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The Sights and Voices of Dispossession: The Fight for the Land and the Emerging Culture of the MST (The Movement of the Landless Rural Workers of Brazil)


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Emerging culture by media type -> Children's compositions 17 resources (Organized by Else R P Vieira. Translation © Thomas Burns.)

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Else R P Vieira


The compositions and poems of the little landless: history under revision

The compositions reproduced here reflect one of the various pedagogies of the MST - Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Movement of the Landless Rural Workers): the pedagogy of history. How the children perceive and represent not only the process of social exclusion throughout Brazilian history but also that of reintegration through the MST are the reflective threads that weave their texts.

The compositions also reflect the objectives of the Movement’s educational project as spelled out by Roseli S. Caldart(1): the landless people’s recovery of a sense of dignity, the development of a social identity for those who had lost their roots as well as the construction of a project for life. Serious gaps make up the rural reality of Brazil and the lack of access to basic education for many children is yet another component of the overall picture of social exclusion of the dispossessed. The development of a culture of the right to education is what stands out in the presentation of the anthology Feliz Aniversário MST/Happy Birthday MST, from which some of the texts here presented were selected:

We also register in our history, and with special pride, the fact that more than 100 thousand children and adolescents study in the schools in the settlements and encampments, the cirandas (children’s songs) that gradually produce a culture of their right to education in the rural areas; also adult literacy programmes that involve aound 20 thousand students, and the training of technicians and pedagogues for secondary and university levels, as well as a number of other initiatives related to the training of, and for, the households of the Landless(2).

The texts of the Little Landless included here were selected from three collections of prize-winning essays in annual National Contests for Essays and Drawings organized by the MST in the schools of the encampments and settlements all over Brazil. The themes, shared with the drawing contexts also published in this website, relate to three important debates(3):

The first of them, O Brasil que queremos ter/ The Brazil We Want, proposed in a contest held in 1998, provides the children who grow up with destitution the chance to express their denouncements and their expectations and aspirations in life. As part of this sad mosaic there are, more specifically, the questioning of exclusion, of the massacres, of racial prejudice; the denouncement of unchanged patterns of slavery and of the government’s neglect, for example, to solve the problem of lack of irrigation in the dry North East of Brazil; the affirmation of the right to expression, to dreams, to a more egalitarian society, to housing, to clothing, to medical care and to the dignity of work.

In 1999 a second contest was held on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Movement, titled Feliz Aniversário MST/ Happy Birthday MST! The alternatives to exclusion and the room for hope enabled by the Movement stand out in the composition of a child from the North East who would otherwise have the destiny of a retirante/ migrant as the only alternative, or else starve to death as had already been the case with her little brother. An important contribution made by the children is the production of poems within the tradition of the cordel/ string poetry, or broadsheets, typical of the North East and which has an important role in registering and disseminating historical events in rural societies where illiteracy and an oral culture prevail. Registering the history of the Movement also brings to the surface its emergence during the dictatorship and its expression against authoritarianism through marches which further revitalized a dormant political awarenesss. In more analytical contributions, the children also assess their own experience of resistance while they were in the encampments and the political conscience thence derived. Abundance, dignity and knowledge are dimensions of life which the children associate with the MST.

The contest held in 2000 highlighted the questioning of official history, more specifically the history of the discovery of Brazil, celebrated in April of the same year. The theme proposed, Brasil, quantos anos você tem?/Brazil, How Old Are You? introduces, at the outset, a problematizing discourse, including of official chronology itself. Those excluded from history make up the cast of social actors of the history that one wishes to be reconstructed: the blacks, the natives, the prostitutes, the street children and the land dispossessed themselves. The farce of democracy, the mere exchange of imperialistic powers and the visible growth of poverty finally make up the agenda of these children who reveal a profound sense of history and a marked political consciousness.

Many of the prize-winning drawings are found in the archive Children’s Drawings in this website.

1. See Roseli S. Caldart’s essay in this website
2. “Apresentação”, Feliz aniversário MST! São Paulo: Editora Lidador, 2000, Alípio Freire, Silvana Panzoldo and Emílio Alonso (eds.).
3. Desenhando o Brasil/Drawing Brazil (1999), which also included compositions on the theme O Brasil que queremos ter/ The Brazil We Want; Feliz aniversário MST! Happy Birthday MST! (2000) and Brasil quantos anos você tem?/Brazil How Old Are You? (2001), organized by Alípio Freire, Silvana Panzoldo and Emílio Alonso (São Paulo: Editora Lidador). The data on the authors were obtained from the same anthologies. All the compositions originally had the same umbrella-titles above. The specific sub-titles added were derived from the texts of each author. The texts have been reproduced here with the permission of the MST of São Paulo.


November 2002

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Last updated: July 5th 2016