Essay on the Brazilian fauna

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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

Commentary on the book by Agenor Couto de Magalhães

I have a copy, which I inherited from my grandfather, of the book Essay on the Brazilian fauna, by Agenor Couto de Magalhães, published in 1939. The author, at the time, was head of the hunting and fishing section of the Secretary of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce of the State of São Paulo. The title page informs that the volume was distributed free of charge.

The preface (called the Exordium) says: “The present work, as the title says, is nothing more than a light essay on the Brazilian fauna (...). Elaborating it in simple and accessible language, I aimed to mark the starting point of future observations concerning the life of these indigenous animals, until today almost unknown to our people”.

The point of view is often that of a hunter, not a conservationist, and used in a biology course today would certainly cause an outcry. The “simple and accessible” style, filled with quotations in French and German, is striking. In one passage, he describes a hunter (“a devotee of Santo Humberto”) at the edge of a lagoon waiting for the arrival of teals.

“The sun no longer dyes the fiery horizon with the glare of immense fire. Only a faded fringe of red stands out against the purplish sunset. Here, the sky curves in a vast vault of blue, fainted, perhaps, by the cold of the night that woke up there a beautiful shimmering star announcing the twilight. The cheerful jaçanãs sing in the swamps in repeated periods, also announcing the evening time. It doesn't take long for flocks of teals to appear that, noisy, cross the humid and algid space of the vargedo. The shots then break the harmony of the melancholy scenery (…)”.

Another chapter, dedicated to the description of the macaws, has this memorable beginning: “As soon as, dragged by the heavy sails, which with difficulty inflated and displayed the insignia of the Cross of Malta, the slow Lusitanian caravels, the daring navigators, arrived in Brazil. treading the land of Santa Cruz and running their eyes over the tanned people who, astonished, flocked to the white beaches of the north, they had two surprises worthy of recording: the toasted bodies of the naked Indian women and the red, yellow and blue feathers of the beautiful macaws that perched on the plump shoulders of the bugras of the wild land that had just been discovered.”

The beautician Agenor Couto de Magalhães also describes hunting a manatee or shooting an otter, among other feats. It oscillates between enthusiasm and repugnance, as if the hunter within himself was facing an environmentalist future. When regretting that the tapir is no longer found frequently, he states that “we didn't know how to have laws for the preservation of this really valuable form of the tropical scenery of the indigenous land”.

And he continues: “This negligence that, like certain dermatoses, spreads throughout Brazil, will someday end, and hopefully in time to save at least part of its heritage (...). I know very well that I am becoming too seditious in these constant digressions. But I have no great guilt in making them, since the love I owe to this land and the responsibility that falls to me as a scholar of these problems draws me to it. I will fight, however, with the constancy that characterizes me, for the defense of this priceless heritage that lies in the absence of protection”.

On the other hand, he points out that the snipe “is one of the most interesting species for the hunter who wants to practice shooting in flight”, or that the snipe, when he retires to sleep “any animal can approach him and it does not scare him. That is why certain hunters tend to surprise him in the sacred recollection, then kill him coldly, without emotion, without taste, without art”. I like? Art? In another passage, he states that “If we compare the African and Asian hunts with ours, we will necessarily conclude that ours are superior in beauty and emotion”.

From a traditional four-hundred-year-old family, the surname Couto de Magalhães names streets and schools in several states. Agenor certainly attended good schools, and excelled in adjectives. A partridge was the “coveted queen of endless campaigns”, a macuco, “the prince of the forest”. A want-want, the "chanteclair of the paddocks” (he himself puts it in quotation marks, he must have heard it and thought it was beautiful). The sloth has a “comical physiognomy”, the raccoon is “a daring thief of chickens”, and the jacamim is the “justice of the peace of the terreiro”. For contemporary consolation, an image of hunters displaying slaughtered deer in Mato Grosso is called a “barbarous and pointless slaughter”. Yes, the book has some photos, obviously in black and white.

Contradictory, the author is divided between admiration for practitioners of “the art of hunting, with the spirit of sportsmen” and lamenting the disappearance of species in various regions. His thinking is sometimes utilitarian, seeing economic value in some animals and lamenting the destruction of their habitats as if it were “a waste”, sometimes it is ecological (a concept word he did not know), showing admiration for the diversity of nature. He goes so far as to state that environmental destruction “is a crime, it is barbarity that must be repressed, with all severity, by the public authorities”.

read a book like Essay on the Brazilian fauna with the eyes of the XNUMXst century helps to understand the formation of environmental conservationist thought with all the cultural, class and period contradictions to which it is subjected. And, for style analysts, it is an example of the sometimes romantic, sometimes naturalistic language of Brazilian scientific writings prior to the Second World War. It's still a tasty read, seasoned by time, although sometimes it leaves a bitter aftertaste of blood.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.

Reference


Agenor Couto de Magalhães. Essay on the Brazilian fauna. São Paulo, Secretary of Agriculture, 1939 (https://amzn.to/45aZftm).


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