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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 -> Poems 46 resources (Edited by Else R P Vieira. Translation © Bernard McGuirk.)

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Aracy Cachoeira


Nostalgia in the north

Old North, ancient repose of troopers(1) , silently rolling out its waters and its burden of nostalgia.
Nostalgia for the times of plenty, for creepers where, having a ball, the kids stuffed themselves with fruit.
Nostalgia for the shade of the gameleira(2), that welcomed the retirante(3), the adventurous puaia-picker(4) of the woods.
Today, its banks stripped, its sides collapsed by furrows of erosion, its mouth wanting to scream.
It wants to know where the foliage has gone, and the protective roots that shored up the sides and embankments.
But the scream is caught in the river's throat, where the powerful smelt dances sovereign in the sand, dotted with broken glass, defying time, since it alone is left.
And the North is asking:
"Where are the troopers in the inns, and the fish that lent variety to their diet?
What became of the kids that dared to cross my waters in the floods of March?
What became of the washer-women that pour out their verses, intoning old songs to the rhythm of their clothes beating against stone, and coloured them with Saint Caetano juice(5) and washing soap(6)
in the green fields?
Where are the trees that protected the land, the rivers and the air?
All is but memory on the banks of the Old North.
All is but nostalgia for all that protected the quality of human life.

1 Editor's notes: Troopers or caravan-drivers: in the large, mountainous state of Minas Gerais, these people drove trains of mules and horses that carried in large panniers the products coming from the farms for the capital and other large cities. Their importance in the cultural history of the state is seen in the cuisine, as they were the ones responsible for the traditional feijão tropeiro (trooper's beans) of Minas, in which they mixed the products they carried, such as beans, meat, linguiça, dried fat, manioc flour.

2 Editor's note: Gameleira: a leafy tree that grows on river-banks, whose strong roots protect the banks from erosion. In the north of Minas, it was also a meeting-place for washerwomen and the tropeiros.

3 Editor's note: retirante/migrant: the people of the arid sertão region in the Brazilian northeast, who migrated to other states in Brazil, especially those in the south, passing through Minas, the state geographically located between the northeast and São Paulo, where they were usually going.

4 Editor's note: puaia: a medicinal root much used in the Mucuri and Jequitinhonha river valleys (in the north of Minas Gerais) for its blood-purifying effects. As the puaia for exportation was a large source of income, its gathering caused great deforestation at the turn of the last century.

5 Editor's note: Sap of São Caetano: a plant that coils around the fences and the brush, used as a natural bleach by washerwomen in the place of chlorine or indigo.

6 Editor's note: strained-soap: natural product taken from the ashes of certain trees or bean-husks as a substitute for caustic soda in the washing of clothes. The ash is put in a bamboo basket and hot water is poured over it: what is strained is the soap.


November 2002

Resource ID:


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

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