Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Brasil: Um País de Todos?


This clever multiculturalist logo sneaks into the corner of just about every sign announcing federal support for a project. That the federal government would even need to make a public declaration of Brazil as a country for all is an indication of doubts that such a claim is really true. The longstanding belief that Brazil is a racial democracy has come under fire in recent years, as in the stratification of wealth that curiously corresponds to racial lines.

Still, I dropped by a few museums in São Paulo that, to their credit, were much more hospitable to the idea of a harmoniously multicultural Brazil.

First was the Museu da Lingua Portuguesa, a fairly new museum situated in the rafters of the belle époque Estação de Luz train station. Very high-tech and interactive, it purported to trace the history of the (Brazilian) Portuguese language while illustrating its various influences over the centuries. The time line history was particularly interesting, addressing developments in African language–especially Bantu–and American indigenous culture/language parallel with the development of Portuguese from Latin.

Thus, for example, such interesting cross-currents as Arabic affecting both Portuguese and African languages at the same time:


Or other tidbits, like cachaça, the national liquor, having Bantu origins:


Then, at 1500, they all converge:


The Portuguese meet the Tupi (Brazil's largest indigenous tribe and the one that left the largest mark on Brazilian cultural), African slaves are brought over, and the feijoada of languages stews for the next 500 years.


Unfortunately, little to no mention of what kind of linguistic repression occurred, what kind of penalty might be meted out for speaking your native language as a slave. There is a flash forward to a historically corrective present, though.


"In 1988, the Brazilian Constitution guaranteed to the Indians and the rural communities descended from slaves (remnants of quilombos [maroon communities of runaway slaves]) the right to the lands they have been occupying. It guaranteed as well legal protection to indigenous beliefs, languages, and
traditions.

The estimates of the time cited the existence of 220 indigenous tribes and around a thousand communities that were remnants of quilombos. The prolonged isolation of the majority of these peoples permitted the survival of more than 180 different indigenous languages and, in the black communities, the permanency of a Portuguese full of archaisms, in addition to African inheritances from the times of the senzalas [slave quarters on a plantaiton] and quilombos."

Language of African descent, or at least one word in particular, also caught the ear of Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, whose lyrics for tropicália classic "Batmacumba" (macumba = candomblé ritual offering) are designed as a recitation in poema concreta style:

Gilberto Gil & Caetano Veloso - Batmacumba
___


Further on the east side of town, I also stopped by the Hospedaria de Imigrantes, or Immigrants' Hostel, which has been beautifully restored and turned into a museum & archive (for those looking for info about their family). It was more or less the Ellis Island of São Paulo. It's where hundreds of thousands of immigrants spent there first few weeks in Sampa before being assigned work on a coffee plantation somewhere in the interior.


Studying this period of Brazil's history was what first gave me the notion that Brazil and the U.S. have much more in common that either might originally think. Similar size, remarkable geographical diversity, history of plantation slavery. And neither is afraid of making really cheap ethnic stereotypes in a seemingly innocuous exhibit. I'm sure most Japanese women wore ceremonial kimono on their trip over to Brazil . . .




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6 Comments:

At 8/29/2007 12:12 PM, Blogger jp said...

hey Greg como vai ? j'ai toujours des problèmes à répondre à tes courriels, ils me reviennent toujours :-(

je suis déçu de ne pas avoir passé plus de temps à SP pour visiter les musées. la présence arabe dans la culture portuguaise et africaine, et par le biais dans la culture brésilienne est fascinante. mon ami Garnizé m'expliquait que la culture arabe était la culture cachée du Brésil et que des noms comme Recife ou certains rites du Pernambuco y prenait racine.

Pour la question de la démocratie raciale au Brésil, ça relève complètement d'un romantisme naïf.
Je suis en train de lire "O Povo Brasileiro" de Darcy Ribeiro et il explique comment la "cohésion" de cette mosaïque culturelle est maintenu par une répression extrêmement violente. L'élite blanche s'est façonné une carapace et est complètement indifférente aux sorts des noirs, indiens ou nordestins. Comme l'explique un haut-placé de la police de Rio dans le livre d'AfroReggae (Culture is our weapon), il n'y a pas de conflit racial au Brésil pcq les noirs connaissent leur place...

 
At 10/05/2007 7:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey greg!
howsit going mate? loved your blog, great stuff. I am actually coming to work with 2bros at the end of this year, for 4 months from november to march. I already spent a year in Brazil doing an exchange to Juiz de Fora, but am looking forward to really immersing myself in Rocinha.
you don't have msn or skype set up or anything do you? would be great to chat with someone who has worked with 2bros and could give mea bit of advice before coming over.
Abracos,
Andrew.

 
At 10/05/2007 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey greg!
howsit going mate? loved your blog, great stuff. I am actually coming to work with 2bros at the end of this year, for 4 months from november to march. I already spent a year in Brazil doing an exchange to Juiz de Fora, but am looking forward to really immersing myself in Rocinha.
you don't have msn or skype set up or anything do you? would be great to chat with someone who has worked with 2bros and could give mea bit of advice before coming over.
Abracos,
Andrew.
my msn is goop01@hotmail, or email andrew.ridler@gmail.com

 
At 1/11/2008 11:29 AM, Anonymous Leonardo said...

we call it here "Um país de tolos", with L instead of D, which means "a country of fools".

Perfect!

 
At 5/19/2008 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who call it and where, Mr. Leonardo? You and your 15 illegal alien friends living at some efficiency behind some Cuban family house in Florida? I am a real American and love Brazil more than anything, that is why I am living here in Rio now, and seeing this country finally blossom, finally growing economically and culturally, with the economy booming, Petrobras becoming the 3rd big company in the world and more foreign investment money coming into Brazil than into China. So, stupid colonized pathetic Paulistas like you just make me fell like throwing up. Pathetic paulistas that go and live illegally in the US because they hate Brazil so much, should lose their right to come back, and don't have any right to get close to the US Citizenship. You are scum. You should be helping this beautiful country of yours to finally grow, after so many paulistas' governments that used to pillage this country economy.
Anyways, you are a pathetic minority. Just stay over there back in the US hiding from the ICE...

 
At 5/24/2008 1:30 AM, Blogger gregzinho said...

I'm a bit surprised to see anyone coming back to such an off-the-cuff comment that was from last year, but I find your inferences about Leonardo to be clearly unfounded. Some gentle criticism is far from a repudiation of Brazil in its entirety.

 

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