Brazilian National Anthem

Image: Elyeser Szturm


Very few Brazilians understand the entire national anthem. Maybe 10%, probably less. Meanwhile, the people sing without understanding Ovirudu

In most countries, the national anthem is understandable to everyone, literate or not. I decided to take a look at the national anthem of several countries, in general there is no difficulty in understanding it.

In the case of Latin American countries, I consulted the national anthems and they all celebrate the national liberation struggle against the colonizer and call on the people to die for the country. A remote influence from the Middle Ages (Pro Patria Mori). In a brilliant essay, writer Ernst Kantorowicz showed that the attitude of dying for one's country has a religious essence of medieval origin. I already wrote an article about national identity dealing with this subject and showed that the only exception is Brazil. Our national anthem, although it superficially says at the end that Brazilians do not fear death, celebrates nature and does not talk about dying for the country.

I will not repeat here what I said in the article. If anyone is interested, you can consult my article “Dying for the Country: Notes on National Identity and Globalization”, in the book Identity and globalization,(Record) or search on my website:

I will just quote a small excerpt:

The exaltation of nature as an affirmation of our identity was illustrated in the verses of Canção do Exílio, by Gonçalves Dias, which were definitively institutionalized in the lyrics of the National Anthem: Canção do Exílio, verses 5, 6, 7 and 8: Our sky has more stars / Our floodplains have more flowers/ Our forests have more life/ Our life has more loves. National Anthem, verses 31,32 and 33: Than the brightest land/ Your smiling, beautiful fields have more flowers/ Our forests have more life/ Our life in your bosom more loves.

The Brazilian national anthem is full of images and metaphors linked to nature. It was the placid banks of Ipiranga that heard the resounding cry of a heroic people who were absent and did not shout anything. Sun of freedom, beautiful smiling and clear sky, giant by nature itself, lying in a splendid cradle, sun of the new world, adored land, natural metaphors abound in the national anthem. Here lies, without a doubt, one of the elements that explain Nelson Rodrigues' surprising synthesis: Brazil is a landscape.

I will now address another issue in this text that also intrigues me. The Parnassian style of the Brazilian national anthem makes it difficult to understand. When I was a professor at PUC-Rio, many years ago, I taught sociology and legal sociology at the Faculty of Law. One day, I wrote the first two sentences of the national anthem on the board and asked the students to put them in direct order.

“They heard the placid banks of Ipiranga / From a heroic people the resounding cry”

It was a test to see how many people understood the hymn they had sung since they were children. To my surprise, half the class got it wrong. In other words, they did not understand the hymn. This occurred at a Law School at an elite private university. I think that incomprehension among the people must be close to 100%.

This fact reminded me of a real story with a football player that happened in the past, in the 1960s, I believe. He was giving an interview to a reporter when he was called to sing the national anthem with the other players. He interrupted the interview saying: Now I'm going to sing Ovirudu. That was how he understood the first phrase of the hymn.

I know that the national anthem is taboo, but I have already thought about starting a campaign for the national anthem to be the song Aquarela do Brasil, by Ary Barroso. It's beautiful and everyone understands it. All I had to do was find another rhyme for “Brazilian”. After all – with all due respect, Seu Ary – no one knows what an inzoneiro mulato is (and today it would be considered prejudiced). But everyone understands the brilliant call: “Open the curtain on the past/Take the black mother out of the cerrado/Put the Congo king in the congado”.

A friend told me that my life was at risk. It's dangerous to mess with symbols. I'm not even going to discuss here the problem of the appropriation of national symbols by the extreme right, that would be another matter. I just think that, one day, someone or some organization will have the desire and strength to propose changing the anthem. My idea is for each century to have its national anthem.

Ours is from the XNUMXth century. The XNUMXth century tolerated the national anthem poorly. In the XNUMXst century, it is a tired relic: the lyrics are inverted, full of images describing nature, of romantic inspiration, and at the same time with an extremely elaborate syntax, in a Parnassian style, which people do not understand. The anthem today is completely out of place in the national culture.

With forests and rivers being degraded and destroyed, it would make more sense to celebrate those who fight for nature conservation. The cradle where Brazil lies eternally is no longer splendid, the sea and the light from the deep sky are polluted, as are the rivers. Our beautiful fields with more life, our forests with more flowers are degraded and are no longer symbols of the labarum that you display with stars, nor of the laurel green of that pennant.

A new national anthem, compatible with the 100st century, would certainly be out of place in the 100nd century, which will deserve its own anthem. I think XNUMX years is a good lifespan for a national anthem. The idea of ​​an eternal anthem is part of a conservative worldview. In XNUMX years, laws and customs change. Why doesn't the national anthem change too? Every century, its anthem, is my proposal.

As a new anthem will take time, if it really ever changes, by then not many Brazilians will understand the entire national anthem. Maybe 10% of the population at most, probably less. Meanwhile, the people sing without understanding Ovirudu.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond).

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