’s summit, in order to capture a different view. At the summit, the waterfall took on a totally different ambiance; we bathed in its many pools and then returned with our horses to the lodge. We spent that night the same as the last, thoroughly enjoying our campfire and creek bed camping spot.

Already the Tuesday of Carnival, we planned to make this day an important one. We still had to visit Quilombo, an amazing three-tiered waterfall about 7km from our campsite. While some of our companions decided to hike, we opted for a bumpy ride through the hills in our 4X4 truck. We reached the base of the waterfall after about a 45-minute drive. Parking the truck under a tree, we began our trek up the base to the first lagoon. It was beautiful! The waterfall cascaded down, creating a large pool. We swam out to large rocks in the center of the lagoon and sunned our selves. Others climbed the surrounding cliffs and jumped into the refreshing waters. I borrowed an intertube from a local Indian and paddled my way around from side to side.

Though very content here, we decided to venture further and discover the waterfalls second tier. We climbed a steep path, aided by a local guide. The second tier was beautiful as well- the waterfall fell down creating a pool surrounded by stair casing rocks. We rested there, enjoying the view.

Tired, but determined, we ventured to the summit. The heat poured down on our bodies and we looked forward to relaxing in the pools of the summit-we were not disappointed. From the summit, we received an entirely new view. It was enormous. The waterfall created several large pools here, and we each picked one for ourselves, enjoying the sun now in the cool water. The current was stronger here, too, so the pools flowed into each other, creating smaller waterfalls. I rested against the current, feeling the water massage my tired body. It was beautiful, and we stayed there for several hours.

That night we enjoyed our last meal at Pousada Mata do Engenho, and said our goodbyes to the other guests and some of our companions. Those who still remained enjoyed one last bonfire, drinking pinga and recounting the beauty of the past couple days.

We left the next morning to return to São Paulo state. Although Carnival was over, and I felt as though I had missed some of the traditional festivities, my adventure in Serra da Canastra seemed to transcend samba, beaches, and naked chicks. I had experienced Carnival on the sandy beaches of Maria Augusta, heard the music in the waters of Quilombo, and been awed by the naked beauty of Serra da Canastra.

Brazil’s version of Oktoberfest takes place every year in the southern town of Blumenau, Santa Catarina state, which to this day has a strong German presence. The festival, which attracts over 500,000 people consuming 250,000 liters of beer, is Brazil’s biggest beer festival, and the second largest in the world, after Munich. The festival, currently in its 20th edition, will take place from Oct. 2 – 19, and will feature 26 local bands and two international groups – the German Hogl Fun Band and the American California Repercussions, as well as beer drinking competitions, beauty pageants, costume parades, dancing and much much more.
This popular festival started in Blumenau back in 1984, to raise money and spirits after two successive floods practically destroyed the city.
Entrance: Sun – Thur : R$5 Fri-Sat: R$10 . Those wearing typical German costumes will gain free admittance.

By John Fitzpatrick
Jorge Amado and, more recently, Paulo Coelho may be the most widely read Brazilian writers in the world but the most highly regarded book by a Brazilian is, undoubtedly, Os Sertes” by Euclides da Cunha. This fascinating work, published just over 100 years ago, tells the story of how, towards the end of the 19th century, the recently-established Republican government tried to put down a revolt in the arid backlands – sertão – of the northeastern state of Bahia. The revolt was led by a religious mystic, known as Antonio Conselheiro. In 1893 he settled in an abandoned hamlet called Canudos and within a few years had attracted around 20,000 followers. In 1896 a petty incident with merchants in a nearby town over a supply of wood to build a new church led to a row which eventually led to accusations that Canudos was a hotbed of monarchism. Clashes occurred between the local and state militias, in which the backlanders emerged victorious, and eventually led to the government in Rio de Janeiro mounting expeditions to defeat it claimed was a bastion of monarchism. The backlanders proved formidable enemies and defeated every force sent against them, even killing the commander of the first expedition. The “rebels” defied the federal forces until 1897 when a 5,000-strong army blasted Canudos to pieces and killed almost all those inside. The charismatic Antonio Conselheiro, described by Cunha as a madman, died of hunger after being wounded in an artillery attack, before the army took control of the ruined town.
It is not an easy book and I quickly abandoned attempts to read it in the original Portuguese and turned to an English version “Rebellion in the Backlands”, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1944. Cunha was a military engineer and this shows in his painstaking descriptions of the terrain which the federal armies marched through and the rebels used to inflict deadly ambushes. The book is full of military terminology, which can be confusing and uninteresting to a non-soldier. The pages are filled with the names of officers, battalions and incidents as though Cunha were writing the official dispatches. Sub-headings like “The Cannonading”, “The Enemy Continues to Fight Back” and “In the Field Hospital” are scattered throughout the book. No-one is spared Cunha’s relenting account. Imagine the feelings of relatives of the soldiers on reading a sentence like this: “At one side, stretched out on the bare ground with the sun beating down upon them, were the bodies, rigid in death, of a number of officers – those of Lieutenant Colonel Tupy, Major Queiroz, Sublieutenants Raposo, Neville, Carvalho, and others.”
He is methodical in his approach to the whole story, starting with a description of the topography and the prehistoric formation of the land which, millions of years later, was to be the breeding ground of the backlander and the backdrop to the drama of Canudos. He describes the flora and fauna, not in the lyrical terms of a fine writer like H.E. Bates or in the awed way Charles Darwin describes his first encounter with the Brazilian forest, but in the same matter-of-fact style.
The geology and geography fascinate him because he sees that it was this terrain which shaped the rebels. A hard environment created a hardy people. For Cunha, the backlander – or jaguno as he calls him – was a member of a different race from other Brazilians and he devotes great space to describing this human product of centuries of breeding, starting with the original mixture of Indian, Portuguese and African. It is no longer fashionable to discuss race in the same way as people did a century ago and, of course, Cunha has been accused of racial stereotyping and racism. It is always easy to criticise the way people behaved in the past according to the standards of today. The reader can make up his own mind from this description of prisoners and their conquerors. “There were few whites or pure Negroes among them; an unmistakable family likeliness in all these faces pointed to the perfect fusion of three races. The legitimate pardo (mixed-race, my italics) predominated, a mixture of Kaffir, Portuguese and Tape Indian – bronzed faces, stiff and straight or curly hair, unshapely torsos. Here and there would be with perfectly correct lines, pointing to the admixture of a higher racial element. And round about them were the victors, separate and disparate, proteiform types, the white man, the black man, the cafuso (mixture of Indian and black), and the mulatto, with all gradiations of coloring. There was a contrast here; the strong and integral race thus reduced, within this square, to the indefinable and pusillanimous mestizos, wholly broken by the struggle.”
Personally I see more irony than “racism” there. Cunha then goes on to describe how the “integral” Brazilians were tortured and murdered by the vengeful troops. For a military man like Cunha, the connivance of the officers in this butchery was as bad as the slaughter itself. One of the last sub-headings is a tribute to the backlanders and a rebuke to the military – “Canudos did not Surrender”. There can be few sadder scenes in literature than this description: “Canudos did not surrender. The only case of its kind in history, it held out to the last man. Conquered inch by inch in the literal meaning of the words, it fell on October 5, towards dusk – when its last defenders fell, dying every man of them. There were only four of them left: an old man, two other full-grown men, and a child, facing a furiously raging army of 5,000 soldiers.”
Although Cunha makes it clear that he is on the side of the government – referring to “our” troops and the “enemy” – his candid description of military blunders and atrocities may have ended up costing him his life. He was shot dead by an army officer in Rio in 1909 at the age of 43.
One of the points he makes in the book is that the Brazilian elite, by which he meant those who lived in the populated coastal regions, had nothing in common with the backlanders. It is in this sense that Cunha was trying to show that these backlanders were a different race from the other Brazilians who knew nothing about them. This ignorance and arrogance led to the eventual destruction of Canudos. The elite saw the proclamation of the Republic in 1889 and the separation of the church and state as progressive steps, but to the backlanders they were crimes against religion. The new state used a steamroller to crack a nut but the steamroller was a slow, lumbering, inefficient instrument and the nut had a harder shell than expected. The final victory was hollow and even today the wounds have not healed. As a captured Celtic warrior is said to have said of a defeat by the Romans: “They create a wilderness and call it peace.”
What a pity Cunha is not around to write about today’s Brazil because he would find that much of the same social misunderstanding is still around. The same divide exists between the “elite” and the “forgotten” Brazilians, the backlanders of the 21st century. The “elite” live around or near the coast in big cities like Rio, São Paulo and Recife, or in rich inland agricultural areas like Minas Gerais, Parana or Mato Grosso. The forgotten Brazilians live in backland areas of the Northeast or the vast territories of the Amazon. Look at the itineraries of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and see how often he visit places like Rondonia and Acre. His stomping ground is the familiar pattern of the southern states of São Paulo, Rio, Minas Gerais, Parana etc. plus some important Northeastern states. Token visits are made occasionally to more isolated spots but as soon as possible he is on familiar ground.
At the same time, these “forgotten” Brazilians are not only to be found in isolated areas. Millions of them live in the urban centres, generally in favela shantytowns. These favelas are as “free” of officialdom as Canudos was over 100 years ago. Whereas Canudos was in the hands of a religious fanatic, the favelas are governed by criminals who exploit the residents by turning their children into drug addicts and prostitutes, and rob and kill at will. The criminals are well organized and impossible to eradicate. The gang leaders become role models for the young. Every so often the security forces carry out highly-publicised large-scale operations to capture leaders. We saw an example about a year ago in Rio’s Rocinha favela when around 1,000 members of the security forces tracked down the leading suspect in the case of a journalist, Tim Lopes, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while covering a story in the favela.
The then PT state government wasted no time in claiming the glory for that arrest but there was nothing to glory in. The arrest or death of individual gangsters will not end the control the gangs have over millions of people. Not only are local people frightened but so is society as a whole. The gang leaders will continue to thrive regardless of who is president because, unlike the rebels at Canudos, they pose no threat to the political structure. In fact the gangs thrive on corruption within the police and among politicians. This means that for the unfortunate favela dwellers, no expeditionary force will march in one day and root the gangsters out. During the two decades in which the military ruled Brazil, the security forces stamped out any armed political resistance yet after almost two decades of democracy they are incapable of stamping out blatant criminal rebellion.
John Fitzpatrick 2003
John Fitzpatrick is a Scotsman who writes on Brazilian politics and culture for sites, including infobrazil.com and brazzil.com, and magazines. He runs his own São Paulo-based company, Celtic Comunicaes, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br