Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 15
The Journey: Uauá and Canudos, July 25 — July 27, 1980
Arrive at Uauá to find contact arranged via Antonietta out of town for a week but within minutes his wife arranges for a family friend to take me to Canudos tomorrow.
Amusing introduction to Uauá in Hotel Gonçalves run by a mother and her five daughters. As word spreads, I find myself seated at table with twelve women of the town come to observe estrangeiro.
Hotel floor is divided into cubicle-like rooms with walls open at the top, the occupant of the room next to me snoring away happily all night.
July 25 - July 27. Two and a half days with no journal entry, through lack of time and place. Earlier efforts on bus inadequate/difficult and besides, observations in the sertão grow predictably similar. Which, in a way, is the point about the sertão: vast, repetitive, soulless backlands, mile upon mile of caatingas, close-packed, mind encroaching. Step into it a few meters from the side of the road and you are lost. It enfolds and absorbs you.
A brief visit to Canudos on Sunday provided as much as I wanted from the "present." There's a danger of getting put off track by too much modernism. I have strong impressions and ideas about Canudos/Antônio Conselheiro and my mind relates them to the 19th century. — What I behold in the 20th is a distraction and can only water down those impressions developed from reading and thinking. Preconceptions, if you will.
Curious aspect of Sunday was “Manoel” from Mozambique and left after independence. Within minutes of meeting him, he begged me not to mention “Moz” because, hand on heart, “it was too much for him,” and “all because of Samora Machel.” Manoel sells jewelry in the Brazilian sertão after “Moz” and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe,) where he was a linotype operator.
I don't know how many Manoels there are in this country but cannot see them doing anything to improve race relations Brazilian style. Though first he wanted to avoid the subject, Manoel had more and more to say as the day progressed. Stories like the man who disowned his mother because she wrote from Portugal saying that he should come back to the motherland, but “bring nothing that you took from the blacks.” According to Manoel, the man wrote back to Senhora X saying from that time he did not consider her his mother. Manoel personally does not wish to tread the soil of Portugal because of the “traitors.”
Even as I traveled toward Canudos I had visions of this barren, wasted sertão where a mystic's most fervent ramblings could take easy root. Interpretations of Glauber Rocha aside, the site of Canudos today lies beneath a barrage! A placid backwater with a small island where a few goats and sheep are rowed across to graze.
Locals suggest that the flooding of the valley was a political move, but I'm skeptical. It was, so far as I know, commenced in 1953. At that time, the kind of political consciousness/reappraisal/revisionist tendency we have today was in its infancy. Few outsiders would have taken symbol of Canudos seriously.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that 20,000 people died in this small valley, nothing to bring back the echo of the small cannon from a nearby hill or roar of "God's Thunderer" from the larger hill beyond....
|Canudos refugees, 1897|
Anyway, I got what I wanted, a soul-filling understanding of the terrain, of the small towns of the time, of the people. Was surprised by Mrs. Gonçalves (of hotel) reciting word for word a prayer said by an old man who'd survived Canudos. Though few beyond the area remember it, Canudos is very much part of local folklore...