Luiz Gama – anthology

Dalton Paula, Zumbi, 2020


Preface to the recently released book, a selection of newspaper articles and poems by the abolitionist leader

This book brings together original texts published in newspapers of the time (or later, as is the case with the Letter addressed to Lúcio de Mendonça) and poems appearing in the Second Edition of the Burlesque Trovas by Getulino, from 1861, with the exception of “Meus amores”, as it was printed in the magazine lame devil, of September 03, 1865.

This good memory of the magazine shows how Luiz Gama, as an abolitionist, participated in various forms of written expression and coexisted with other forms of expression and arts, such as drawings, cartoons and caricatures, most of them created by someone who is considered one of the forerunners of the Comics in Brazil, Angelo Agostini. Alongside this and other important collaborators, such as the lawyer and journalist Américo de Campos, he founded the aforementioned magazine in 1864 and another equally important one, The Goat, two years later.

Active and restless, his energy turned to the work he was involved with, but still finding time for intellectual, basic, complementary or supplementary actions. The voice that resounds in the texts, and that expands in our imaginations, reveals to us a subject whose orality enraptured listeners. I think that another portion of orality – as a tradition – has enriched the memory and a significant portion of vocabulary and images evoked by Gama in his texts.

In this book are some articles, letters and poems that still bother readers, as the texts of the wise lawyer delineate, separately and together, a strong personality and indignant with injustices. Whether in literature or in legal matters, there is the courageous and tireless man.

Luiz Gama was “a certain type of man”, as defined by João Romão da Silva (in Luís Gama and His Satirical Poetry, 1944), treating him as an abolitionist emblem, as much as he was a satirical poet (as highlighted by Arlindo Veiga dos Santos in Luís Gama's Lyric, in the same year, 1944).

Gama was a special man and an innovative poet: a defender of justice in its highest sense, of freedom above all else, but grounded in extremely high ethics and principles, as Lígia Fonseca Ferreira, this one that, without a doubt, increasingly reveals the whole face of this great citizen, an epithet used by many and which fits him very well; as he was also, without one facet jettisoning the other, a poet who anticipated a type of vision of refusal and ancestry present in contemporary black writing.

Luiz Gama, rightly highlighted in recent years, notably in the area of ​​law, is an example not only for the legal area, as we see, but also for literature. Obviously, we are accompanied by his moral, ethical, bold, perseverance, irritation with iniquities, which his personal history highlights to us.

Presented in an article by his friend Lúcio de Mendonça (in 1881) as the son of the insubmissive Luiza Mahin (the article was based on the letter, addressed to his friend in 1880, which is reproduced here in the edition), the image of Gama, as a combative subject and restless, heir to his mother's courage, he settled down.

Born in Bahia in 1830, according to his testimony, sold at the age of ten as a slave (a term he understandably used) to a drug dealer by his own father, and without news of his rebellious mother, mysteriously missing or running away, who he tells us was part of the insurrection of the Malês in Salvador in 1835, already had this tragic mark already in childhood.

Without ever conforming to the illicit situation in which he was trapped, not acquired by any buyer, he was taken to the house of ensign and slave owner Antônio Pereira Cardoso, in Lorena, in the municipality of São Paulo. There seems to be no doubt that he worked there until 1847. And still there, according to his information, he learned to read with the help and affection of the then young Antônio Rodrigues do Prado Júnior. At 18, after obtaining incontrovertible proof of being free, he left the lieutenant's house, later becoming a military man, was expelled for insubordination, performed a public function, wrote verses and, as a "provisioned lawyer", one who studied outside the Faculty benches of Law, defends and frees more than 500 enslaved people. Only in 2015, Luiz Gama was finally enrolled in the OAB, in posthumous homage, reaffirming his name as one of the greatest in the area in Brazil, at all times, and certainly the one whose history and intelligence makes juridical values ​​stand out in a splendid way, from the ethics and morals.

As a fearless lawyer, he always imprinted notes of courage in his speeches and writings, as in the letter in this anthology (“To the very illustrious and honored Mr, Commander José Vergueiro”) in which he notes: “The man who enslaves another man surpasses the murderer : is an abominable fratricide”.

Luiz Gama was a brilliant lawyer and, it should be noted, a stupendous poet. This last note about the poet may seem exaggerated, but it is not: obviously there were other poets who produced more, who published more books. It is necessary to respect the dazzling presence, as an example, a little later, of João da Cruz e Souza, another black poet, certainly an enormous representative of Brazilian poetry. Luiz Gama also says it's great, despite his only book and the scattered poems in magazines. In his productions, he emphasizes the salient black voice in front of the world, adopts humor as an instrument of reversal of the critical look, something that includes satire, but also a kind of tribute humor, in addition to the lyrical with joke pointed out by Arlindo Veiga Santos. As in the poem “Protasis”:

Sitting on the wings of Parnassus,
Because I couldn't climb to the high peak,
Like a poor man, from a Monastery to the Gatehouse,
From trovas I made this volume.

About the black voice, as several scholars have already said (Domício Proença Filho, Zilá Bernd, Florentina Souza, Eduardo de Assis Duarte, other relevant researchers, and poets such as Manuel Bandeira, José Carlos Limeira, Landê Onawale, among countless ), the voice of Luiz Gama is certainly one of the forerunners. Once again, it is worth highlighting the fundamental edition First Burlesque Trovas and Other Poems by Luiz Gama (published in 2000), organized by Lígia Fonseca Ferreira.

That name, Luiz Gama, affiliated with a line of social and racial dissatisfaction, but also of literary enjoyment, with the exception, represents a lot for all lovers of justice and democratic struggles, who, like him, fight for “all the poor, all the unhappy ones”.

It is good to find in this book a significant section of his articles about the rights to freedom and another section with poems that translate his disconcerting literary themes. These clippings, in different languages, but not so distant, confess Luiz Gama's main interests.

He was a man, he became a humanitarian emblem, he waved to a feeling of collectivity, as he was incapable of feeling complete in a world riddled with levity. The memory of him remains as long as the summoning of hope. It is essential to disseminate Gama's thinking and his firm ideal of justice.

This ideal is conjugated and translated, as already mentioned, in his general writings, whether in articles and letters, or in verses. Next, I indicate brief models of this conjugation of the ideal in the verses of the poem “What world is this?” and in the excerpt from the article “Emancipation at the foot of the letter”. I ask the reader to pay attention both to the verses “I see the free made a slave/ By the laws of arrogance” as well as the phrase “even today, I have the power of art”, which in my view express how the lines of critical prose converse with the poetic lines in Luiz Gama’s production. Perhaps these few lines, although extracted from their contexts, can indicate that the adopted forms served the same mission to dismantle iniquity:

What world? what world is this?
From the depths of the breast of this soul
I see... what a cold calm
Of humans in the wild!
I see the free made a slave
By laws of arrogance;
I see the wealth in dementia
postponing nature
(poem “What World is This?”)

“To the positivism of soft slavery I place that of freedom revolutions; I want to be crazy like John Brown and like Spartacus, like Lincoln, like Jesus; I hate, however, Pilate's self-righteous calm.

I was, in other times, when I punctuated rhymes, a maker of satire, in the form of caps, and even today, I have the turn of art.

(Article “Emancipation at the foot of the letter”, from 1880)

In this edition, the reader will find the texts mentioned in this preface in full.

As has been said, those who already know or who are getting to know Luiz Gama will find in this book clippings of the thought of a great citizen in two forms, prose (letters and articles, such as the fundamental Letter to Lúcio de Mendonça) and poetry (from the second edition of First Trovas Burlescas by Getulinoit's the "My loves", as featured in the magazine lame devil).

This collection of articles and poems is, therefore, an invitation to the freedom movement, to the struggle for better days, to the search for justice, food for all, the eradication of poverty, exploitation. I consider a publication very appropriate in current times that reinvigorates the countenance of Luiz Gama, a unique example of a Brazilian.

* Silvio Roberto dos Santos Oliveira Professor of Brazilian Literature at the State University of Bahia.



Luiz Gama – anthology. Organized by Enid Yatsuda Frederico and Cláudia de Arruda Campos. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2021, 128 pages.


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