"Brazil 2001" story # 23

The Northeast, Bahia           July 12, 2001

The Brazilian Northeast can best be summed up by a hillarious movie, "O Auto do Colpa Decida," which I watched while in Bahia.
     The stars of the movie are two traditional Nordestinos (Northeasterners) from the dry, poor interior of this area of the country. The two guys try lying their way to a good living. In the process, they get into all sorts of trouble.
     One of the funniest scenes came when the two guys were about to be killed by a crazy, armed bandit. They thought quickly and told the bandit they owned a harmonica which the late Padre Cicero (the most famous Nordestino religious figure whose statue I saw in Juazeiro do Norte) had blessed with powers of reincarnation. To prove the harmonica's powers, one of the movie's heroes pretended to kill the other by stabbing him in a bladder of blood hidden beneath his shirt.
     Then, the harmonica was played. The "dead" came back to life with a goofy-smiled, arm-swinging, legs-kicking-together dance to the melody. He claimed to have seen and spoken to Padre Cicero while dead. The bandit, excited, begged to be given the harmonica so he could meet Padre Cicero. The guys agreed. Once the bandit had been shot and the bandit's friend learned the harmonica was a dud, the heroes made their getaway.
     But, the bandit's friend got a little revenge, putting a bullet through the heart of one of the liars. The newly dead guy then ascended to the skies for ...
     Judgment. (This is where the movie gets its name from, and, for being in such a silly, comedic movie, the scene is brilliant.)
     The liar was joined by other common Nordestino sinners: the corrupt bishop; the money-worshipping priest; the underpaying, slave-driving employer; the cheating wife; and the crazed, poverty-trapped bandit. All were being condemned to hell. In front of Jesus and the devil, the liar was faced with a situation he couldn't lie his way out of.
     It took the appearance of Mary, mother of Jesus, to save the condemned. She explained the harshness in the Nordestino life, especially in the interior. The Brazilian Northeast is a draught-plagued, education-lacking, opportunity-less, poor place to live. This is why the Nordestinos lie, steal, cheat on loved ones, abuse power, try to run each other over when driving, cut in lines, and use people.
     As I've come to learn in 3 ½ months, the Northeast is a harsh place.
     But, it's also a place of huge, monthly parties; thousands of songs to sing; dozens of different dances; plenty of games; hundreds of food dishes made from rice, beans, potatoes, and corn; stories of folklore and true history; traditional clothes; tolerance and welcoming of all; an interest in the unknown; a strong determination to survive; happy, pretty, seemingly always positive girls; and, above all, the love of being Nordestino.
     The Northeast will always be "my" Brazil.
     I'll write now what is written all of over walls and signs and shops of the Northeast:
     "Orgulho de ser Nordestino." (Proud to be Nordestino.)
     To be honest, though, there are lots of things there I could do without. On accord with the movie, even with Mary's argument of their tough existence, not all the dishonest Nordestinos were saved.
     It was a good movie, shedding light on my Northeast experience.
     And so, Giddyup! I say, to Rio - my entrance into the working world.
     Good-bye, Nordestinos.
     Good-bye, (sniff, sniff) never having to work.

Until next time, Modern Oddyseus


(just one example of a Northeast song)

Mudgiflump and his men were tight
That day in 1553
All they had were sheets and beds
Not much artillery

But the Colonel, he would not give up
"The Camouflage Magician"
He could hide as a bush in your front yard
Or the fridge that's in your kitchen

And you could open up that fridge
And still not even know
You'd grab a grape or an olive
And it'd be his toe

But the indians, the came on strong
Saying, "Puparu-papo!

Beneath some sheets, the Colonel hid
With all the girls and boys
He led the town to victory
And its new name of Lençois

Sadly, Mudgiflump went mad
Telling the Portuguese king
How he planned to hide a ship of gold
With only pocket lint

The king had his best cannon-firer
Sent 'Flump to his final destino
And he muttered only four last words
"Orgulho de ser Nordestino"

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