Celebrations – Then & Now

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The Centennial At The Door
Jeca – My lady, the Centennial is already here.
Exposition – Let him in. I will greet him just like this, in a shirt…


In 1922, Rio and the rest of Brazil celebrated 100 years of independence from the Portuguese crown (for which even the Portuguese president was in attendence). The so-called “Exposição Internacional do Centenário da Independência”, which lasted from September of 1922 until March of the following year, included the participation of 14 other countries and still stands as the largest international exposition in Brazil.

But how did the people feel about it? Famed Carioca novelist and journalist Lima Barreto penned a piece in Careta magazine in late September 1922 about his people and their feelings. Sadly, he would die of a heart attack one month later at the age of 41.

If one swaps the word Centennary for Olympics, it could have almost been written today. I apologize beforehand for any questionable phrasing, some parts were tough to parse being they were written almost 100 years ago.

Clique na imagem abaixo pra aumentá-la.


The Centennial
by Lima Barreto

“What one notices, in the current commemorative parties for the passage of the centennial of the proclamation of Brazil’s Independence, is that they are unfolding completely alien to the people of the city. The impartial observer doesn’t see in them any enthusiasm, doesn’t feel in the soul any patriotic vibration. If in our ‘little’ people there is no indifference; there is, at least, incomprehension regarding the date that is being commemorated. Moreover, our Carioca people were always like this: we never took national dates seriously, which always deserved this displeasing attitude that is being taken now with the Centennial, celebrated so pompously with dances and banquets.

There’s a story from a British humorist in which he makes a homeless man in London speak in the following manner: “I am a subject of Your Majesty Britian. I have, aside from the British Isles, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand and I don’t know which other lands; however, I dress myself with rags, I sleep, most times, outdoors, and I spend my days without food. What does it matter to me to nominally have so many lands? Nothing. Before [anything] I would [prefer to] have a few coins per day.”

I believe the Carioca reasons in a similar way. I would say to him: “What’s the point of José Bonifácio, Pedro I, Alvares Cabral, the Amazon, the gold of Minas, the magical Exposition, Minas Gerais, if I have a life of counting coins, to be able to live?”

Such a state of spirit is not favorable for patriotic enthusiasms; on the contrary, it must bring about general impoverishment and dispondency.

Times are tough; Everything is overpriced. A poor head of a family has to thing constantly about tomorrow. Will he have time to be impressed with patriotic festivities which are mostly ball games and other futilities rather than serious protests of a cult for a country and its past?

Brazil is going through a curious crisis that I don’t know how to classify. With these Centennial parties, we see one of its manifestations. Open any newspaper. Pages and pages are filled with news of sportive rivalries that are destined to consecrate the current ephemerality. The date in itself is forgotten; as is everything that can be related to it; but things about balls and boxing are front and center.

So that we don’t celebrate 100 years of our political independence. What we do is to transform Rio de Janeiro into a large field of boxing fights and horse races.

I said at the start of these brief lines that the people didn’t associate themselves with the Centennial parties. I was wrong. The sportive ones willingly do. For them, and for those of lamps and military parades.

The people will understand the relationship they’ve got.”

Careta Sept 1922

Folha published an article about Barreto today also which I was unaware of, but it doesn’t mention the story above. Read it here (PT).

Documentary Series – Rio Por Eles

The documentary series Rio Por Eles is a different kind of historical and sentimental revival of the city of Rio. In it, viewers will discover how foreign documentarists, reporters and TV broadcasting station saw the city throughout the 20th century. It’s a mostly black & white record of Rio through the eyes of foreigners in different languages.

Directed and scripted by Ernesto Rodrigues, the series is the result of a two year research project through hundreds of foreign sources, in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Nine reporters from O Globo will take the viewer through 43 characteristic locations which contextualize more than 200 excerpts from 127 films and televised reports.

The series consists of five 30-minute episodes, which I’ve put in order below: the transformation of the landscape, the political happenings, the interpretation of Brazilian culture, the style & behavior, and finally the tragedies & disasters shown abroad.

Carnival flirtations – 1840s

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I’m in the middle of reading “O Livro de Ouro do Carnaval Brasileiro” [1] by Felipe Ferreira which covers the way in which Brazilians celebrated Carnival throughout the country, though with a focus (thus far) on Rio de Janeiro. The current chapter, part of which I’ve translated a section of below, deals with an earlier style of Carnival called Entrudo. Scroll further down for the same section in Portuguese.


In truth, what one starts to understand from all of this is what we call “Entrudo Familiar” which, in the 19th century, was a private party whose most important actors were young people, mainly women. They had become, already at the start of the 19th century, the ones responsible for the management of the home and of all of its cerimonies, including the Entrudistic games. In this way, from the production of limões-de-cheiro (“smelly lemons”) to their use as battle weapons, the actions related to a good part of colonial Brazil’s revelry was relegated to the feminine sex. It was the young daughters of Brazilian families, for example, who most times would take the initiative of throwing the little lemons on some boy that interested them, taking advantage of this rare opportunity to exercise some control over their own destiny. Of course, those boys, mostly flattered with being chosen, took advantage of the atmosphere of subtle permissiveness to risk touching, via the throwing of lemons, some forbidden part of the young women’s bodies, like the shoulders or, in surpreme audacity, the lap.

Machado de Assis, in his tale “Um dia de Entrudo“, taking place in 1848, describes the strong connections of the drenchings with romantic relations among the young members of Brazilian families. The mother of one character declares to her cousin Angelica: “I was about to go inside, when guess what I found in the corner of the dining room? I found your son Benjamin breaking lemons on my daughter’s shoulders! What insolence! I didn’t know what to do…” Another character, upon arriving at Angelica’s house, is immediately played tricks on by the sons of the host, which ends up incentivizing his romance with one of the boy’s sisters, in other words, aside from serving as a factor in social togetherness, allowing contact and good business between members of the elite, the apparently innocent game of the Entrudo Familiar also facilitated the meeting of young people from “good families” and incentivized their coming together.


Na verdade, o que se depreende disso tudo é o que chamamos de “Entrudo Familiar” era, no século XIX, uma festa privada cujos atores mais importantes seriam os jovens e, principalmente, as mulheres. Estas tinham se tornado, já no início do século XIX, as responsáveis pela gerência do lar e de todas as suas cerimônias, inclusive das brincadeiras entrudísticas. Desse modo, desde a produção dos limões-de-cheiro até sua utilização como arma da batalha, cabia ao sexo feminino o comando da ação relacionada a boa parte da folia do Brasil colonial. Eram as jovens filhas das famílias brasileiras, por exemplo, que muitas vezes tomavam a iniciativa de lançar os limõezinhos sobre algum rapaz que lhes interessasse, aproveitando-se dessa rara oprotunidade de exercer algum controle sobre seu próprio destino. É claro que os rapazes, muitas vezes lisonjeados com a escolha, tiravam proveito da atmosfera de sutil licenciosidade para arriscar tocar, através do lançamento de um limãozinho-de-cheiro, alguma das partes proibidas do corpo das jovens, como os ombros ou, suprema audácia, o colo.

Machado de Assis, em seu conto “Um dia de Entrudo”, passado em 1848, descreve a forte vinculação das molhaças com as relações românticas entre os jovens das famílias brasileiras. A mãe de uma personagem declara à prima Angélica: “Ia eu agora lá dentro, quando encontrei na sala de jantar a um canto, adivinhem o quê? Encontrei seu filho Benjamin quebrando limões no ombro de minha filha! Que desaforo! Fiquei sem saber de mim..” Outro personagem, ao chegar à casa de Angélica, é imediatamente entrudado pelos filhos da anfitriã, o que acaba incentivando seu romance com a irmã dos rapazes, ou seja, além de servir como fator de agregação social, possibilitando contatos e bons negócios entre os membros das elites, a aparentemente inocente brincadeira do Entrudo Familiar também facilitava o encontro dos jovens das “boas famílias” e incentivava a aproximação entre eles.

Bull fighting in Rio

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What few people know is that Brazil and Rio de Janeiro were once the stage of many bull fights. For almost two centuries, they were popular there. In 1907, a law made by mayor Francisco Marcelino de Souza put an end of the Carioca bull fights, a tradition that was part of the city since at least the 17th century. These were events narrated with poems, that included religious parades and allegorical cars, and demanded the setting up of arenas for the admittance of thousands of spectators.

The bull fights came to colonial Rio de Janeiro as a sign of fidelity to the Portuguese kingdom. The largest of the monarchy’s affairs were commemorated in all of its dominions with a three-day party, whose planning included academic encounters, plays and games. The main attraction, however, were the men with three-pointed hats and silk clothes, that, for one hour, challenged European bulls, in an arena set up at Campo de Santana (above), financed by the City Council.

The previous parts of the show had a hint of protocol — gypsy dances, shows prepared by the professional classes. But the popularity of bull fighting was incontestable. In the week prior to the event, the Carioca press boasted of the presence of famous Portuguese bull-fighters, like Luiz Antônio Gonzaga and Joaquim Ferreira de Vasconcelos. The duo were in charge of the festivities of 1762, in honor of the birth of Dom José, the Portuguese prince. For the short performance, each one received the equivalent of four months of a teacher’s salary.

The nobility, while less accostumed to sports, would also give prestige to the event: it was their way of showing joy along with the official dates of the Court. And an intellectual would make it his business to pen a small book about the festivities, to later send to Lisbon. The author of the 1762 book, of unknown identity, innovated by criticizing the bull fights. “This barberous remains of Roman ampitheaters, which the nations of Spain religiously conserve to be performed at their biggest parties. (…) Everything was superb; sweet and melodic songs and the agreed effect of so many instruments formed the joyous prelude of a tragic scene”.

Arenas spread after Independence

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It was a rare sign of discontentment. The bull fights survived after the country’s proclamation of independence, when the Portuguese Court would stop being a motive for the festivities. It also survived the loss of a stadium, at Campo de Santana. Around 1870, the area was landscaped with a garden, taking on its current decoration, and stopped receiving large public events.

— Starting from the mid 19th century, businessmen started to set up their own venues — according to the architect and historian Nireu Cavalcanti. — The arenas, also known as curros, were put up where one now finds the streets Marquês de Abrantes (above), in Flamengo, and Lavradio, in Lapa. They were temporary wooden structures, that could be dismantled, and received bull fights on Saturdays, Sundays and a third day during the week. To attract spectators, their owners announced the importation of European bulls in the newspapers.

The public surged at the end of the 19th century, when a large wave of Spanish immigrants arrived in Brazil. Their arrival coincided with the height of Carioca bull fights. The city finally got its first and only definitive ‘curro’, made of bricks next to the current corner of streets Ipiranga and Laranjeiras. Beside the structure, designed in 1898, there was an Aliança fabric factory. There, around one-thousand people worked — members of a social class that would frequent the bull fights.

The newest meeting spot in the city, however, had a short lifespan.

— The 20th century arrived with new attractions, like the appearance of cinemas and the proliferation of theaters — Cavalcanti points out. — Besides this, Rio’s bull fights followed a Portuguese model, in which the bull was left alive after the show, and not the Spanish one, where he is killed. This may have contributed to the audience’s loss of interest.

The bull fights also confronted other obstacles. The necessary budget for the event was too high. The importation of bulls cost a fortune, and the event’s expenses included, also, the payment of bands, two bull fighters, their assistants, and the hats.

Another challenge for followers of the games: the bulls, at last, got defenders. The Society of Animal Protectors fought for the end of the events. And the militancy bore fruits in 1907, when the mayor signed a law banning the sport.

The city’s power, in truth, no longer hid the insatisfaction with the arenas. The Praça dos Touros de Laranjeiras collided with the city’s modernization project, headed by Pereira Passos. When the Rio Carioca, which cuts through the neighborhood, was channelized, the mayor dreamt of handing over the region to collective housing.

— Laranjeiras is next to the city center and already had trolley service — mentions Cavalcanti. — It was natural that the urbanization which spread through Rio extended to that area. The mayor defended the relocation of industrial and commercial activities, such as the arena and the fabric factory, to São Cristóvão, far from the center of his reforms.

Pereira Passos didn’t touch the arena, but the Praça de Touros, as was already foreseeable, succumbed to real estate speculation. In the 1930s, it was taken over by a large building. The bulls, which animated so many festivities, were not missed, as historian Ferreira da Rosa wrote: “The amusement was losing fans; the bull fighters gave up: the arena was dismantled. The city didn’t take notice”. – Source 12.

Igreja da Penha origins

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While there are several origin stories that reference more miracles than reality, the official story is of Captain Baltazar de Abreu Cardoso, a Portuguese landowner, who would climb the hill to better see his plantations in Irajá. While doing this one day, he was surprised by a huge snake. Upon invoking the Virgin Mary out loud, a lizard appeared and attacked the snake. Thankful for the intervention, he built a chapel there where he featured the Virgin Mary. The Captain’s relatives, friends and neighbors, seeing the chapel from below, would climb up to see it in person. People soon went from saying “let’s visit the Virgin Mary at Penha” to “let’s visit the Virgin Mary of Penha”, as they still do today. As for the chapel, it was donated and rebuilt in 1728, and then again, in 1870 which, aside from some additions and remodeling, is what one sees today.

In Portuguese, a cragg or cliff is called a penhasco (unlikely where the name Penha comes from). More likely, it comes from Spain, more specifically Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Salamanca (related to the Virgin Mary), which became Penha da França in Portugal and thus the name was carried to Brazil.

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The church in 1909, back when people also had picnics there in October

There are 382 steps in all, with the original 365 steps dug out of the rock through the initiative of a couple that received an “act of grace” in 1819. As the story goes, they had climbed up to the chapel two years prior and asked the Virgin Mary for a child, and soon after their prayers were answered.

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Traditionally, October is the month to pay tribute to Nossa Senhora da Penha, as can be seen in the image above from 1950. All four Sundays of the month, the church would attract both the joyous and the unfortunate souls since some went to thank the Virgin Mary while others – those in need of miracles – went to ask favours of her. Many of the latter would climb the steps either shoeless, or on their knees, as a sign of devotion (and as thanks for a sucessful deal made with God – the famous “pagar promessa“). By the 1940s and 50s, the Festa da Penha, as the celebrations were called, became an opportunity for beggars and businessmen to make a dime from all the pilgrims.

I originally just wanted to tell the origin story but if I don’t stop here, I’m going to continue researching until there’s nothing left!

Source 1 & 2 (PT)