Brazil is going to eat you up! {part 1}

Brazil is going to eat you up! {part 1}

It’s been a long time since I wanted to write something on the current political climate in Brazil. But I always faced two main problems: I’m a Brazilian, but not a Brazilianist academic and I wanted to be brief. The second issue was far more difficult, because all I could think of were too complex and all lines I wrote always tried to make me submerge in History. In true, I only intend to talk about Brazilian’s new elected far right President Bolosrabo (it’s a trend in twitter not to write his name right, I’ll explain later), but I’ll try to make only one connection with a characteristic of Brazil’s identity and be brief.

This text is also an admission of guilt, I should have been more empathetic to the problem people in the USA faced with Trump. I always looked at him and thought “WTF?”. But never got the true state of emergency one can be under when you are constantly alarmed for what’s coming next.

OK, I still can’t talk about Trump, it’s not my place and I am not directly impacted by his obnoxiousness. But I am here in Brazil and right now I think I got a taste of what it is like. Even though Bostosauro did not became President de facto yet.

***

One of the first concepts regarding colonial exploration, in the territory of Brazil, that became widely known in Europe in the 1500s was the fact that indigenous communities ate their war captives. One of the best known accounts of this practice between the Tupinambá Tribe is the book Warhaftige Historia und beschreibung eyner Landtschafft der Wilden Nacketen, Grimmigen Menschfresser-Leuthen in der Newenwelt America gelegen (True Story and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Grim, Man-eating People in the New World, America, 1557) written by a german gunsman called Hans Staden.  

556px-Hans_Staden,_Tupinamba_portrayed_in_cannibalistic_feast
Hans Staden woodcut of Brazilian natives from his work “The True History…” Original Text Accompanying: “Tupinamba portrayed in cannibalistic feast observed by Staden” (orig.1557).

The current ethnohistorians tend to agree that this was a ritual sacrifice of spiritual nature, in which the captives consumed were used to strengthen the Tribe. As an entire community consumed a little part of the captive’s body, his/her courage and bravery would pass to enhance the tribe. Staden’s account is taken with some degree of disbelief, specially in parts were he mentions the consumption of children. The war captives to be sacrificed were chosen for their strength and bravery, and were not consumed right away. They were looked after for a long time, and served by their captors. They participated in the life of the community until a specific time when they should be killed and eaten.

At the time, Europeans looked at this practice as a proof that the “uncivilized lands” should be converted to Christianity and abandon their barbaric ways. I tend to ironically think that the indigenous people of the time knew better what was best for them, specially on how to treat colonizing efforts from the Europeans. Even more regarding their religion, since the first Brazilian Bishop (Dom Pero Fernandes Sardinha) was also eaten, but by the Caeté Tribe in 1556.

These historical accounts came to be used by Oswald de Andrade to launch the Manifesto Antropofágico (1928), a Brazilian Modernist Art Movement. One of the characteristics of this movement was the critique of European’s linear way of thinking or the ideal of Progress as a ‘path of no return’ of advances in technology, social organization and science (basically Social Evolucionism). In its rhetoric the movement intended to fight the cultural Imperialism through the deglutation of outside influences and its transformation in a Brazilian product. A crazier product. A nonsense product.

253px-Abaporu
Tarsila do Amaral (1928), Abaporu or  “the man that eats people”, Oil on canvas (33 in × 29 in), Private collection of Eduardo Costantini.

I’m more a historian than an anthropologist, so it is easier to draw these lines and generalize when needed. But it is a fact that the Anthropophagist Movement impacted Brazilian culture like no other movement before. Not that the movement survived for much time, but the principle of eating outside influence and making something crazy with it is in the core of our Artistic manifestations. For example, listen to this music of Caetano Veloso, it was written in the 60s, during Brazil’s Military Dictatorship (1964-85) and it is a Brazilian rereading of rock music from the Global North (ahem, Beatles) for a movement called Tropicalia.

The essence is to make things our own through the principle of eating it up.

***

I already talked about Art movements, ritual sacrifice, Brazil’s identity, eating… But what all this have to do with Bozosnaro?

Well, for starters, obviously he is eating Trumpist Authoritarian principles to make it a Brazilian thing. And through Brazilian perspective, he is copying what he likes. Maybe in this process he’ll deglute all of us in Brazil.

He uses Twitter and Facebook as a direct line between “leader and people”. He promised to criminalize social movements, he is racist, he implies a rhetoric of persecution against women, black people and queers, he persecutes the press. And through this he gathered huge support from the internet. So much so that people against him are not using his name à la Voldemort to not fall in the algorithm of the bots and people he employs to defend him online.

It is safe to say that he started his campaign in 2003, when a video of him went viral. It was a discussion between he and a congresswoman in which he says: “I would never rape you, because you don’t deserve it”. Since then he gained more and more votes of conservatives and was in his seventh term in Congress when all stars aligned for his Presidential candidacy.

Much of the context for this is based in a structural crisis of the Left in Latin America. So far, nothing new. But the ideology in which Bosanoro bases his strategy is a Brazilian phenomena. He says that the Dictatorship installed in Brazil (with support of the USA, by the way) was a good regime that should be sought after for the future. You won’t uncover another Latin country were this happens. Argentina and Chile, for example, processed agents of the State for torture and murder. In Brazil, we have an Amnesty Law that is still in place safeguarding people from the Military Forces that “made people disappear”. Not one was prosecuted and there are many families that still don’t know what happened to the remains of their loved ones.

This fault to put a light to the Past and uncover what really happened is being used for Bsalrobado to draw a great portion of the population to his conservative political agenda. If no one was convicted for past crimes, this has to prove that the past regime was not so bad after all, right? This principle is a deglutation of the fake news factory that we see in Trump, but with Brazilian condiments. This probably means the collapse of Nova República (Brazil’s 6th Republic Regime), which is being eaten by its past mistakes and for its unsuccessful recover from the Dictatorship.

Political rhetoric entered such a playground of craziness that it is hard to argument logically against this or that policy issued. This is a new phenomena in Brazil, as we always tended to have “centered” politicians who cared deeply about what they said and what they compromised with. On this moment of Magic Realism, the crazier the better. Which is a complex question for academia. We need to reinvent our ways of engagement and conversation with the Public. And get out of our Ivory Tower, before someone defenestrate us into the mouth/abyss of no politics. The hardest part is getting to incorporate craziness and non linear thinking to this process.

PS: As always, I apologise for possible grammar problems on the post, I will happily take critiques on this since I’m not a native speaker.

Caio Flores Coelho is an anthropologist/historian interested in visual anthropology and history of landscape. He’s assistant professor in Instituto Ivoti/ISEI and Unisinos and currently lives in Porto Alegre, BR. You can find him on twitter @caogris.

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