Black and glossy cover – Tenório Cavalcanti and the people of the Baixada

Carlos Cruz–Diez, Physichromie 113, 1963


Commentary on Israel Beloch's Book

The first time I heard about Tenório Cavalcanti was in the early 1960s when, as a boy, I watched the film Carnival in Caxias (1954; directed by Paulo Wanderley), with José Lewgoy (1920-2003) playing Honório Boamorte, where he satirized Tenório with his black cape and fired the “lurdinha” machine gun. There was also Moreira da Silva (1902-2000), the singer and composer “Kid Morengueira”, who years before had already spoken of “Bamba de Caxias”. In 1986, Sérgio Rezende made The Man in the Black Cloak, starring José Wilker (1944-2014).

Historian Israel Beloch (1942) turned his master's thesis defended at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF) into the book Black Cape and Lurdinha – Cavalcanti and the People of the Baixada, in which he reveals the mechanisms that govern the participation of broad popular layers, attracted by clientele political leaders and by authentic urban “colonels”. These huge human contingents, relegated to all sorts of shortages, identify themselves with characters of the Tenorio type. Israel Beloch analyzes the trajectory of Tenório Cavalcanti in the light of his indissoluble relationship with the history of the region where his empire flourished, rose to prominence on the national political scene, and then declined.

Natalício Tenório Cavalcanti de Albuquerque (1906-1987) was born in Bonifácio, in the municipality of Palmeira dos Índios, in the heart of Alagoas' hinterland. His parents, smallholders, constituted an impoverished branch of the Cavalcanti de Albuquerque. With his father's death in 1920, the family economy collapsed, the property was sold and Tenório Cavalcanti abandoned his newly started studies to help support his mother and brothers.

In 1926, at the age of 20, he came alone to Rio de Janeiro. “Stayed in humble boarding houses or at the home of relatives in the suburbs, while he continued his studies, he worked as a bottle washer at the Brahma brewery, servant, cupbearer and nurse's assistant at the Hospital dos Marítimos, waiter at a boarding house, hotel porter, employee in a store. of clothes and a truck driver” (p. 45).

He ends up earning a lot of money selling firewood and charcoal for the construction of the Rio-Petrópolis highway, managing a farm in Duque de Caxias (at the time part of the Municipality of Nova Iguaçu), when he acquires 43 properties. As a farm administrator, Tenório Cavalcanti was involved in successive armed clashes, with a frequent balance of deaths and injuries, in a fierce struggle for possession of land that was rapidly increasing in value. Hence his fame as a good gunslinger.

His “efficient” management at the head of the farm forced him to quit his job, as his truculent actions began to create problems for the owner. With the compensation received, he settles down in Duque de Caxias, in a wood and materials trading house. In a few years, he became even richer and, soon after, he joined the União Progressista Fluminense, being elected councilor to the Municipality of Nova Iguaçu, representing the district of Duque de Caxias.

With the advent of the Estado Novo (1937-1945) and the banning of political parties, he managed, through friends, to be appointed tax agent in Caxias. In 1945, during redemocratization, he joined the National Democratic Union (UDN), in opposition to his historical enemy, Ernani do Amaral Peixoto (1904-1989), former Getulist interventionist and organizer of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro.

From then on, from 1945 to 1960, Tenório Cavalcanti was active in the UDN, always in opposition. Elected state deputy (1947) and on three occasions led to the Federal Chamber (1950, 1954 and 1958) with expressive votes, he was defeated in 1960 in the dispute for the newly created State of Guanabara (by the Republican Labor Party, PRT, with the support of the Social Progressive, PSP). It obtained 220 votes, which ended up leading to the victory of Carlos Lacerda (1914-1977), from the UDN, who defeated PTB supporter Sérgio Magalhães (20-1916) by just over 1991 votes, supported by nationalist and leftist currents.

In 1962, the government of Rio de Janeiro suffered a new defeat, in the coalition Partido Social Trabalhista (PST) \ Partido Trabalhista Nacional (PST-PTN), with the support of the then semi-legal Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). Thus, he contented himself with a federal deputy mandate won in the same election in the PST-MTR coalition (Movimento Trabalhista Renovador). In June 1964 he had his political rights revoked, no longer returning to political life in 1982 he failed to obtain a vacancy to run for Congress on the PDS.

Deeply documented with excerpts from reports, photos and interviews with politicians from the 1940s and 1950s, Israel Beloch's book draws primarily from the Democratic Struggle, a newspaper owned by Tenório, with great penetration in the popular layers, to reconstitute the political trajectory of this character. From a staunch Udenist, anti-populist and conservative in national matters (and, at the same time, political beneficiary of the poor masses of the periphery, whose most elementary demands he agitated in his campaigns), when he sees himself freed from the UDN shackles, he breaks into the fields of “nationalist forces and democratic”, fighting for the possession of Jango, supporting the reformist banners and harassing the government to put them into practice.

After a few decades, the old proximity between urban “colonels” and armed militiamen, as seen daily, continues to produce many men in black capes who, with their increasingly sophisticated lurdinhas, spread violence in the periphery and seal identifications with popular sectors. .

*Afrânio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at the Faculty of Education of UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus.

Originally posted on extinct Jornal da Tarde, on March 08, 1986.


Israel Beloch. Black Cape and Lurdinha – Tenório Cavalcanti and the people of Baixada. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1986, 196 pages.


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