Last night marked the second and final night of the major parade of samba schools for Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. While Portela and União da Ilha stood out for their performances on the second night, it was Salgueiro samba school, which paraded on the first night with the theme of indigenous origin stories from around the world, that took the Gold Standard for best samba overall school this year (which collectively considers the theme, song, costumes, dancing, floats, and execution of the parade overall). However, União da Ilha won the award for best storyline/theme this year, and Viradouro won the A Series on Sunday, meaning next year it can parade in the grande spectacle that takes place on Monday and Tuesday. Photos from the first night, including Salgueiro’s parade, can be found here.
And for those who think this is some random bacchanalian festival (a belief that the photos alone should demonstrate is otherwise), it’s worth noting that Portela had a change in its directory last year when it was revealed that the samba school was about US$7 million in debt. Such a figure reveals both the cost of participating on the grandest scale of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, and why winning is important not only for cultural pride (though that’s certainly the case), but also for economic reasons (via sponsorships, greater donations, etc.).
G.R.E.S. Mocidade – Celebrating the state of Pernambuco and its contributions to Carnaval
G.R.E.S. União da Ilha – A focus on the symbols and cultural products of childhood
G.R.E.S. Vila Isabel – A look at the cultural “DNA” of Brazil
G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldinense – A celebration and commemoration of Zico, one of Brazil’s best and most famous soccer players
G.R.E.S. Portela – The history and culture of the city of Rio de Janeiro
G.R.E.S. Unidos da Tijuca – Ayrton Senna, the renowned Brazilian racecar driver who died in a crash 20 years ago
It’s that time of year again in Brazil – Carnaval. Last night marked the first night of the major parades in Rio de Janeiro, where, beyond the stereotyped vision of women, there were remarkable floats, songs, dance, and pageantry. As in the past, below are some photos from the first night of the festivities (with the samba schools listed in the order they processed), along with the themes for each school. The photos demonstrate the richness and complexity of the design, floats, and costumes that mark Carnaval each year. [And for those who read Portuguese, you can learn more about all of the schools and here samples of their songs here.]
G.R.E.S. Império da Tijuca - The influence of African instruments in Brazil]
G.R.E.S. Grande Rio - Maricá, a coastal region in the state of Rio de Janeiro
G.R.E.S. São Clemente - Favelas and their cultural influence and creativeness
G.R.E.S. Mangueira - Popular festivals in Brazil
G.R.E.S. Salgueiro - Origin stories from a variety of cultures from around the world
G.R.E.S. Beija-Flor - José Bonifácio de Oliveira Sobrinho, a director of TV programs in Brazil
Originally posted at The Mexican Revolution: Myth (Memory), Gender, and Culture
I wrote this little blurb on the Tomochic uprising for my Modern Latin American History class, and I thought I’d also post it here. My thoughts are based on Paul Vanderwood’s excellent The Power of God Against the Guns of Government and Ana María Alonso’s Thread of Blood, as well as archival and Spanish-language texts that I read in the course of researching and writing my dissertation. As a class, we read Robert M. Levine’s “Mud Hut Jerusalem,” so my references to Canudos are based on my re-reading of that article over the past week or so. I wrote these comments both to introduce students to the Tomochic uprising and as a conclusion to our discussion of neocolonialism and Progress in Latin America during the late nineteenth-century.
By command of Porfirio Díaz and Chihuahua governors loyal to him, an uprising that originated in the sierra town of Tomochic was brutally suppressed in mid-1892. As in Canudos, the Tomochic movement was millenarian in nature, meaning that its focus was on the Second Coming of Christ (or in Canudos the return of King Sebastian) to restore justice and true order to the world. Tomochitecos were suspicious of the idea of Progress because, from where they stood, all of its impacts seemed negative. The requirement of cash payments for goods and services rather than barter or reliance on a patrón to whom they felt kinship meant that most of them could not afford the services of doctors or other professionals that periodically visited the area. Neither could many of them afford basic necessities of life. Due to land and resource concessions granted to foreign railroad companies and large ranches or haciendas, they also found that they no longer had access to water, timber, and agricultural lands that they needed for subsistence. In general, for most rural folk the benefits of Progress were not forthcoming.
In the case of Tomochic and other Chihuahua serrano communities, a culture based on masculinity and violence further complicated matters. Many of the communities in northern Chihuahua had been settled by “military colonists”—generally mestizos/as from other areas in Mexico or the Southwestern U.S. (after 1848)—who received land grants in exchange for their willingness to campaign against nomadic Apache peoples. Until the capture of Geronimo in 1886 by a combined U.S. and Mexican force, Apache people continued to possess their traditional homelands in the U.S.-Mexico border region. In the context of Apache Wars, the military colonists were touted as “agents of civilization” who would bring an end to the “savagery” of the nomadic people.
Once the Apache Wars had ended, however, the outmoded economic and social systems of the military colonists themselves were considered backward. In a very short period of time former “agents of civilization” were recast as “savages” themselves. Mexican officials and journalists often referred to them as “Indios” to conjure up support for the idea that their lifeways were out of touch with the modernizing program of the Mexican state.
A man named Cruz Chávez was one such person. He was one of the more prominent mestizo citizens of Tomochic, who had a reputation for defending his honor with gun in hand. His family owned some meager lots of land in the valley surrounding the town and made a small living from them. He had fought in a few campaigns against Apaches. Like many other mestizos in northern Chihuahua, he considered himself to be above the indigenous Tarahumara peoples that had inhabited the Sierra Madres since long before the Spanish conquest. He and members of his family unabashedly exploited Tarahumara people through a system known as “amo-sirviente” (master-servant). It was much like the patronage system, except that in this case peasants were in turn exploiting the labor of indigenous people.
In the 1880s, Cruz Chávez held various local political positions in Tomochic. By 1889, he was tasked with defense of the local village chapel; in June of that year, burglars robbed the Church of its precious ornaments and vessels. According to prevailing folk Catholic beliefs in the region, the ornaments, vessels, and paintings of the virgin, Christ, and/or the saints held spiritual power in and of themselves—they weren’t simply representations of spiritual figures. For that reason, the robbery of such items was a horrible affront to the community. Additionally, in late 1890, the parish priest and head of the town council offered the community’s painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe to Governor Lauro Carillo when he visited Tomochic for the first time. To Chávez and others of like mind, Carillo’s promises of modern Progress rang hollow because he was a person that had deprived them of one of their most sacred connections to the spiritual. Chávez and others asked themselves: are these the types of things that governors do? By what authority?
Over the next couple of years, people in the Guerrero district (to which Tomochic belonged) became more and more suspicious of the ways that modernity and Progress were manifested in their everyday lives. Even priests appointed from outside of the community caught their ire because they attempted to stamp out regional folk Catholic beliefs and practices. As these people attempted to come to terms with governors who seemed only to take from them, the use of hard currency, loss of resources and land, as well as priests who considered them to be “unorthodox Catholics,” they turned to folk-religion for answers.
By late 1891, Cruz Chávez became increasingly belligerent toward local and regional political authority. Scholars have debated whether his actions were the result of material or spiritual matters, but it is clear that both were at play. In December of 1891 Chávez and many other Tomochitecos took up arms and declared that they would recognize no authority except that of God. In other words, they refused to recognize the authority of the Mexican state any longer. After a brief firefight in Tomochic, the rebels fled deep into the surrounding sierra where it was virtually impossible for federal or state troops to pursue them. They made their way to Cabora in Sonora to seek the council of Teresa Urrea, a young woman who had gained a reputation for healing and spiritual power. When they found that Santa Teresita (as she was then called) was not at Cabora, they made their way back toward Tomochic. Along the way, they engaged federal forces in several small skirmishes.
By September 1892, Chávez’s group had returned to Tomochic where they began to stockpile weapons. Known bandits from the surrounding areas also threw their support behind the movement. Although not invested in the spiritual side of the uprising, they shared the Tomochitecos’ resentment of Mexican Progress. Some, such as a man named Santana Pérez, had lost local political power due to the rise of Porfirio Díaz at the national level.
Porfirio Díaz’s government worked with Chihuahua state officials, as well as political leaders in the Guerrero district, to quash the Tomochitecos. First and foremost, Díaz was concerned that foreign investors would lose confidence in Mexico as a result of the uprising. Despite his wishes to quietly and quickly quell the revolt, however, Mexican forces were consistently unable to defeat Chávez and his supporters. Part of the problem was that the regional forces were comprised of men who had been forcibly impressed into service. Such was also true of Díaz’s fearsome Rurales. Many of the regional fighters knew of the Tomochitecos’ reputation and feared a direct engagement with them in battle. As one soldier reported, “they are a terrible lot . . . they know their Winchesters inside out; since they were children they have kept up a constant struggle against Apaches and bandits; they can run like a deer through the sierras without putting a foot wrong; but they are excessively ignorant and proud” (quoted in Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, vol. 2, p. 127).
In the end, an excessive show of force—as in Canudos—was necessary to repress the revolt. Federal forces laid siege to Tomochic and many of the rebels died of starvation and sickness. By the end of the siege, Cruz Chávez viewed himself as having a special calling from God to maintain the revolt, even at the cost of his life. The final holdouts (many had surrendered during the siege) were massacred as they tried to maintain their stand against the federales in the town chapel. Six survivors, including Cruz Chávez and his brother, were lined up and summarily executed on the morning of October 29, 1892. The rebellion had finally been suppressed, but a show of national supremacy came at great cost.
As we consider Canudos and Tomochic, it is important to count that cost. Both movements were disparaged as the work of backward, superstitious “Indians” in order to create a narrative in which the powerful state (as harbinger of Progress) should have been able to easily put down each revolt. When such was not the case, horrible losses of life were required to maintain the legitimacy of the idea that “Progress” would prevail over “backwardness” and “savagery.” In both Mexico and Brazil, each respective government massacred thousands of its own people to prove this point.
Although the massacres at Canudos and Tomochic were extreme examples of the struggle between peasants and modernizing elites, the stresses faced by their inhabitants were not. Neocolonialism brought modernization (Order and Progress) to Latin American nations at a tremendous price. By the early 1900s, revolts against the Porfirian regime intensified and nationalism grew by leaps and bounds throughout Latin America in opposition to foreign control of local economies.
In an unusual story, rappers and hip-hop artists in Brazil are rallying in response to a law that seeks to regulate their art. Politician (and former soccer star) Romário proposed a bill that would regulate hip-hop professionals, including MCs, DJs, graffiti artists, and others, requiring them to take professional training courses in government-recognized technical schools. In response, hip-hop artists in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (two of the main hubs of Brazilian hip-hop culture) have begun to meet to discuss ways to combat the law, and a group on Facebook has also formed in protest of the law.
The problems with the law are numerous. Brazilian hip-hop is inherently a cultural form of the favelas, the poorest areas of urban centers like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Its lyrical content and production values reflect and relate the experiences of life in the favelas, where state violence, racism, and socioeconomic inequalities are tragic facts of life. By targeting just hip-hop, and not other Brazilian music forms (such as bossa nova, samba, or other styles), Romário’s law is inherently replicating prejudicial laws that disadvantage the favelas, in this case targeting both those from the favelas who produce art and the art that expresses life in the favelas itself. While Romário’s defense is that he just wants to let the “true artists” of hip-hop benefit, rather than just anybody claiming to be a hip-hop artist, there’s still the question of who gets to define authenticity among hip-hop artists; by requiring “legitimate” artists to receive governmental training, the law would attempt make the government the main legitimizing force in determining what constitutes “art” – a highly problematic proposition by any metric of artistic production or for cultural autonomy. Fortunately, Romário has accepted a group of hip-hop artists’ invitation to meet with them to discuss the law.
Hopefully, for the reasons outlined above, it will not pass, and right now at least, it’s hard to see why it would pass. Still, the fact that it exists reveals ongoing ways that favelas continued to be negatively targeted and persecuted in ways that other sectors of Brazilian society are not.
Anybody even remotely familiar with Latin America history is aware that indigenous peoples were subject to horrific processes of dispossession, repression, racism, and extermination throughout both the colonial and the national periods. Sadly, destroying native lands and communities in the name of greed remains a major issue in the twenty-first century:
In a rare encounter between the Ayoreo tribe, Paraguay’s Environment Minister, and a Brazilian rancher responsible for the large-scale destruction of the tribe’s ancestral land, the rancher has rebuffed the Ayoreo’s plea to stop destroying their forest, the last refuge of their uncontacted relatives. [...]
Ranching company Yaguarete Pora S.A., owned by Ferraz, has been illegally clearing the Ayoreo’s forest to make way for beef destined for the European, Russian and African markets, and was recently granted an environmental license to cut down more forest, causing global outrage.
Obviously, this is horrible on any number of levels. The blatant disregard for indigenous rights and the obviously anti-indigenous attitudes of the rancher and his company deny treating indigenous peoples as equals under the law, thus dehumanizing them and reinforcing structures of anti-indigenous racism that have operated in Latin America for centuries. And this is not just a South American problem, or an indigenous problem; that the land is being cleared to provide European markets with food really does make this a global issue, providing yet another reminder of the tragic roots that can and do rest behind much of industrial food production. And while our focus regularly (and not unfairly) falls on deforestation in the Amazon, a recent study found that the highest rate of deforestation in the world is in Paraguay’s Chaco, where the Ayoreo (and others) live. What’s happening in Paraguay is in many ways an old story – outside economic powers disregarding indigenous rights and threatening indigenous peoples while also destroying the environment, all in the name of global trade. That it is an old story, yet one we still see today, is yet another sad reminder of the ways that power structures dating back to colonial times insidiously persist well into the 21st century under new guises.
Well, this is both unsurprising and awful:
New research published in Nature adds further evidence to the argument that drought and fire are reducing the Amazon’s ability to store carbon, raising concerns that Earth’s largest rainforest could tip from a carbon sink to a carbon source.
While the government’s recent efforts to reduce the rate of deforestation have met with some mixed and relative successes in recent years, it has not stopped the process, and massive swaths of the forest continue to be destroyed with an all-too-familiar human disregard for the long-term consequences on the global scale.
Today, the World Court settled the issue of the maritime border of Chile and Peru, an issue going all the way back to the War of the Pacific in the late-19th century. Peru wanted the border extended, while Chile refused to recognize Peru’s claims. The issue was particularly relevant in terms of economics, as where the border rested could determine who had access to fishing grounds in the Pacific. As for “who won,” the answer appears to be….it depends who you are. The Court did extend the border for Peru, which could seem like a victory, but it didn’t extend it as far as Peru had claimed it should go, leaving the fisheries in Chilean territory and not providing any real material gains for the Peruvian economy and those tied to the fishing industry. It will be interesting to see how the two countries respond to the new borders in the longer-run, and how they go about patrolling/securing their own borders (and how lax or strict that patrolling will be). That said, the decision does have the potential to bring at least some resolution to an issue that’s well over 125 years old.
On the level of minutiae, my favorite part was this:
Outside the presidential palace, scores of people who had watched the verdict being read on two giant TV screens shouted “Long Live Peru” afterward, though there was some confusion as to whether their country had won or lost.
Who says nationalism is dead?