The diseases of Brazil

Image: Carlos Cruz-Diez


Commentary on the book by Valter Hugo Mãe

The Portuguese writer Valter Hugo Mãe was inspired by the native peoples of the Amazon to create his new novel The diseases of Brazil. In it, the Abaeté warrior, son of the rape of an Indian woman by a white man, lives a great conflict when he finds himself different from the others. It is an act of violence that is historically repeated in other ways, and should never be naturalized.

The story is told from the abaeté perspective – an imaginary community –, in a language with all poetic licenses, since, according to the author, writing is the “path to something new, as if the language itself had become foreign”.

The title of the novel is a reference to the Sermon on the Visitation of Our Lady, by Father Antônio Vieira (1608-1697), as the book's extensive epigraph shows. In it, the theologian and philosopher warns of “the original cause of the diseases in Brazil: taking what is alien, greed, interests, gains and private conveniences, where justice is not guarded, and the State is lost”. As can be seen, these disagreements between the sense of justice that the population demands and the privileges of the Brazilian State come from ancient times.

The warrior's name is Honor; when he was born he released the mother's body, and everything resembled normality. “The freed body of Boa Espanto was beautiful and that beauty was appreciated and there was a lot of gratitude between one and the other…”. However, the warrior's expectation of belonging soon dissolves into a sign of estrangement. In the course of the story, he will try to resolve his conflict by taking revenge on the “white beast” that exterminated his people.

Within the confines of the community, everyone celebrated Honor's presence and guided him through the rites of passage. “Being an abaeté resulted in grace.” Despite this, the warrior was completely revolted, until he found another unfortunate man in the forest, the black Meio da Noite, who had fled from the punishments imposed on his enslaved fellows. Reluctant with the new friendship, attentive to the signs, the warriors join forces to face the challenges in the forest. These were always related to the invasion of their territory and its tragic consequences. “The islands of the abaeté were finally found, they were on the path of white greed, they would always be disturbed”.

The world created by the author unites the warriors Honra and Meio da Noite in a purpose of resistance against the invaders in the kidnapping of their material and human riches. His poetic truth is not so far from another truth, the historical one, although his fiction is not tied to historical aspects to justify itself. It exists in the inventive language that is established, as if to be recognized on a purely symbolic level. The repetition of the passages gives a tone of an indigenous mantra. It is not without reason that the verbs “intoar” and “abeirar” become so recurrent. Those of the abaeté community chant their omens: “You will have to chant like someone who frees the jaguar…” In the passage that is repeated: “The enemy is closer. Your remembrance approaches the enemy”.

The author, who is Portuguese, wrote a book about Brazil, therefore, he was always on the threshold of two different ways of expressing himself in the same language. He opted then, as is characteristic of his writings, to establish a very particular language.

When he was awarded the José Saramago Literary Prize, in 2007, with the novel Baltazar Serapião's Remorse, the Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature said that his book was a “tsunami, not in the destructive sense, but in terms of strength”, and that reading his writings was like “watching a new birth of the Portuguese language”.


other tribes

It is worth noting that the indigenous theme has already inspired Brazilian authors in works of recognized literary value. The Indianist novel produced in Brazil in the XNUMXth century had José de Alencar as the greatest exponent of this trend. your novels The Guarani (1857) and Iracema (1865) approach the coexistence between Indians and whites based on the “myth of the good savage”, where the Indian is loyal and honorable, however, conflicts are appeased in favor of the invaders and their civilizing project.

Based on a central episode – the rape of an Abaeté Indian woman – Valter Hugo Mãe's novel highlights, without euphemism, violence against the ethnic groups that formed Brazil. We can reflect on the historical consequences of this criminal act: structural racism and violence against women are two components that arise from the perverse relationships imposed at the time of colonization and that extend over the centuries. Today, statistics show the social inequalities that were perpetuated without repair, while the Brazilian elites royally contributed to their permanence. All of this fits into the approaches of some disciplines, but here we are facing an invented world, made of words, with its songs, smells and dramas.

The official image that Portugal built on the navigations and its conquests around the world is certainly not the one that the author portrays in the book The diseases of Brazil, which resembles a denunciation of crimes that are never prescribed because they are part of the country's history. In it, colonialism loses its aura and its masks, but through a poetic style and many metaphors.

The work, dedicated to the indigenous leader Ailton Krenak, features a preface by writer Conceição Evaristo. She states that this narrative “draws a fierce struggle of meanings between the existence of the colonizing self and the colonized other, who does not accept being invented by the invader”. And that the author “appropriating a historical fact, builds a story that seems truer to us than the one that scientific compendiums present to us”.

Valter Hugo Mãe is also the author of the novels O thread of a thousand men (2011) and To machine of fazer espanhóis (2010), among other books.

*Marcio Salgado is a journalist and writer; doctor in communication from UFRJ. Author, among other books, of the novel The Desert Philosophermultifocus).



Walter Hugo Mother. The diseases of Brazil. São Paulo, Blue Library, 2021, 208 pages.


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