The Bittersweet Agrestino
While I was having a break from my visit to Agreste in Pernambuco, a concern involved me during a walk at the Patacho Beach (Alagoas State). What should be the title of the story I was telling?
I had already decided not to follow the stereotype presented to the world about brazilian northeastern people: of sadness, dryness and suffering. But at the same time, I should recognize the daily struggle of this people resisting against harsh climate and a life full of tremendous deprivation.
Contemplating the near-infinite ocean, it was the movement of the waves on the sand who whispered in my ears the name that I was deeply seeking. Dry at times, wet at others. Sometimes in movement, sometimes relaxing. Sweet at times, salty at others.
A small story of cultural elements of that special region could be named no differently, here by its transformation into substantive: the bittersweet agrestino.
The ambience around me showed signs, at every moment, that any preconceived idea I had, could deceive me. Starting from the green landscape dominating the sandy soil, an idea completely different from what I expected: dryness and absence of life.
But it grew. And the agrestino scenery exposed to whom wanted to admire the beauty of one of the less valued regions in brazilian territory.
I started to realize that the old houses and the country life were been left behind, as families were leaving their households in their own lands, for fear of insecurity, and to organize themselves into smalls settlements, as Pau Ferro Village (Pernambuco State), or in bigger cities like Panelas (also in Pernambuco), yet surrounded by a vast and active rural area.
The remembrances were shared, at every moment, by those who welcomed me, opening their houses, their lives, their stories. And, without asking for permission, I was invaded by the agrestino-northeastern unconscious, with its foods, songs, games.. and celebrations.
What´s the face of this people who call a land – supposedly – so severe, their home? What´s the face of these men and women who insist on smiling when the environment – theorically – doesn´t smile back.
Perhaps, a mid-term was enough. However, knowing that there are millions of images promoting the harshness of country and agrestina life, I oppositely prefered to promote the opposite idea.
During the festival of São José, I noticed a quite interesting group: Bacamarteiros - transiting between a folkloric and a religious element, clearly referring to a classic and regional “social bandit leader”, called Lampião. Both are common figures in all festivals and gatherings in Pernambuco state.
Full of humor and an almost naive cunningness, they celebrate the sacredness and profane and, with their blunderbuss (firearm) at wrist, prove the mastery of the northeastern people on conquering the uncountable dailies barriers.
From the top of Borborema Plateau, delighting a hilly geography of the region, communities that represents a very sad period of our history - quilombola communities (slaves fugitives settlements) blossom and resist nowadays.
I was able to quickly visit Quilombo do Sambaqüins, a small community that had the first contact with external population less than fifteen years ago.
A humble community, located on the top of a small mountain, where the shyness and curiosity – and lack of time – did not allowed to create deeper relationships, also did not allowed me to capture images that could overcome the – also existent – stereotype of an exiled community and “absent of resources”.
The voice of the African Continent was etched in the capoeira, a art that dates back to theirs ancestors who, at that same place, suffered and freed themselves.
A few days before leaving agreste, I joined another local festival, called "Festa do Jerico", famous throughout the region, and where the small city of Panelas (Pernambuco State) gets completely transformed to host the festivities and travellers from within neighboring states.
Donkey races, concerts, celebrations, masses, horse ridding. The four days of the festival went by, unfolded into countless activities, kindly organized by the locals.
That sense of strangeness made it clear that my Southeast-brazilian-born-being did not represent the totality of our culture, which was presented there in a beautiful demonstration.
At the end, the records remained. Images that I have the joy of being able to share, take care and keep. I was certainly transformed by the very story I intended to tell.