Literature in Quarantine: Quarup and A color defect

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By Remy J. Fontana*

Commentary on the novels of Antonio Callado and Ana Maria Gonçalves

Many were the books that impressed me, shaped me, inspired me, mobilized me. Among these, I think I can highlight two as propitiators of a high perception, of a break in understanding, of a sharpening of understanding, of an awareness, as moments of an epiphany.

One has the Indians as a background, the Brazilian indigenous question, the continued decimation of the aboriginal ethnic groups, their genocide, first in the name of faith, in more recent times in the name of profit; it also deals with his struggles for the affirmation of his humanity, in past times denied by the (not at all) holy church, in current times by the ignorant stupidity of the reserve captain who misgoverns us.

The other book is a saga of a black character in slave-owning Brazil, in which the infamy of the slave-owning social formation appears in everyday life in all its horrors, in all its ignominy, also denying the humanity of slaves.

They are two fiction books based on data and historical, economic, political references, but which can incorporate a metaphysical dimension under the sign of evil, such are the structures of denial, deprivation, absence, defect, violence, affronts that fall on Indians and blacks, stripping them of recognition, rights, humanity.

Quarup

Antonio Callado's novel constitutes, in the astute observation of Ferreira Gullar, an essay of miseducation for Brazilians to become people, that is, that every Brazilian who thinks he is a person or intends to be, should read.

From the ingrained official corruption of the central power, to the dictates of French culturalism; from the ethnological and historical research of the Sete Povos das Missões to the chronic socioeconomic hardships of the Northeast; from peasant leagues to the udenist coup moralism of the 1950s; from the Indian Protection Service to the owners of the truth with their unavoidable false alarmism around the communist bogeyman; from recurrent militarism to the pusillanimous vicissitudes of the STF; from Quarup, the annual festival of the Indians in the Xingu, to the process of disalienation of singular individuals transmuting themselves into mobilized people, as is the journey of Father Nando, the main character, who moves away from God and closer to history; from crises and political coups to exile outside and within the country itself; from a dip in history to an expedition, real and metaphorical, to the geographic center of Brazil; such are the themes presented there, such are the problems discussed there under Callado's fascinating narrative and vigorous and combative style.

It wouldn't be too much trouble to make a updating of these themes, update them with the impasses of the present, with the current sociopolitical regressions, with the cultural obscurantism and the civilizing predation that affects us, slaughters us, but which calls us to resistance.

a color defect

“Esméria recommended that I behave well, never saying anything that wasn't asked, never doing what wasn't asked, and never disobeying or questioning, even when I thought an order was wrong or unfair. That's how things went between blacks and whites, and that's how they should stay, because I could never change them..."

In a 2019 edition commemorating the 10th anniversary of its publication, I come across this book by Ana Maria Gonçalves, a work and author unknown to me until then. Instigated by an accredited reference and by the writing on the back of the book, by none other than Millôr Fernandes, I decided to face the challenge of reading its 951 pages.

The first observation is that each page is worth reading, that this enormous flow of words composes one of the most fascinating, poignant, and astonishing narratives. As Millôr said, and I agree, it means getting into your reading and not knowing time to pause, stop to breathe.

There the story of Kehinde is narrated, rather, the character narrates her story, from the age of 8 when she is captured in Africa and brought as a slave to Brazil. In an eight-decade saga, she traverses the country's slave-owning land, experiences and suffers physical, moral, and symbolic violence of all kinds, participates in rebellions, overcomes privations and shortages, learns to read and write, including in English, knows and gives solidarity to owns, attends political groups, discusses, debates and fights for freedom, takes initiatives that make it successful in a variety of small, and later large, businesses; she is deprived of children, either by the tragedies of fate or by the malice of some, as a result of which she spends her life in despair and anguish in search of a sold child.

One of the notable aspects of what you read there is the character's capacity for change, movement, resilience, and reinvention. In these continuous changes in its situation and circumstances, we follow the changes that are taking place in the country, from colony to independence and republic. The social structures, the political processes, the pattern of behavior, the morality of the various social strata both below and above, are described in their everyday occurrence, detailed in the experiences of characters who appear to us with strength and expressiveness that seem real, in whose company we seem to walk.

Therein lies its great merit, a fluent writing that captivates, instructs and gives body, shapes and colors to the life lived by these large contingents of black slaves, mulattos, creoles, mestizos, exploited, violated, massacred by their masters, their owners, by their economic, social and cultural processes, which skin them, grind them, decimate them, discard them.

In the midst of these disgraced, shattered lives, we see a lot of human greatness, we see work, friendships, solidarity, decency, creativity to extract from almost nothing the means of physical and emotional survival, a complex religiosity that organically links them to the entities and rituals that they help to endure indescribable hardships and to give meaning to their existence (Oxum, Xangô, Ogun, Nanã, Olorum, Iemanjá, Exu, Odum, Voduns, Orixás, Oxalás).

We also know the diversity of the origin of the slaves (Angola, Dahomey, Cape Verde, São Tomé, Mozambique), their different ethnicities (Eves, Fons, Preto-Minas, Angolas, Maís, Jefes, Hausas, Igbos, etc.), the contradictions between themselves, between Africans and those born in Brazil, the meaning of each game, each party, each fight, each devotion, each dance, each song (capueira [copoeira], candomblé, merriment, reisados, congadas, batuques, mandingas) their languages ​​(yoruba, eve-fon,…).

The saga of the slaves, the tragedy of slavery, constituents of the country, founding builders of the nationality that until today appear as a hindrance, as shame, as an unresolved issue leaving a trail of rubble, mistakes, prejudices is still crying out for recognition; recognition that the riches and liberties of a few were secured by the misery and enslavement of the many.

Ana Maria's book is part of the lineage of those many silenced stories that need to be told, rescued from the bottom of the memory of the humiliated, the offended, the forgotten; stories of lives that need to be respected, valued, honored for everything they did, for the cruel conditions they lived, for the rich and complex legacy they left.

*Remy J. Fontana is a retired professor at the Department of Sociology and Political Science at UFSC.

References

Antonio Callado. Quarup. Rio de Janeiro, Editora José Olympio (https://amzn.to/3KLup2e).

Ana Maria Gonçalves. a color defect. Rio de Janeiro, Editora Record (https://amzn.to/3E0gHF9).

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