José Medeiros analyses Brazil´s crossing as a nation. He picks Brazilian literature´s famous work, Death and Life of Severino, written by the poet João Cabral de Melo Neto, to argue that through stubbornness, the country manufactures and expands itself. From Shijiazhuang.
"The most important thing the Brazilians need to do is to invent the Brazil they want."
Darcy Ribeiro (1922-1997), Brazilian anthropologist- Documentary DVD: "The Brazilian People", directed by Isa Grinspum Ferraz
It is instigating to think of the Brazilian nation as an unfinished masterpiece that is woven every day by the artistic labor of a self-confident people, who love peace, the embrace and the smile. A masterpiece that claims to be magnificent in its ethnic and cultural plurality. It is open to a universal humanism that is welcoming and supportive. In that light, one is really in the face of a challenging and incomplete masterpiece. However, thanks to the continual efforts and sacrifices of several generations, it is already well outlined.
Some Brazilian intellectuals, in an effort to explain Brazil, pose the following question: “Why did Brazil not work out?” or, if more optimistic: “Why has Brazil not worked out yet?”. Obviously, these statements presuppose a comparison with other modern nations. Concerning technological development, the reference point is the United States. In terms of civilization, the European model generally prevails.
The central proposition of questionings like these was to prepare knowledge that would explain the reason for the existence of a predominantly adverse social picture. As such, the path was to run through the historical entrails of Brazil, which permitted the production of valuable knowledge for understanding the Brazil that enters this second decade of the XXI century. Outside of these propositions, those questions would not make so much sense and would even sound a little strange.
The global problems of the present century place on the brink the model of production and the standard of consumption, adopted by nations taken as developed. Wars, water scarcity, food shortages for a significant part of humanity, apart from an environmental crisis, are just some of the many pieces of evidence of fragility of the model. Another factor of this development, scientific and technological advance, although material, already shows that it does not possess magical powers capable of constructing in some part of the planet a more harmonious and happier humanity. Said another way, it is the challenge of constructing a healthier environmental world and founded on supportive and friendly living together, open to all peoples, independently of where they live and how they are socially and culturally structured.
In this picture, Brazil can offer a special contribution. First, because it possesses a vision of a pluralistic and open world to interact with different cultural realities. Second, because it is a country with a profound fear of other nations. So much so, that it constitutionally renounced the development of nuclear arms, even having the scientific knowledge and technological capacity to develop them. This option leaves clear that the international insertion of Brazil will occur through friendship, cooperation and peace.
Brazil can offer a special contribution, because it possesses a vision of a pluralistic and open world to interact with different cultural realities.
For the warlike thinking that dominated the XX century, this renunciation was a naïve decision. In counterpart, it may be argued that the increasing social pressure around environmental questions may strike also against nuclear arsenals, neutralizing their importance as an instrument of dissuasion or solution of conflicts. Nevertheless, the central point of the Brazilian option is that it removes the hindrance of mistrust, a grandiose obstacle for the construction of solid friendships among nations.
The strength of the cohesion of the Brazilian identity, the sentiment of nation, does not come from the opposition to other peoples. It emanates from prolonged efforts to overcome realities not only adverse but also perverse. In the Brazilian DNA, there is the mark of profound shocks. It concerns a people bred out of a movement of circumstantially dehumanized humans, groups that carry a vision of the world in which determined practices like dominating, enslaving and exterminating other groups merited honors and bragging.
In this stubbornness about existing in freedom, the obstacles were never easy. The examples are many but two are especially important. In the XIX century, the victory of the enslavers. In the XX century, the victory for democracy(1). These two moments made the Brazilian more free and confident in the construction of a socially just country and integrated into other humanities. From victories like these, there emerges a deeper sentiment of the Brazilian identity as nation.
Euclides da Cunha, an important Brazilian writer well noticed the victory against a model of state that legalized slavery. On the importance of this conquest, he wrote: “Let´s remember just again, the most noble of our fights: the abolitionist campaign, coming from the beginning to the end of the XIX century, from the tame dictatorship of D.João VI to the last days of the empire, from Hipólito da Costa to Joaquim Nabuco, was the “one hundred years war” of civil liberty in this country”(2).
"Let´s remember just again, the most noble of our fights: the abolitionist campaign was the “one hundred years war” of civil liberty in this country".
If in the XIX century the battle against slavery was “the most noble of our fights”, the same can be said of the fight for democracy in the XX century. It symbolizes the victory against a repressive political project, socially excluding and culturally atrophying. The most recent phase of this victorious fight was only 26 years ago. From it, there arose a new legal order, founded on the equality of rights for its citizens. Even though for many Brazilians this value exists not only in the symbolic plane, it represents an indispensable step in the continuity of the march for a socially just country with a freer people, more supportive and happy.
If we look to a historical perspective, these conquests open the doors so that the sentiment of nation may leave the bureaucratic surfaces and approach more the heart of each Brazilian.
The process of the construction of this identity can also be seen as a game moved by interest and circumstances. There is continuous tension between what is idealized and what is possible to realize. For this reason, not rarely, disillusions also appear in a group of actors. They are shadows of fallen thoughts mixed with frustrated anxieties. However, these same shadows fulfill an important physic function in the social whole. To overcome them, resistances and sympathies are developed and more consistent thoughts over the steps to follow are worked out. It is a game of profound tensions. For this, nothing better than a literary metaphor to represent it.
In Brazilian literature, there is a work, Death and Life of Severino, written by the poet João Cabral de Melo Neto, between 1954 and 1955. The drama has as a main character, Severino, an anonymous migrant. With the intention of defending his life, he leaves the torrid region where he lived, the semi-arid, and migrates to the coast. He leaves with the hope of being able to prolong his life. The hardship of the crossing and the adversities he encounters on arriving at the coast (Recife) completely drain his strength. At the maximum moment of his despair, José appears, a dweller from the wetlands, and who also has an extremely miserable life. Severino enquires if giving up life would not be the best way out. The dialogue is interrupted. José is advised that his son had just been born. The arrival of the new life irradiated through the neighborhood. Despite the extreme poverty, the wetlands jubilate. José resumes the conversation with Severino in the following terms:
Let me tell you now
I don't know the answer
To your question.
Whether you should
Throw your life
From the bridge.
But I don't know this answer.
If you want me to tell you,
You can't defend
Life with just words,
More so when it's what
You can see, so hard.
But if I told you
I didn't know the answer,
Life itself told you
(With it's own presence).
And there's no better answer
Than to see life
Unravel its thread,
Which is also called life,
See the factory
Life itself stubbornly makes.
See it sprout and grow, like now,
Explode into a new life,
Even when the explosion,
Like that which took place,
Is so small.
Even when it's so puny,
Even when it's that of
A severe, Severino life(3).
In this environment of a jubilant and very poor poet, the work is closed. These verses are a perfect metaphor of our crossing as a nation. Through stubbornness, it manufactures and expands itself...
However, if we think well, Brazil has no reason to be pessimistic about its future. It is true that we have many challenges to overcome. However, it is also true that we have achieved many conquests. In our interbreeding beats the heart of many peoples. We inhabit a geographically prodigious country, with well-defined frontiers that are unquestioned by our neighbors. We live in peace with the other states. We have abundant material and non-material wealth. We are integrated internally by a single language and principally, by a desire to live happier and happier. In August 2010, the IBGE (Brazilian institute of Geography and Statistics) announced the most recent facts on our population: 190.732.694 inhabitants. Those Brazilians now have the responsibility of continuing that magnificent work of art. Friendly interaction with other peoples will leave it more beautiful and pulsating.
(1). Slavery was present in Brazil for more than three centuries. In 1888, it was officially abolished. In the 20th century, strong non-democratic regimes prevailed, the last one from 1964 to 1985.
(2). Taking of Office speech of Euclides da Cunha na Academia Brasileira de Letras, (18 de dezembro de 1906) http://www.euclidesdacunha.org.br/ cadeira nº 7.
(3). Death and Life of Severino; Translated by John Milton.São Paulo: Pleiade, 2003. 64 p, www.johnmilton.pro.br/.../2003-Death%20And%20Life%20of%20Severino.pdf