Oxum and the blacks of Porto Alegre

Estátua de Oxum, em Porto Alegre.
Statue of Oxum, in Porto Alegre.

| Photo: Wikimedia Commons

09115454If the reader has taken seriously the my exotic suggestion for sightseeing in Porto Alegre, I also recommend Ipanema, on the edge of Guaíba. This is a very wide river; you cannot see clearly across the bank. This part of the seafront is a beautiful area, well wooded, with concrete benches, small tables with painted boards, public barbecues (the citizen takes the skewers, charcoal and meat) and a court for the elderly to play bowls. If I understood correctly, the purpose of the game is to throw the balls as close as possible to a previously thrown ball – something that looks like a mixture of bowling and snooker. I reproduce the explanations of my friend of Italian descent, who says it is a game brought by the Italians. According to his investigations, it has the Southeast as well, but with another name. From the game I saw, I could say that the habit became gaucho, as there were blacks among the participants.

The alternative to becoming a gaucho would be to remain a “gringo” thing. In Porto Alegre and in southern Rio Grande do Sul, the white descendants of rural Italian and German immigrants are called gringos. In this scheme, in a marriage between a gringo and a gaucho, if the child turns out white, a gringa is born; if not, gaucho. The status of gaucho can be achieved by the gringo via customs, but no one becomes a gringo, which is a physical type. To describe the physical type of the gaucho without a European appearance, there is the term “hard hair”. This explanation was given to me by a gaucho from the border like Uruguay, who did not hesitate to categorize my host as a gringo. Afterwards, other gauchos from Porto Alegre confirmed his classification, which is in accordance with the usage of the south of Rio Grande do Sul. But even so, the usage differs: the people from Porto Alegre understand that “settler” is the gringo of the countryside (or, on the other hand, that the gringo is the urban settler), while the gaucho on the Uruguayan border understands that “colono” designates the MST invader. So, both would say that Stédile is a colonist, but each one wants to say something with it.

It’s curious that the uses of these words vary so much in such a small space and people don’t even notice. And what will be the etymology of “gringo”?

Black presence

Gilberto Freyre was not interested in Rio Grande do Sul, but I remembered him when I saw a sculpture by Oxum on the Guaíba shore. The gringo friend decided to test my knowledge and asked how I knew I was Oshun. Simple: yellow and river. He didn’t have faith until he walked to the sign and saw “Oxum” written. I explained that yellow is the color of Oshun, which in turn is the orixá of fresh water, and we were at the edge of a river. Elementary my dear watson. Iemanjá is from salt water; Oxum, sweet.

He was intrigued. So how was Iemanjá, and not Oxum, worshiped as the patron saint of Porto Alegre, if Guaíba is sweet and Iemanjá is salt water? He thought and concluded that it must be because of the syncretism: Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes is the Catholic patroness, who is syncretized with Iemanjá, who ends up being honored. I added that in Cachoeira, Bahia, Iemanjá is worshiped on the banks of the Paraguaçu River, whose waters are brackish in the city because of its proximity to the sea. As Porto Alegre is close to the sea…

The gringo friend had occasion to resolve this doubt with a friend from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Our suspicions have been confirmed. Furthermore, it was also confirmed that macumba is strong in the state, which brought up the question of why Rio Grande do Sul passes for a white European state.

Both converged to blame Gramado, a half-scenographic city set up for tourists. Brazilians would go there to pretend they left Brazil and live out their romantic fantasies of civilized Europe. Porto Alegre, in particular, would go to Gramado to drive very well, without running over pedestrians, and praise the education of the people of Gramado. Then he would return to Porto Alegre to run over pedestrians.

to discover that every now and then they broke the statue of Oxum in Guaíba. The shack is the same thing as in Salvador: believers are terrified of macumba and destroy public monuments. Of course, they only have this fear because they believe in the powers of the orixás. I’m not afraid of macumba because I’m an atheist.

The gaucho from the border he is versed in matters of macumba and has a pai de santo. The gringo friend, on the other hand, discovered that a “Brazilian” ancestor embodied caboclo in umbanda. I can then guess that Freyre is right about the importance of blacks in the cultural unification of Brazil: where Portuguese was not, blacks would take the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture – including macumba.

A little different triad09115454

I told you that the blacks in Bahia are proud of their color and attribute virile properties to their “paint”, hence there is an offense directed by them to mulattoes: weak ink or bad ink. According to the friend from the frontier, the same happens with the black men there, who believe that riding horses is better than everyone else because they are black people. There, there is the complimentary connotation of the word “gaúcho”, so that the blacks would be more gaúchos than the hard-wearing ones. On the other hand, in Florianópolis I discovered that there is the expression “coisa de gaúcho”, used in the same way as other regions say “coisa de baiano” or “coisa de preto”. Moral of the story: the gaúcho is a well-defined cultural type, and the pejorative or flattering connotation will vary according to the value judgment that the inhabitants of a region make of the gauchos.

So I think we can look at it like this: there is a Brazilian cultural base in Rio Grande do Sul that is a variation of the traditional white triad, black and indian. The most pertinent of this variation is the fact that the gauchos are Indians through the charrua instead of the Tupi. In this scenario, settlers arrived and established rural communities. Unlike the Northeast and Rio de Janeiro, many European women arrived there, so it is more difficult to Brazilianize this population. After all, if the man comes alone and marries the cabocla, his children will be acculturated. If the colonists come in pairs, a European home is formed.

09115454But over the centuries this mixture has been made – both in bed and in culture – and the gauchos will be different from the rest of Brazil as well as the whites who formed them. Only black remains the same.

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