The beadle and the rector

Image: The Humantra


The election of the first black professor to head the UFBA Faculty of Medicine

Between one moment and another of connected life, in the coming and going of news and posts on the networks, a piece of news caught attention: “Professor is the first black person elected director of the Faculty of Medicine of the Federal University of Bahia in 215 years of history” (G1, 25/07/2023). We read that “the first black professor to run for the position of director of the Faculty of Medicine was elected to the position on Thursday (May 25). The article informs that “professor Antônio Alberto Lopes obtained the majority of votes from students, teachers and university employees in a vote that took place at night.”

The short note from the news portal referred to an old literary memory, linked to the old “Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia”. This memory came from reading tent of miracles, novel published in 1969 by Jorge Amado, which features as the main character the brown Pedro Archanjo, who, among many other things, held the position of beadle at the aforementioned Faculty. Vinha de Arcanjo, created by Bahian Amado, the memory of the institution mentioned in the article, which gave food for thought at the time and on other days.

The Faculty of Medicine of Bahia is the oldest higher education institution in the country, founded in 1808 as the “School of Surgery of Bahia”. In the “History” section of the Faculty’s current website, we can read that “in the short time that D. João VI and the royal family remained in Bahia, one month and two days, it was enough for some facts of national relevance to be recorded. ” Among these facts, it is stated that “after opening the ports of Brazil to nations friendly to Portugal, D. João VI signed, on February 18, 1808, the document that ordered the creation of the School of Surgery of Bahia”, which, in 1832, passed to be “Faculty of Medicine of Bahia” and, since 2004, it has been part of the Federal University of Bahia.

It is therefore an institution of considerable relevance, directly linked to important circumstances in the country's history. One can speculate on the reactions of that royal family in the “short time” in which they were in Salvador, between the escape of Napoleon's troops that had invaded the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival in Rio de Janeiro of the new court. That “new world”, “not very civilized”, whose existence depended entirely on slavery, demanded “progress” and “advancements”, as evidenced by the institutional innovations that the country would receive during the period.

It is in this institution that Pedro Archanjo, the main character of tent of miracles. Born from Bahia in 1868, “son of Antônio Archanjo and Noêmia de Tal, better known as Noca de Logum Edé. The only thing known about the father was that he was a recruit in the Paraguayan War in which he died while crossing the Chaco, leaving his partner pregnant with Pedro, his first and only child.” In one of the several portraits of Archanjo offered throughout the novel, we know that “having taught himself to read, he attended the Lyceum of Arts and Crafts where he acquired notions of different subjects and the art of typography. He excelled in Portuguese and was interested in reading from an early age.”

And it didn’t stop there: “As a mature man, he delved deeper into the study of anthropology, ethnology and sociology. To do so he learned French, English and Spanish. His knowledge of the life and customs of the people was practically unlimited.” With such training carried out in the gaps of a social system that denied education to men like him, Pedro Archanjo published four books: Popular life in Bahia (1907); African influences on Bahian customs (1918); Notes on miscegenation in Bahian families (1928); Bahian cuisine: Origins and precepts (1930). He dies in conditions of extreme poverty in 1943.

We thus have a strange “beadle who writes books”, living between subalternity and the powerful defense of what he is and what he lives, the light-skinned black man, or “brown”, as Archanjo himself identifies himself. It is this figure of crossings who experiences the tensions and conflicts in Jorge Amado's novel, which mainly involve the complex Brazilian racial debate. This is a curious character, who should play the administrative role of “censor and disciplinarian”, or “official in charge of administrative tasks at colleges” as a beadle, but who will blur central dividing lines for the maintenance of that form of society.

Here, the Faculty of Medicine of Bahia appears as an important (and decisive) setting for the plot. But this is not the only “university” in the Amadiano novel, as we can read in the first paragraph of the work: “In the wide territory of Pelourinho, men and women teach and study. A vast and varied university, it extends and branches. […] Everywhere where men and women work metal and wood, they use herbs and roots, they mix rhythms, steps and blood; in the mixture they created a color and a sound, a new, original image.”

In this second “universe”, Pedro Archanjo is one of the religious authorities in the local Candomblé (he is Ojuobá, the “eyes of Xangô”, who “sees everything and knows everything”), promoter of artistic groups and gangs of capoeiristas, people from the more varied colors and tastes, in a world that will at all times be guided by their denial and, when appropriate, by their elimination. Between one crack and another, between a fight with (fewer) victories and (more) defeats, Archanjo seeks to maintain and celebrate life, in a paradoxical attitude for these people who live in constant subalternity, a mixture condemned as inferior, and who will find great challenges to maintain yourself and your practices.

At the same time, in another paradoxical situation, many attacks and violence will come from the learned and civilized members of the Faculty of Medicine of Bahia, forgers and defenders of so-called “scientific” hypotheses about what the appropriate human experience should be. Beadle and social scientist, authority and inferior, Archanjo lives between these two universes, these two universities; one of them with suspicious lives and the other with “suspicious theories”:

“In Tenda dos Milagres, Ladeira do Tabuão, 60, is the rectory of this popular university. […] Pedro Archanjo, the rector, is there, who knows? Bent over old worn-out types and a capricious printer, in the archaic and very poor workshop, they compose and print a book about Bahian life. Nearby, in Terreiro de Jesus, stands the Faculty of Medicine and there they also teach how to cure illnesses and care for the sick. In addition to other subjects: from rhetoric to sonnets and suspected theories”.

But what are these theories, described as suspicious? In the second half of the 19th century, ideas from the so-called disenchanted sciences about the natural division between “human races” arrived in Brazil. In a country that was about to abolish slavery, such ideas contributed to the expansion and consolidation of the inherent racism in that society, even in a post-abolition context – which supposedly gave freedom, but without attributing dignity and rights. Among these ideas, some are more prominent.

The notions of purity and racial superiority defended by Frenchman Arthur Gobineau in Essay on the inequality of human races (1855) point to a scenario in which there were naturally differences between the “human races”, which should be kept separate and without “miscegenation”. The racial determinist hypotheses proposed by the Italian Cesare Lombroso in The white man and the colored man (1876) and other works pointed to the “natural brutality” of some “human races”, which was observable by the shape of the individuals’ faces and skulls. In the case of the conceptions of social evolutionism defended by Herbert Spencer in Principles of sociology (1874), the search for progress should be linked to the elimination of that which was not “fit” in the fight for life, including “inferior” races.

Such ideas of “scientist” originated from limited, prejudiced and erroneous readings of biological processes and would be questioned by the biological sciences themselves over time. However, those deterministic and supposedly scientific theses ended up influencing several Brazilian intellectuals, as in the case of the doctor Nina Rodrigues (1862-1906), from our well-known Bahia Faculty of Medicine, who argued that “men are born different”, and that “equal rights was a utopia”.

In 1894 Rodrigues published Human races and criminal responsibility in Brazil, in which he argued that “racial disparities should lead to the formation of different penal codes, adapted to different degrees of evolution”. This type of conception was based on the idea that whites and blacks were essentially different, as they occupied different scales of a desired “evolutionary” process. We can identify here a type of “scaling”, where racial superiority, racial determinism and social evolutionism would explain the social differences between “human races”.

This type of conception guided the defense of policies for the whitening of the Brazilian population, based on the elimination of the so-called “inferior elements”, to favor “purity” and “progress”. However, with the advancement of scientific research in the areas of genetics, biology and anthropology, we now know that there are no human races from a scientific point of view. More specifically, there are no significant biological differences between human beings that could separate them into different races or that would point to evidence of superiority or inferiority at any biological level. In this sense, explaining behaviors and capabilities based on racial criteria, without an analysis of environments, contexts and circumstances, does not make sense from a biological point of view.

The theories of Gobineau, Lombroso, Spencer and Rodrigues are inadequate to explain the dynamics of societies, representing only the prejudices and conceptions of their time. However, the differentiation of humanity by criteria involving skin color ended up creating a type of “social existence” of races, in a social and historical construction that guided the differentiation that left marks.

In the Amadiano novel, Pedro Archanjo has the figure of the doctor Nilo Argolo as the antagonist who will represent the belief in the theoretical sets based on the racist and supposedly scientific vision mentioned here. Supported by the prestige of the occupation of “professor at the Faculty of Medicine”, such conceptions would be disseminated in the societies of the time. After Archanjo published his first book, in which he argued that the approximations and mixtures involving the Brazilian population offered something new (and good) to the world, with new conditions and possibilities for the realization of the human experience, several conflicts arise in the novel.

Even living in unfavorable conditions in material terms, that cultural mix remained and would have conditions to flourish. Lídio Corró, supporter of Archanjo, had great expectations about the work: “Written by compadre Pedro Archanjo, cool among cool guys, composed and printed in his typography, Popular life in Bahia It seemed to him the most important book in the world. Publishing it with so much sacrifice, she had no ambition to make a profit. What she wanted to do was rub it in the face of ‘those shitters, bunch of xibungos’, who consider mulattoes and black people to be inferior beings, a scale between men and animals.”

In this context, a sample of Popular life in Bahia comes into the hands of the famous Prof. Argolo, who, in a tense dialogue with Archanjo, disregards the project and the hypothesis, even suggesting paths. Supported by the statute of his condition, he says: “Asnice. What do facts mean, what are they worth, if we do not examine them in the light of philosophy, in the light of science? Have you ever read anything about the subject in question? I recommend Gobineau. A French diplomat and scholar: he lived in Brazil and is the definitive authority on the problem of races. His works are in the school library.”

The conceptions of Nilo Argolo, whose character is a satire of the aforementioned Nina Rodrigues, thus represent the attempt to deny any possibility of full consideration of the humanity of those who are different from its standard, established in an “objective”, “founded” and therefore “proven”. However, this claim to science was not sustained, as it was merely an attempt to maintain the racial structuring of societies, with an appeal to scientific authority.

It is against this pretension that Archanjo lives and writes in favor of miscegenation in Popular life in Bahia: “The living conditions of the people of Bahia are so terrible, such is the misery, so absolute is the lack of any medical or sanitary assistance, of the slightest interest of the State or authorities, that living in such conditions constitutes in itself extraordinary display of strength and vitality. Therefore, the preservation of customs and traditions, the organization of societies, schools, parades, ranches, suits, afoxés, the creation of dance and song rhythms, everything that means cultural enrichment acquires the importance of a true miracle that only the mixture of races explains and enables. From miscegenation is born a race of so much talent and resistance, so powerful, that it overcomes misery and despair in the daily creation of beauty and life.”

Historian and anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz addresses racism in Brazilian scientific institutions in The Spectacle of Races: Scientists, institutions and the racial debate in Brazil 1830-1870, characterizing the country as a curious “racial laboratory”, where human diversity has found itself throughout history. Among other issues, Lilia Schwarcz shows how racist theories defended the need to whiten the population, so that Brazil could develop. As we have seen, renowned scientists such as Nina Rodrigues and her fictional counterpart Nilo Argolo defended racist ideas in an extremely mixed race place, following debatable criteria for racial classification.

From the point of view of the debate on the existence of races, Lilia Schwarcz shows how this concept emerged to explain human diversity, along with the processes of domination and subjugation carried out in its name. Inadequate notions of evolutionism, together with mistaken ideas about Charles Darwin's hypothesis allegedly explained the superiority of one race over another. More critical perspectives on alleged scientific progress then emerge and, mainly, to be more careful with so-called scientific investigations into humans. Thus, we “deceive nature”, artificially creating something that does not exist. However, even though there are no human races from a biological point of view, his invention had consequences in current societies.

One of these consequences is explored in Tent of Miracles based on the character Pedrito Gordo, delegated and invested by the law and the state to “maintain order” and “good customs”. An avid reader of the “scientists” who guarantee the classifications of superiority and inferiority in human societies, the officer based his action on such theoretical constructs: “It is the masters who affirm the dangerousness of black people, it is science that proclaims war on their antisocial practices, It's not me". And, in a gesture of humility, he adds: “I just try to root out evil, preventing it from spreading. The day we put an end to all this rubbish, the crime rate in Salvador will decrease enormously and we will finally be able to say that our land is civilized.”

Thus, the very existence of the “negralhada” and the “mestizos” would be a constant threat to be controlled and extirpated by the law. Cultural practices linked to such groups, such as Candomblé, samba and capoeira, as well as other activities and celebrations, should be repressed in the name of “order” and progress. “I’m going to clean the city of Bahia” says Pedrito, armed with weapons and science, prolonging an almost holy war for many years, in an alleged civilizing crusade that relied on brutality and violence in the name of “good” and “reason”.

The establishment of social structures and places, as exemplified by Pedrito Gordo's conceptions,  involves forms of scaling that provoke reflections. “Put yourself in your place” is a common suggestion in Brazilian social dynamics, which refers to the establishment of levels to which people would supposedly be allocated, considering mainly their race and class, reflecting in some way the ideology of Nilo Argolo. ameriacam journalist Isabel Wilkserson analyzed some of the forms of escalation promoted throughout history and their consequences in the book Caste: The origins of our malaise.

In his hypothesis, he argues that “a caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and ingrained classification of human value that establishes the supposed supremacy of one group against the supposed inferiority of others”. This alleged superiority would be based on ancestry and traits that are often unalterable, “traits that would be neutral on an abstract level”, but “that receive a meaning of life or death in a hierarchy that favors the dominant caste conceived by the ancestors”. In this sense, a caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary, limits to keep groups separate, differentiated from each other, in their “respective places”.

Isabel Wilkerson specifically deals with the escalations promoted in Indian societies (before the 20th century), in the slavery period in the United States and in Germany under Nazi rule, along with their consequences. However, her considerations also help to think about the Brazilian context and its circumstances.

According to his analysis, a caste system remains because it is often justified in the name of divine will, originating from sacred texts or the alleged laws of nature, reinforced by the entire culture and transmitted over generations. In the case of attempts to substantiate superiority through the scientific revelation of its origins, as a means of attributing value to entire sectors of the human species, caste would serve as a parameter and embed in our bone structure an unconscious classification of human characteristics and present the rules, the expectations and stereotypes that “have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species.”

Thus, a beadle could never write books, or make relevant contributions to the understanding of the human experience, after all, that is not “his place”. This is what Nilo Argolo bets on, when he subdues the reflections of Archanjo, who is not guided by “philosophy”, much less by “science”. Archanjo will “understand” this reasoning, revealing secrets and weaknesses in Argolo’s reasoning. Here, the “miracle of the tent” in Jorge Amado's work is not mysterious and could be designed by Lídio Corró: destroying the bases of this attempt at scaling, questioning the foundations of the distinction between castes. Archanjo is not inferior to Argolo in any of the supposedly established criteria, but the very attempt to criticize the Brazilian caste project will have consequences.

the reading of Tent of Miracles It shows us Jorge Amado's art at its best, both by highlighting the risks of the pretensions of “disenchantment of the world”, which ends up creating dangerous fictions and fantasies to explain and justify the world around him. The attempt to maintain the racial order through scientific discourse, against which Pedro Archanjo lives and writes at the “people's university”, will establish policies and distinctions, with dangerous consequences, as the 20th century showed us. However, until the error of Nilo Argolo and Nino Rodrigues is evidenced by scientific practice itself, much brutality will be justified and social structures that still reach us will be established.

Luiz Antônio Simas and Luiz Rufino present in the book Enchantment: On the politics of life (2020) a reflection on the ways of this structuring and realization of Brazilian life from racially charged contexts and reflect on the consequences of the project that supported such conceptions.

This reflection comes to mind after reading Amadiano's novel, as it considers the way we build ourselves as a society and how we can escape imposed determinations: “Colonization (we think of colonization as a long-lasting phenomenon, which is still casting its poisons), generates 'living leftovers', disposable beings, which do not fit into the hyper-commercialized and normative logic of the system, where consumption and scarcity act as Siamese brothers; one depends on the other. Some ‘living remains’ manage to become survivors. Others, not even that. Survivors can become 'survivors': those capable of overcoming the condition of exclusion, stop being just reactive to others and go beyond, affirming life as a policy of building connections between being and world, human and nature, corporeality and spirituality , ancestry and future, temporality and permanence”.

Perhaps this is what Pedro Archanjo seeks, when creating strategies and arrangements, within the game itself to overcome it. In the various paradoxical circumstances that he experiences, he does not fit into the stipulated places and knows that he is a survivor of an order that wants him as a living remnant, keeping him as inferior, dominated and subordinate. However, he circumvents the condition and caste that were assigned to him, making use of the very tools that supposedly make him inferior – he affirms, loves, plays, negotiates, denies, learns, questions, doubts. But it’s not just about ceasing to be a living remnant, or just surviving “normally” in the caste in which you were born – “knowing your place” in the common and everyday saying.

We need to guarantee more, and be fully considered as people, but without forgetting to live and feel adequate within our own way of life. Archanjo acts, understands and then works miracles – he has a “good life”, with pleasures and achievements, disappointments and fears in an order that would deny him all of this. And he does so without romanticizing the precarious, always demanding that his people can lead a life according to their desires and beliefs.

But the search for a miracle in the Brazil tent continues. During the campaign for the election for the Board of Directors of the Faculty of Medicine of Bahia, Professor Antônio Alberto Lopes was the target of several racist attacks, which were duly reported to the Ombudsman's Office of the Federal University of Bahia.

*Jose Costa Junior Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at IFMG –Campus Ponte Nova.


AMADO, George. tent of miracles🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022.

SCHWARCZ, Lilia. The spectacle of races: Scientists, institutions and racial issues in Brazil🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1993.

SIMAS, Luiz Antonio; RUFINO, Luiz. Enchantment: About life politics. Rio de Janeiro: Mórula Editorial, 2020.

WILKERSON, Isabel. Caste: The origins of our malaise. Translated by Denise Bottman and Carlos Alberto Medeiros. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2021.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives