Landless Voices -> Sights & Voices -> By categories -> Culture: Death as life's …

English | Português

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)


English (mude para Português)

This page:

Emerging culture by categories -> Culture: Death as life's horizon 4 resources (Cultural categories devised by & © Else R P Vieira)

    resource: 1 of 4    Next

This resource is also listed in:



Pedro Tierra


Josimo Tavares' death foretold

There's an old saying
Amongst the river peoples:
Death foretold
Devours the body's shadow
And invents the light of solitude

You departed in the sun
On the 14th of April.
I sought your shadow
In the street
And no shadow was to be seen.

I still sought to touch you.
We spoke of life
And we spoke of death

(The weapon that will kill me,
Is already in the workshop…)
And gently you smiled,
From the firm-defended
Solitude of mystics.
We spoke of strength
And the need to go on
(For the weavers of death
Force the looms ever on,
Finishing threads
Of the cloth that will cover you…).

They set fire to our houses.
They destroyed plantations.
They sacked our granaries.
They overturned coconut groves.
They poisoned the waters.

They invaded villages.
They tortured our mothers and fathers.
They ripped the ears from our dead.
They threw mutilated corpses into the rivers.
They knocked down the cross we raised,
Flaring signal of our memory.

They cut out the tongues of our brothers,
They raped our daughters.
They murdered invalids.
They burned children in their mothers' laps,
They laid siege with blood and fire
to the land that we worked.
Who will lend voice
to the language of pardon
protecting with beseeching
the laughter of assassins?

They annihilated the roots of hope.
The time of tolerance is gone
and the time for vengeance is come:
in the primitive name of justice.

Everyone knew of this death.
The fence(1) of the latifundia
knew too.
The gunmen, salaried agents of death,
the uniformed country police, the GETAT(2),
the prospectors, drunkards, prostitutes,
young women teachers, old women of the Church,
the children playing in the sandy street
knew too

The men of the land, the posseiros, the pillaged,
The women educated through pain
And through waiting
Knew too

The prefect, the judge, the delegate, the UDR,
the landowners, the debauched
knew too.

Assassin hands
polished their guns.

the church knew
and waited…

The proud spear of the babassu-palm
And bent its fronds in a lament
and multiplied the knowledge of that death,

the little birds, the church clocks
chewing on hours in convoy
didn't stop, and the river water
didn't stop, flowing irremediable
at the hour of the death.

The stone on the roads
And remained silent,
The wind knew
And announced its groan still

Your sandals knew
And kept on walking

I who was born joyful
And lived counting the interminable rosary
Of the dead
I did not write the verse,
Sword of fury,
That might split in two
The convoy of hours
Derailing the time of your death.

You knew.
And smiled
a little.
Like someone who washes
In order to arrive dressed
In cotton
And transparency
At the time of solitude.

Who's the black boy
who defies limits?

Hardly a man.
Worn-out sandals.
Patience and indignation.
Pure smile.
Night-time honey.
Undeniable dream.

He fought against fences(3).
Fences all.
Fences of fear.
Fences of hate
Fences of famine
Fences of the body.
Fences of the latifundium.

I bring in the palm of my hand
A fistful of earth that covered you.
It's still fresh.
It's dark but still not free
As you wanted it to be.

I know inside
That you don't just want tears.
Your earth on the table
Tells me in its sharp silence:
My blood will rise
As a river torrent
Breaking open all the world's fences.

A river's blood of others called
Shall flow across your shirt
And it will be the banner
Held above the heads of rebels.

1 Editor's note: "Fence" relates to the Landless's symbology of barbed wire

2 Editor's note: GETAT, or Grupo Executivo das Terras do Araguaia-Tocantins (Executive Group of the Araguaia-Tocantins Lands) was created by the Brazilian government, Decree-law No. 1.767 of February 1, 1980. Subordinate to the General Secretary of the National Security Council, its president is a representative of the Secretary, its purpose is to coordinate, promote, and execute the laws necessary for land regulation in the working area of the Coordenadoria Especial do Araguaia-Tocantins (Special Coordinator of Araguaia-Tocantins), created in February, 1977. ( According to the author of the poem, the GETAT withdrew from the function of land regulation and ended up becoming part of the apparatus for the repression of the rural workers' struggle during the dictatorship.

3 Editor's note: See note 1.

Poems : Edited by Else R P Vieira. Translation © Bernard McGuirk.


November 2002

Resource ID:



Compiled by Else R P Vieira. Translation © Thomas Burns.

Latifundium (plural latifundia)
'Landed estate, or large rural property, has two definitions: landed-estate by size, which is a rural estate with an area greater than six-hundred times the average size of family property; landed-estate by use is a rural estate with an area lesser than six-hundred times the average size of family property whose lands are uncultivated' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. Pequeno Vocabulário da Luta pela Terra. Unpublished). 

'The one who has possession of the land without being the owner. To be the owner, one needs to have possession and legal right through a deed that in Brazil is called escritura' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. Gênese e Desenvolvimento do MST. São Paulo: MST, 1998, p. 56). 

Tavares, Josimo Morais (1953-86)
'Black priest, member of the Pastoral Land Commission, who was active in the Bico do Papagaio region, in Tocantins. He was murdered by a gunman hired by landowners of the UDR, on May 10, 1986, in the city of Imperatriz, Maranhão. Only the gunman was convicted' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano e Stedile, João Pedro. Brava gente: a trajetória do MST e a luta pela terra no Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 1999, p. 68 n. 4). 

UDR - Rural Democratic Union
'Founded in 1985 by farmers … of the stockraising sector and those who were opposed to agrarian reform. In the beginning, the organization was more active in Goiás, the south of Pará, Pontal do Paranapanema (São Paulo) and the Triângulo Mineiro; later, it spread through several states. It acted in several ways: organizing farmers, forming armed militias, pressuring the government and congressmen. It had notable action against agrarian reform during the Constitutional Convention. Its decline began at the end of 1988, when Chico Mendes, union leader and fighter for agrarian reform, was murdered in Acre, his death being the work of UDR farmers. The same accusation has been made against them for the death of Father Josimo Tavares, in 1986, in Imperatriz, Maranhão. The UDR’s decline was complete in 1989, when its main leader, Ronaldo Caiado, became a candidate for the presidency and the party was isolated from the other conservative parties. It terminated its activities in 1990, recommenced in 1996, but only in the region of the Pontal do Paranapanema, with an insignificant number of reactionary farmers. Brazilian society and public opinion has rejected the UDR since its foundation due to its violent methods and backward political proposals' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano e Stedile, João Pedro. Brava gente: a trajetória do MST e a luta pela terra no Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 1999, p. 93, n. 8). 

Anthology of poems
A first-hand selection, unpublished in Brazil and elsewhere. A militant poetics; the social and political importance of the poet-singer (cantador), the construction of a canon of exclusion; the landless woman; the theme of death as life's horizon; the pedagogic project.
Else R P Vieira

		to Queen Mary University Of London welcome page

Landless Voices hosted by the
School of Languages, Linguistics and Film
Queen Mary University Of London, UK

Project Director & Academic Editor: Else R P Vieira
Web Site Producer: John Walsh
Web Site created: January 2003
Last updated: July 5th 2016