By Stephen Guild
May 31, 2009

Every country has its folk heroes, and Brazil is no different. The outlaw, Lampião, is certainly one of the most colorful and controversial of them all. He has been compared to Robin Hood and regarded as a peasant revolutionary against the feudal farmers of the region by some. Others have considered him brutal and ruthless and a vicious, merciless, psychopathic thug.

Lampião, originally Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, was born in 1897 in the village of Serra Talhada, in the sertão (semi-arid backlands) of the state of Pernambuco, which traditionally has been one of the most backward areas of the country. Virgulino, however, was literate and used reading glasses, an anomaly for the region where he lived. He was a leather craft artisan, who lived with his family until he was 21, when his father was killed in a confrontation with the police. He vowed revenge on the police and formed a gang called the cangaceiros (men of the cangao, or badlands).

He called himself Lampião, which means lantern,” because he carried a lantern during his nighttime raids. Another version holds that his name referred to “lightning,” because of the lightning quick raids he made on small cities and farms across the Nordeste. Killing people and cattle, ransacking, taking hostages for ransom, torturing, fire-branding, maiming, and raping by the cangaceiros were common. Incidents of Lampião digging out a man’s eyeballs with a knife and cutting off a woman’s tongue have been verified.

He was joined in 1930 by his girlfriend, Maria Bonita (Beautiful Mary), who had long black hair, big sultry eyes, and a shapely body. It was love at first sight – and they clearly shared more than just romance. The gang had ridden into her town on the first day they met, and she walked up to him, pointed to a man and said “That is my husband – shoot him.” Lampião drew his pistol and shot the man in cold blood. When the cangaceiros rode out of town, Maria Bonita was at Lampião’s side and remained there until their violent deaths together.

Captain Virgulino, as Lampião liked to call himself, had no shortage of enemies. He and the police were mortal foes. The state and local politicians resented his prestige and power. As hard as they tried, catching and killing Lampião was not easy. He knew the country side, he had spies, and he had friends. Most of the police sent against him were less than enthusiastic about getting ambushed in the brush.

Those who opposed him could lose everything, including their lives. If betrayed to the police, the cancageiros were merciless. On the other hand, if Lampião and his henchmen came to town, and he had no grudge or couldn’t find anything of value he wanted, he would quite often arrange a party with music and plenty of cachaa.

Finally, in July of 1938, Lampião and his band were betrayed by one of his supporters and were ambushed in one of his hideouts in the state of Sergipe by police armed with machine guns. Their heads were cut off and first brought to Recife as proof they were actually dead. One account has the police officer who killed Lampião showing the heads he was carrying in a suitcase to a fellow traveler while riding the train to Recife. Eventually, the heads were taken to Bahia, where they were on display for many years, until the families of Lampião and Maria Bonita were able to reclaim the preserved heads to finally bury them.

Lampião and Maria Bonita have become subjects of innumerable folk stories, books, popular pamphlets (cordel literature), songs, movies, and a number of TV soap operas. The gang’s favorite song, Mulher Rendera, which they would sing as they went into a town, is a tune almost every Brazilian knows and is also the name of a popular chain of restaurants. The Museum of Mamulengo in Olinda has a whole floor dedicated to representations of Lampião and Maria Bonita.

Like any legendary figure, Lampião is a mixture of fact and fiction, but there is no denying that he was one of the most notorious bandits in Northeastern Brazil.

The author gratefully acknowledges the many sources that were consulted in the writing of this article. While they provide the foundation, the interpretation and opinion are entirely those of the author.

Republished with permission from Brazilwood: A Country, A State and A Tree of Pride and Beauty
Tiradentes: The Day of a National Hero

By Ken Westmoreland
May 31, 2009

For many years, there have been two things close to my heart: promoting the Portuguese language, and support for East Timor, which goes back to when it was under Indonesian occupation, following Portugal’s abandonment of its ‘overseas province’ in 1975.

During the past decade since East Timor finally got self-determination, my faith in both has been put to the test. It’s a bit like being a parent of Siamese twins: you love them both, but it would make life so much easier for them, and for you, if they weren’t joined at the hip.

For many years, I have watched with amusement at the sudden interest shown by some Brazil in East Timor: journalist Rosely Forganes, who spent a year in East Timor, wrote the book Queimado, Queimado, Mas Agora Nosso while telenovela star turned film director Luclia Santos made the documentary Timor Lorosae: O Massacre Que O Mundo Não Viu. They and others have tried to evoke some historic link between the two countries and their peoples, when in reality most people in Brazil know and care as much about East Timor as people in the US know and care about the Solomon Islands.

Indeed, how much do Brazilians know about Southeast Asia, never mind East Timor?

While they are acquainted with Japan, because of migration in both directions, and China, because of growing trade links, Southeast Asia is an unknown quantity, uncharted territory, if not a ‘no-go’ area.

While it made sympathetic noises about East Timor at the UN, Brazil always maintained diplomatic relations with Indonesia, although not without some friction. In 1987, Jos Ramos Horta, now President, wrote:

A Brazilian trade mission to Indonesia was called off abruptly. Brazilian businessman were told that their Government’s position on East Timor was hampering trade relations between the two countries. Sure enough, the businessmen (who had probably never heard of East Timor and couldn’t have cared less if they had) carried the message to Itamaraty. Arch-pragmatists, the Brazilians tried to play both sides: pleasing the Lusophone community by sponsoring the [UN] draft; placating the Indonesians by letting them know that Brazil would not ask other countries to support it.”

However, were the Brazilians really that interested in trade links with Indonesia back then, any more than they were in supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination? I doubt it. Perhaps conservative and anti-communist military leaders like Geisel and Figuereido would have found much in common with Suharto, but would they have seen any point in meeting him, or vice versa?

In February this year I visited East Timor, or ‘Timor Leste’ as it is now widely known, even by people who do not speak Portuguese, and had the pleasure of meeting Brazilians working there. The best known Brazilian was the late Srgio Vieira de Mello, head of the UN’s transitional administration. He managed to tread carefully on the issue of East Timor’s official language policy, but gained a great deal of respect from Timorese by his efforts to learn Tetum, the main language of the country, something no Portuguese governor ever did.

It certainly helps that Tetum, which is also an official language, is heavily influenced by Portuguese, not least in its modern vocabulary, making it easy for Portuguese speakers to pick up. While most Timorese still do not speak Portuguese, it’s worth remembering that eighty years ago, only five per cent of people in what is now Indonesia spoke what is now called Indonesian. Essentially a form of Malay, it was no more intelligible to most people across the sprawling archipelago than Portuguese is to most people in Western Europe.

East Timor needs a counterweight to Indonesia and Australia, and it helps that the country in the region best placed to play that role, China, sees the Portuguese language as an asset, rather than a handicap, having been actively cultivating ties with Brazil and Angola because of its need for raw materials.

If only Brazil saw its language the same way. It is almost as if it has an inferiority complex about Portuguese, a symptom of wishing it had been a colony of somewhere other than Portugal. However, irrespective of whether it will ever be East Timor’s language, Portuguese is Brazil’s language, and it needs to be more assertive in promoting it worldwide.

Unfortunately, when I have written (in Portuguese) to ministries in Brasilia or to Brazilian embassies abroad, to enquire about their efforts to promote the language, I have found them even more inefficient than those in Lisbon, and have only once received a reply. While Portugal’s Instituto Cames is also inefficient (and does the language of Cames no favours) there is no equivalent Brazilian body. To paraphrase the old joke, Brazilian Portuguese is the language of the country of the future, and always will be. In other words, it’s the language of the country that doesn’t want to grow up.

The biggest problem with the Portuguese language in East Timor is not so much that people there are unable or unwilling to learn it, but that the Brazilians are so inexperienced in teaching it to speakers of other languages. For example, there are still no Indonesian-Portuguese or Portuguese-Indonesian dictionaries, meaning that Brazilian teachers in East Timor have to use two dictionaries in order to decipher Indonesian textbooks that are still widely used.

By contrast, there are plenty of books, including dictionaries, for Indonesian speakers wanting to learn Spanish, may of which are being put ot good use by East Timorese going to study medicine in Cuba, and more embarrassingly, there is now a Swedish-Indonesian dictionary. But what has Brazil done to remedy this? Nothing.

When it comes to promoting the Portuguese language in Asia, Brazil should have considerable advantages over Portugal, which is seen as a country only interested in preserving relics of its imperial past. In fact, it is thanks to Brazil, not Portugal, that as many people in Asia speak Portuguese as they do – there are nearly 300 000 Portuguese speakers in Japan, more than in East Timor, Macau and Goa combined.

Brazil no more needs the CPLP, the Lusophone community of nations, to promote the Portuguese language, any more than the US needs the Commonwealth, the successor to the British Empire, to promote English. The only worthwhile thing that might ever come from the CPLP, an international TV channel, is nowhere near fruition, and there is more likelihood of China launching a Portuguese-language channel.

In any event, the Commonwealth is a discredited hypocritical talking shop, before which the UK subjects itself to moral lectures from corrupt and despotic leaders of its former colonies, or in the case of Mozambique, one of Portugal’s.

Indeed, Brazil should no more have to harmonise Portuguese spelling with Portugal than the US should have to harmonise English spelling with the UK. In Southeast Asia, both American and British spelling are used, often interchangeably, but this has never been made learning English any less popular. However, Brazil should call Singapore ‘Singapura’, not ‘Cingapura’, which just looks silly.

Brazil does not suffer from that historical or colonial baggage, and can promote Portuguese as it should be promoted, as the language of a regional power that wants to be taken seriously on the world stage. However, in order to do that, Brazil has to take the rest of the world seriously, and that includes Southeast Asia.

True, Brasilia has more embassies in the region than Lisbon, but how do its diplomats fill their day? Having lived in Singapore, I had to laugh when the Brazilian Embassy recently came out with a brochure called ‘It’s Time For Brazil In Singapore’. By all means, but why only now? When I went to an international school in Singapore, I met people from all over the world, but no Brazilians, not even the children of diplomats. Many years later I learned the reason why: Itamaraty was too tight-fisted to pay their fees.

Brazilians certainly need to become more knowledgeable about Indonesia, the regional giant. It may have the world’s largest Muslim population, but it is not Saudi Arabia. Bali, where two Brazilians were among those killed in the bombings by Jemaah Islamiyah in October 2002, is predominantly Hindu. While Al Qaeda denounced Srgio Vieira de Mello as a ‘crusader’ who ‘extracted a part of the Islamic land’, the architect of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, General Benny Murdani, was Catholic. Mari Alkatiri, East Timor’s first Prime Minister, was a Muslim.

Indeed, while Indonesian is still viewed with hostility by some Portuguese-educated Timorese as the language of the oppressor, many words in Indonesian are from Portuguese – gereja, sepatu, garpu, roda, pesta, palsu, terigu, keju, mentega, lelang, meja, jendela, boneka and numerous others, not to mention the name of an Indonesian island, Flores.

And it may surprise many Brazilians to learn that Indonesia has made a contribution, if only a small one, to one of their neighbours, Suriname. Many people there are descended from Javanese migrant labourers brought by the Dutch a century ago, and who speak a form of Javanese, despite having had contact with Indonesia for generations.

For many years, the only Brazilian contribution to the region has been telenovelas, although as these are invariably dubbed (Escrava Isaura in Chinese, Sinha Moa in Malay and Terra Nostra in Indonesian) people there could be forgiven for thinking that Brazilians did not speak Portuguese at all.

However, audiences now have the chance to watch them in the original language, as Record TV is now available across Asia via satellite, offering a long overdue alternative to the dreary output of Portugal’s RTPi. But if English language channels can be subtitled in in local languages, then why not Brazilian ones? Or indeed, TVTL in East Timor, to which TV Globo has provided programming free of charge?

In the past year, Lula has visited Indonesia, and his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has visited Brazil, but how many Brazilians and Indonesians will follow suit? Not many, and talk of ‘south-south cooperation’ remains just that: talk. Unlike China, which is a resource-hungry economy, Indonesia is resource-rich and sees little advantage in forging trade links with Brazil. However, now that it is possible to fly between São Paulo and Jakarta via Dubai, travel between the two regional giants is a lot faster and cheaper than travelling via Europe.

Ignoring other regions of the world is a classic sign of third world status, and of all the four BRIC countries, Brazil is still the most inward-looking. While its decision to become involved with East Timor ten years ago may have been naãve, the Brazilians I know who work there show great affection for, and commitment to, the country, and do not see their role as clearing up another country’s mess, be it Portugal’s or Indonesia’s. And, more importantly, it has at least pulled Brazil away from its navel, into a region of the world that it has traditionally ignored, which should awaken it to new possibilities, both cultural and economic.

Ken Westmoreland is a Portuguese and Tetum translator based in the UK, who has been travelling in East Timor and Indonesia.

By Alison McGowan
May 31, 2009

As I sit looking out over this exact view, with the sky as clear as it is here, it is difficult to imagine that the weather is ever any different, but over the last 30 years of travelling here I have discovered that, just as everywhere else, the weather is not always predictable and the preconceptions we arrive with may not always be true.

What follows are some of things I thought before I came here – with comments on what the weather in Brazil is really like!

1. It gets warmer the closer you get to the equator.

Not necessarily – from Rio northwards, for over 3000 kms, the coastal temperatures are very similar – with daytime highs usually between 25C and 35C. The temperature rarely rises above 40C anywhere in Brazil, and I have actually been quite cold near the equator!

2. The seasons in Brazil are always the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere.

This is partly true. However in the northern part of Brazil – Amazonas, Par, Maranhão – there is a wet season and a dry season. And just to confuse us the wet season (December to April ) is called winter, and the dry season (May to November) summer.

3. When it rains it is usually in short sharp shocks, and then the sun comes out.

Not necessarily. Where there is a defined rainy season it can rain all day. As it can in other places where there is no official rainy season!

4. It never gets cold in Brazil.

Oh yes it does! In the mountains of Minas Gerais for example or in the South of Brazil (from São Paulo down) it can get down to several below zero, and snow is not unknown in the mountains.

5. It is always hot and sunny in the northeast (Bahia to Cear).

The northeast certainly gets more sun, but go there in June and you will find many of the pousadas closed because of the rainy season (which here lasts from May through to August!)

6. There are no pronounced seasons in Brazil.

From Rio northwards to Cear this may be the case but in the south of Brazil seasons and temperatures are very similar to those in southern Europe (except at the opposite times of year of course), and in the Amazon basin there is a very pronounced winter (the rainy season) and summer (the dry season)

7. There is not much difference in temperature between Rio and São Paulo.

This is definitely what I thought when I first arrived, not realising that it can be hot and sunny in Rio and freezing cold in São Paulo. OK, that’s an exaggeration but a 7C difference is common

8. You need a jacket when you go out at night as it gets chilly.

Actually, north of Rio, at sea level at least, you very rarely need to take a jacket, as there is only about 7C difference in temperature between day and night temperatures, and winds are not cold.

9. It is always good to have a veranda to sit out on in the evening.

For a lot of Brazil this is the case but from Recife north/northwest it is frequently so windy you may not be able to use it!

10. The rain tails off at the end of the rainy season.

Not always. In the north there is actually a peak in April at the end of the season , and in Rio we have the Aguas de maro fechando o verão” or the Waters of march ending the summer as in the immortal Tom Jobim song!

One final tip which has nothing to do with the weather per-se. If travelling by bus, wrap up warm, however hot the weather is outside! All intercity buses are air conditioned and bus drivers like to put the air conditioning up to maximum, irrespective of any pleas to turn it down. I think I nearly died of frostbite on the last trip.

Alison is a British writer, musician, and marketing consultant, based in Rio de Janeiro. She can be contacted on Visit her site at

Previous articles by Alison:

Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada Beijamar, Bahia
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Hotel 7 Colinas, Pernambuco
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada dos Quatro Cantos, Pernambuco
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada Estrela do Mar, Bahia
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada Vivenda, Rio de Janeiro
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada da Terra, Minas Gerais
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada Mirante de Pipa, Rio Grande do Norte
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada do Caju, Alagoas
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Pousada da Amendoeira, Alagoas
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Estalagem Caiuia, Alagoas
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Lagoa do Cassange, Bahia
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Ponta do Muta, Bahia
Brazil: Hidden Pousadas – Santa Clara, Boipeba, Bahia

By Stephen Guild
May 31, 2009

Question: What do the name of a country, the name of the state where Recife is located, a highly prized fabric dye and bows used by renowned stringed instrument players have in common? Answer: A tree.

Soon after the Portuguese discovered” what is now Brazil, they found trees whose wood had both strength and flexibility and a deep red hue inside. They gave them the name pau-brasil (Pau is Portuguese for “wood”, and brasil is said to have come from brasa, Portuguese for “ember.”) Brazilwood trees became a central part of the exports and economy of the land and lent their name to the country that is now called Brazil.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, brazilwood was a rare commodity and was highly valued in Europe. A red dye called brazilin from the tree was converted into a powder and used in the manufacture of expensive textiles, such as velvet, which was in much demand during the Renaissance.

In a few years, the Portuguese established a very profitable operation to cut and transport large numbers of brazilwood logs to Europe. At one time, there was a stockpile of brazilwood logs in Paris of more than 200 acres. Excessive exploitation led to a significant decrease in the number of brazilwood trees in the 18th century and caused the collapse of this trade.

Brazilwood was first used for bow-making in the late seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, the renowned bow-maker Franois Xavier Tourte recognized the exceptional qualities of the wood: rigidity, flexibility, density, and beauty, and its ability to hold a fixed curve. Within a short time, brazilwood replaced all other woods for bows.

In a long Smithsonian Magazine article (April 2004) about the importance of the brazilwood tree to musicians, Gnter Seifert, violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, said that “some people think a bow is only wood and hair, but the bow can be more essential to expressing the soul of the music than the violin is. It’s better to have a fine bow and a mediocre violin than a fine violin and a mediocre bow.” It’s no wonder, then, that pernambuco bows are used by almost all serious orchestral and chamber musicians.

At present, the species is nearly extinct and is listed as an endangered species. The trade of brazilwood is likely to be banned in the immediate future, and this has created a major problem in the bow-making industry which highly values this wood.

There is now a serious reforestation program in the state of Pernambuco. With proper care a tree will produce heartwood suitable for bow-making in thirty to thirty-five years instead of the eighty to one hundred years for a tree in the wild.

The name of the country, Brazil, the name of the state, Pernambuco, the red-dye used for fabrics and the extraordinary qualities of a wood to make beautiful music are all connected with this always valued and now rare tree.

The author gratefully acknowledges the many sources that were consulted in the writing of this article. While they provide the foundation, the interpretation and opinion are entirely those of the author.

Republished with permission from Sugar: Brazil’s Gold
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By John Gamble
May 31, 2009

I protest the sexuality of the Brazilians.”
– Mark Helprin, “Memoirs from Antproof Case”


As the character in that hilarious Mark Helprin novel is married to a gorgeous Brazilian woman, methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. But he was getting up there in age so…

For your consideration: the love motel aka the sex motel.

Nothing says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” quite like a visit to that Brazilian institution, the sex motel.

What is a “Sex Motel”?
You may have heard about termas in Brazil. I may cover those another time. But sex motels are completely different than termas.

Sex motels are neither raunchy nor what you’d conjure up when thinking of a typical “motel.”

They’re more like a cordoned-off section of the Playboy Mansion.

You rent your room or suite by the hour – or blocks of hours actually.

12 hour blocks on some nights. 4-6 hour blocks are available on weekends and holidays. That’s when the business of sex really picks up steam – or steams up the mirrors.

You get the idea.

Why do sex motels exist?

The reasons include:

– In many hotels, especially the more upscale hotels and the ones that consider themselves respectable family fare, you’re not allowed to entertain guests in your room.
– Many Brazilian families have several generations living together in close quarters – sharing rooms can make things frustrating at times for young people who are dating
– They’re a blast – and a cool place to take your wife or girlfriend(s) for a “special” experience
– And of course, extra-marital affairs are a big part of the love motel operator’s clientele

In Rio, sex motels are scattered throughout the city. They include establishments such as Bambino, Sinless and the preferred location of porn filmmakers, the upscale VIPs.

How Sex Motels Operate
Locals roll up in their car and drive into their pre-assigned garage space, close the door and enter their suite. It’s very discreet.

As a foreigner, you’re likely arrive in a taxi. At the drive-up window, like ordering a latte at Starbucks, you’re presented with a menu. It includes pictures of your various room choices, including prices in R$, the local currency.

If your companion appears to be close to 18, they will be asked to provide proof of their legal age.

You get your key and the taxi drops you off at your room.

Inside there are two separate areas: the tiny dining area and the main arena, the suite.

When you order room service, the waiter will deliver your food into the dining area, then ring a bell when he leaves to signal the coast is clear, so to speak.

Although… even the waiters at love motels get a lot of action. Some of the girls like to parade around in front of them, naked, and sometimes take it much further.

Overall, the experience is like a fantasy: big comfy bed, large screen with porn, Internet, sauna, Jacuzzi, swimming pool, mini-bar, love chair, sex toys, dance floor with stripper’s pole, music, light show, mirrors.

The largest suites have king-size beds (sometimes 2 of them) and are typically used for group parties. If you’re open to that kind of thing.

If you want a really memorable party, you can even get a suite with a big dance floor and a disco ball. Just like your very own Studio 54, with sweaty, nubile Brazilians everywhere.

Make sure you use lots of condoms.

Yada yada yada.

When the fun comes to an end – yes, you eventually do have to leave – the waiter will deliver the bill.

You pay him. Tip around 10%.

He’ll give you a receipt which you show at the drive-thru on your way out.


Then, it’s back to reality.

Of course, when your reality is Rio de Janeiro, it’s not that big of a let-down.

For more on Rio de Janeiro, visit John’s blog, Rio Tudo Bom, at 0 Comments/by

May 31, 2009

This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Marco Cassol. Read on as Marco tells us about his impressions of foreigners, and gives some helpful advice also.

1. Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?

I’m originally from Alegrete, in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. I’m a Plastic surgeon here in São Paulo and I run a Clinique called Multi Esthetique (Ana Clark
Vanessa Agricola
Ubiratan S. Malta
Brescia Terra
Renata Andraus
Ana Vitoria Joly
Helio Araujo
Adriano Abila
Anderson Ferreira
Sandra Partridge
Samara Klug Szachnowicz
Flavius Ferrari
Daniela Ribeiro
Adriano Gomes
Elizabeth Sacknus
Geberson Coelho
Rosaly Loula
Andreas Saller
Elvis Renato Barbosa Lima
Bruno Santos
Maria Cecilia Schmidt Maluf
Marta Dalla Chiesa
Cludia Ramis De Almeida
Vivian Manasse Teixeira Leite
Fernando Saffi
Gabriela Kluppel
Patrcia C. Ribeiro
Fabiano Deffenti

Can’t make this up