Category Archives: Folklore

Unlucky August, the mad dog month

Mad dog photographed in Hotan, China by DPerstin/ Flickr

Brazilian stock market fell 18% in the last 10 days, a dump faster than the chute of all the other bear markets in the world. It is maybe time to remember the old national superstition about the month of August.

As the Brazilian saying goes, Agosto, mês de desgosto (August, the month of sorrow, which rhymes in Portuguese) or Agosto, mês de cachorro louco (August, the mad dog month, because, supposedly, rabies cases increase). The eight month of the calendar is considered no good and prone to disaster. Considering the world financial situation, one begins to wonder.

A few historic episodes work towards the myth: the suicide of president Getúlio Vargas (1954), the resignation of president Jânio Quadros (1961), that paved the path that led to the long military rule, and also several big shipwreck and airplane accidents, explosions of all sorts in the country.  Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat that led the UN mission in Irak (and was likely to become the United Nations next secretary general) was killed  in a terrorist attack on August 2003. That same week, the explosion of a rocket in Alcântara, in the Amazon, killed several scientists and delayed the National Space Program. And the list doesn’t include the international episodes, such as the beginning of the First  and the Second World War.

Let’s see what else this month will bring. I am so relieved tha this Friday will be the 12th, not the 13th…

If you are into Brazilian folklore, check also these posts: Honoring Saint John and Honoring Saint John and Scary Brazilian lullabies


My mom went to Brazil and all I got was this lousy…


From Brasília. Photo by jmarconi/ Flickr

Ah, the wonderful universe of Brazilian souvenirs. Those little mementos irresistible to tourists, that will gather dust for ever behind your books.

If you ever travel by car or bus around the country, don’t miss the chance of looking for some of those in the huge gas station/mini mall/restaurants that you will find in all major roads. Favored by truck drivers, they have everything you might find in a convenience store – multiplied by ten. You will see all sorts of apparel, homemade sweets, different brands of cachaça (the national spirit), trinkets to decorate your car’s panel, little chairs made of straw or plastic, rocking horses made with real cow skin, and my favorite: the mystery wooden toilet. When you open the door, a little guy shows up, pointing his manhood at you.  Adorably kitsch. I wish I had a photo of one of those to post here.

Do you have a lousy or funny memento of your Brazilian days? Share the image with us!

From Juazeiro, Ceará. Photo by (and maybe with) Glauco Umbelino/ Flickr

Continue reading My mom went to Brazil and all I got was this lousy…

Wonderful musicians you never heard of

Jay Mazza and Lionel Batista, two of Via Euterpe “Music People”

What if you could get insider information about great Brazilian musicians that are ignored by the wider public?

Sparrow Roberts is an American that runs a record shop in Salvador, Bahia. A few weeks ago he had a great idea: he launched Via Euterpe, a website named after the Greek music muse where you can help promote musicians that you love. “I  think of Via Euterpe as one of those small record stores with a cadre of devoted employees who have made it their business to know as much as possible about their own little niche. But THIS record shop is a labyrinthine hall-of-mirrors, twisting and winding its way through an Escher-like cyberspace, wherein along the way anyone who cares to may recommend, and should they feel inspired, elaborate”, in Roberts’ words.

The project reveals a few pearls from  Bahia (here described by Roberts):


Bule Bule…the griot of Bahia! Within the folds of the cerebrum within the bearded head under the folded-leather hat are engraved the recordations of the folkloric universe of a very musical people (those of the parched, hardscrabble interior of Brazil’s great Nordeste…northeast).

Continue reading Wonderful musicians you never heard of

Honoring Saint John

São João in Piraí, Rio state. Photo by João Vicente/JVC, via Flickr

Saint John’s festival, celebrated today, is a delicious fake celebration of rural lifestyle, with all the surreal stereotypes that this entitles.
It has, almost inevitably, the following elements:
1 – A mock wedding of a shy pregnant freckled bride in pigtails and a bridegrooms in shabby suit, straw hat and missing teeth. Continue reading Honoring Saint John

Gaúchos and their horses

The image of a gaúcho – the cattle rancher, or his employee, wrangling in the vast fields of the state of Rio Grande do Sul – is invariably associated to two things. First, the mate – or chimarrão -, the hot bitter infusion of a special type of dry, crushed tea, sipped from a cuia, a calabash gourd. The second is his horse.

This wonderful series of images by Eduardo Amorim  portray rodeios and daily life in several municipalities of the Southern state: Bagé, Pelotas, Esteio, Santa Vitória do Palmar. This amazing photographer has loads of pictures that you can appreciate on Flickr.

Continue reading Gaúchos and their horses

Boimate – a fruit perfect for pasta sauce

It happens everywhere and Brazil is no exception – every year, on the 1st of April , a distracted journalist believes in a lie told in honor of April Fool’s Day. When I worked for Gazeta Mercantil, once the main financial daily published in the country, someone produced a fake press release that informed that a certain automotive industry was promoting a recall because a new car model was found out to be extremely dangerous. It would eject the passenger’s seat and lose its four doors as soon as it reached some speed. Everybody laughed in the newsroom – except for a young reporter (in journalism slang, a foca, a seal, always with the nose in the air, trying to flair what is going on) that believed it and produced a note that was published next day.

But the most famous episode involving the lack of good sense of a Brazilian journalist on April Fool’s Day happened  in the early 80s. An editor of Veja – till these days the main news weekly – read an article in a German magazine about two scientists working at Hamburg University – dr. McDonald and dr. Wimpy. According to the text, they accomplished a small miracle. They had fused cells of tomato and cattle, enabling the production of fruits that were half vegetable, half animal. Perfect for a spaghetti sauce. It was, of course, a practical joke that gave obvious hints that it was a fake (Hamburg University? McDonald and Wimpy – well-known fast-food restaurants?). Anyway, Veja dedicated a whole page to this prodigious discovery, baptized “boimate“, half boi, half tomate.

One more curiosity about the dangerous flirt of Brazilian journalists with April Fool’s Day: the 1964 coup that started the military dictatorship happened on March 31. The legend says that several journalists neglected their duty of reporting it, believing it was some sort of bad taste joke. Unfortunately it was not.

Baianas of Salvador risk expulsion

Photo by JorgeBrazil/Flickr

Baianas – those elderly ladies that sell acarajé and other typical dishes on the beach in Salvador – represent all the charm of the capital of Bahia. Every tourist and every politician that visits the town take a picture by their stands that smell of palm oil and Africa.

Now, this postcard is under menace. Last week, the city of Salvador was notified by the federal government that no commercial activities should be allowed on the beaches, to respect the legislation that rules the management of the Brazilian coast (Lei Nacional de Gerenciamento Costeiro). Mayor João Henrique Carneiro protested and is trying to find an alternative solution. Around 650 baianas work in the 51 km coast of Salvador, some of them for over 30 years .

It is, of course, a less than clever way of interpreting the environmental legislation.

The Halloween wars

"Halloween SOB! Cheers to the National Culture"

The spooky American tradition of carving pumpkins and dressing as witches or vampires was totally ignored by Brazilians till five or ten years ago. But it is gaining popularity  – and creating a cultural war. A group called MV-Brasil (Movimento de Valorização da Cultura) has been organizing protests against the celebration of the Halloween in the city of Rio since 2003. They distribute hundreds of posters that display nationalistic and religious arguments. The same group also protested against the construction of a small replica of the Statue of Liberty in front of a mall in the rich Tijuca neighborhood.

Something similar happened in France when the EuroDisney was opened close to Paris. Local intellectuals claimed that American imperialism was prevailing over the local traditions. And, indeed, the theme park didn’t make any efforts to adapt to the French way of life. Its restaurants would offer beer, for instance, and no wine. Huge faux-pas in the homeland of Cabernet. Continue reading The Halloween wars

Electoral circus


"Vote for Tiririca - It cannot get worse!"

Cacareco, a rhinoceros adopted by the São Paulo zoo, was elected city councilor in 1958 with amazing 100,000 votes. Thirty years later, chimpanzee Macaco Tião repeated the feat in Rio. He received 400,000 votes and came close to becoming the city mayor.

Bizarre candidates are not foreign to Brazilian voters. But every new election they seem to reach an extra level of surrealism. The freak stars of this year’s  campaign are a clown, a fashion designer, the so called “Pear Woman” and a couple of candidates that shout non-stop during their TV spots.

Facing their performances is quite inevitable. During the last 45 days, every broadcast radio or TV channel offered two daily blocks of propaganda, shared by those in the dispute for the Presidency, State governments, Senate and both State and Federal Congresses.

The highlight of this year’s campaign is brought to you by Tiririca, a singer/clown who claims to ignore what a Congressman is supposed to do, but promises: “if you vote for me, I will find out and tell you!”. His motto: “Vote for me – It cannot get worse!”. In his campaign material, it is stated that “senior citizens, who worked so much for the country, won’t be forgotten by Tiririca”. The text is followed by an image of the candidate hugging a couple of elders. In a cartoon speech balloon you can read: “”Essa véia ainda dá um caldo“. (literally, “you can still make a broth out of this old lady flesh”. You guessed: it is not a culinary tip, but a sexual innuendo).

Tiririca is expected to get – believe it or not – almost 1 million votes. So, just relax and check here the musical talents of the future congressman.

Now, if you dig mixing corsets and politics, you might want to vote for the “Pear Woman”. Displaying a phenomenal cleavage, she states that “young people vote for young people” and that “you should forget all the other Fruit-Women. I am different”.

Continue reading Electoral circus

Saints without a halo*

Mighty Anastácia

They were not canonized. They are controversial. There is even doubt if some of them really existed. Nevertheless, Brazilian popular saints generate deep devotion, pilgrimages and flourishing commerce.

Take, for example, Escrava Anastácia. This beautiful slave of blue eyes, that supposedly lived in the 18th century, was obliged by her master to wear a mask covering her mouth, because she refused to, you know, accept his sweet love. Apparently, this device was commonly used in the gold mines, so the slaves wouldn’t ingest (and steal) the metal. There is almost no evidence that Anastácia really existed, but she is still considered a big miracle worker.

Another powerful popular saint is Padre (Father) Cícero, a priest, landowner and conservative political leader of Juazeiro, in the Northeastern state of Ceará. Also known as Padim Ciço, he was excommunicated in the late 19th century by the local bishop after a series of supposed miracles that his superior considered a fraud: the host offered by Cícero would systematically turn into blood when ingested by one of the priest’s followers. Later his excommunication was invalidated by the Vatican but he was never allowed to return to his parish. His popularity never diminished, though. He amassed a huge fortune, including 34 rural properties, and became the state’s vice-governor.

Continue reading Saints without a halo*