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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 categories -> History: Marches, defining moments, congresses 48 resources (Cultural categories devised by & © Else R P Vieira)

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Children's compositions


Dulcirene Pereira Santos
(Magistério PB, state of Paraíba.) Reproduced with the permission of the MST São Paulo


The Struggle for the Land
(The story of the MST and its emergence out of the workers's anger during the dictatorship. Marches to protest and to raising people's consciousness. Social struggle of the natives, whites and blacks. The child uses the tradition of cordel, narrative verses typical of the Brazilian northeast. Originally, the stories were often news narrated in verse and disseminated by the singers in local fairs.)

Pay close attention
Companion lads and lasses,
To a story I am about to tell,
True tales.

I will speak of the struggle of the land
And of a people who are oppressed
But have a great dream of a better life,
Of giving land to whoever needs it
And of Agrarian Reform now.

Out of the dictatorship and the angry workers
More forces were created
And the movements were formed.

A few years went by
And the leagues were organized.
There were many conflicts
And the people began to understand
That all have the right to land for farming.

João Pedro Teixeira , Leader of the Peasant Leagues ,
A strong man, a fighter, was killed without mercy
And his wife made a vow to continue the struggle.

With the crisis in the fields, in agriculture,
And the migrations to the great cities,
Unemployment came and the organized people created the MST.

Families driven off a native reservation,
Weary from walking aimlessly,
Decided to organize, their minds made up,
Marching to occupy some land.

On that day, the first occupation had its beginning.
The rulers didn’t know that the return to the struggles
To occupy the land had started.

The first slogan of this organization shouted:
Land of God, Land of brothers, and Land for all.
The companions cried out with great conviction.

The organization grew, there was a lot to do.
The companions all gathered together to make the convention happen.

In January of eighty-four, in Cascavel , in Paraná,
The leadership met from thirteen states of Brazil,
To decide what they were going to do
For the sake of the MST.

All together to decide their aims, forms, and organization,
The abbreviation of the Movement,
And the first demands to be made.

The objective of the MST is
To make the workers’ struggles happen,
Which is the real Agrarian Reform,
Without exploited and exploiters.

Then there was more to the aims of the Organization.
Let us work on the political situation,
The structure and formation,
Human rights, health and education.

Let us work for values:
Determination for the struggle,
The capacity for indignation,
A life while it can still be lived,
To see life happen,
To have the right to speak,
To cry out for justice.

After so much injustice, many were tortured,
There were massacres: Corumbiara, Carandiru and Eldorado.
There were many deaths: João Pedro Teixeira, Oziel and Teixeirinha.
The massacre of Candelária, where many children died.

Not forgetting the others who inspire us:
Karl Marx, Paulo Freire, and Margarida Alves.
The death of our companions is a wound that never heals.
We cannot forget the great Che Guevara.

With the continuation of the struggle,
They met again, creating the slogans:
Occupy, resist, and produce.

Agrarian Reform is everyone’s struggle.
When the landowner wants war, we want land.
With these slogans the struggle speeds up.
During all these years, many were the victories.
The Alternative Nobel Prize was moving
And the Unicef Prize for the Program of Education.

What has stood out in recent times
Has been the great assembly, with fifteen hundred encamped,
All well organized, to speak to the President(1),
While facing so much pressure.
He had no choice: angrily, he tried to meet the MST demands.

With all this history, we have had many successes.
We are two-hundred thousand families settled
And more than seven million hectares taken from the latifundia,
Creating work and food
And making our history.

We are not satisfied. We have a lot to say.
We were all organized for popular consultation,
Raising the people’s consciousness
For a great march of the poor and oppressed
To destroy the farce of the oppressors.
This is why we march.

To make Agrarian Reform we will challenge ourselves,
Take part in the people’s struggle
And try to change Brazil.

Our struggle is social, of this I have no doubt.
There is the Indian, the white, the black
To change this nation.

After the peasant struggles
With deaths, victories, and bitter experiences,
With many struggles and much organization
The MST is now “fifteen years old.”

Paulo Freire once said: to educate is to educate oneself
In the practice of freedom.
It is a job for those who know and those who know little,
Transforming their thinking to change society.

Here I end, very content
To speak of the fifteen years
Of this great Movement.
It is with great emotion
That I tell this story
Of the struggle for our land
Which will remain in memory

A Free Nation!

Editor's note
1. In the original text, the initials FHC for the President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002) are specified.

Children's compositions : Organized by Else R P Vieira. Translation © Thomas Burns.


November 2002

Resource ID:



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

'An important Catholic church in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In July 1993, there was a massacre outside the church, when eight street children were murdered. This fact stirs the indignation of popular movements until today, for which reason Candelária was transformed into a representation of the struggle against violence in the city and the country' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. Pequeno Vocabulário da Luta pela Terra. Unpublished). 

Che Guevara
'Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967), guerrilla leader. A doctor born in Argentina, he took an active part in the victorious Cuban Revolution. He abandoned his positions in the Cuban government to contribute to the revolutionary struggle in the Congo, and later, in Bolivia, where he was assassinated. He has been transformed into one of the icons of revolutionary struggles in Latin America'. (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. 60-61, n. 19). 

Corumbiara, Massacre of
'In the early morning of August 9, 1995, a contingent of 300 policemen from the Special Operations Command (COE) of Rondonia, attacked 500 Sem Terra families who had occupied the Fazenda Santa Elina, in Corumbiaria. This massacre, which shocked the nation, resulted in nine Sem Terra people dying, including a seven year old girl and two policemen, as well as nineteen wounded and several missing’(Calendário Histórico dos Trabalhadores. São Paulo: MST, Setor de Educação. 3a. edição, 1999, p. 59-60). 

Freire, Paulo
'Paulo Freire (1921-1997), of Pernambuco, educator, created and developed a revolutionary method of teaching adult literacy. Exiled by the military dictatorship, he applied his method in a number of Third World countries' (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. 59, n. 12). 

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). 

Life Projects: The Brazil we want.
The children’s texts included here come from a collection of prize-winning essays of the National Contest for Essays and Drawings organized by the MST Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra [Movement of the Landless Rural Workers], in 1998, when the Movement was fifteen years old. The contest included elementary schools of the encampments and settlements all over Brazil.

The winning essays were published in an anthology titled Desenhando o Brasil [Drawing Brazil], organized by Alípio Freire, Silvana Panzoldo and Emílio Alonso (São Paulo: Editora Lidador, 1999). The data on the authors were obtained from the same anthology. All the essays originally had the general title "The Brazil We Want." The specific sub-titles added were derived from the texts of each author. The texts are here republished with the authorization of the MST of São Paulo.

Else R. P. Vieira. Translated by Thomas L. Burns

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

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