Klaus Hart Brasilientexte

Aktuelle Berichte aus Brasilien – Politik, Kultur und Naturschutz

„We have to sail.“ Frei Betto – Brasiliens wichtigster Befreiungstheologe.


I went on a literary cruise on the Rio Negro river during the first week in May. One hundred passengers filled the ship “Iberostar” to discuss literature with writers Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna, Marina Colasanti, Cadão Volpato (who launched his first novel on board – Pessoas que passam pelos sonhos [People in our dreams] published by Cosac Naify), Xico Sá and me.

Actress Clarice Niskier presented us with a dramatic reading of her next performance in “La Liste”, a monologue by Canadian author Jennifer Tremblay. The “Projeto Coisa Fina” band brightened our evenings and offered us a real concert in honour of Pernambucano musician Moacir Santos (1926-2006) who lived in the USA and whose repertoire influenced composers like Tom Jobim.


Befreiungstheologe Frei Betto in Sao Paulo.


The first two voyages of the “Navegar é Preciso” project, promoted by the Sao Paulo Livraria da Vila (Vila Bookstore), included writers José Eduardo Agualusa, Laurentino Gomes, Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, Cristovão Tezza, Mary del Priore, Ilan Brenmam, Walter Hugo Mãe and Milton Bonder on board.

We travelled almost 200 Km. Our return trip started in Novo (New) Airao, a river municipality of 6000 inhabitants. The town of Velho (Old) Airao, invaded by ants, had succumbed to the voracious aggression of these insects.

Our ship, with 95 cabins distributed on four storeys, glided along the river whose dark, acid waters are free of mosquitoes. The decomposition of vegetation rich in magnesium, potassium and iron on the riverbed does not permit the proliferation of larvae. At this time of year the river rises between 8 and 10 metres (last year it rose 17 metres which is rare), swelling the streams and flooding the jungle with swampland. The swamps are generally closed overhead by the canopy of the trees giving the impression of aquatic cloisters.

The waters shelter the ‘poraquê’[2] <#_ftn2> (electric eel) which emits electrical shocks of 300 to 1500 volts depending on its size.  Its sustenance is guaranteed when the trees tremble from the shock which knocks the fruit down.

In the swamps one often sees the majestic ‘macucu-do-rio-negro’, an impressive tree which stands out because of its pleated trunk. Indigenous and riverine dwellers appreciate the ‘carapanaúa’, a tree whose bark, rich in quinine, has healing properties and from which a tea is made to reduce the effects of malaria and yellow fever.

We tasted the white milky sap of the ‘sorva’ (true service tree) which is the raw material for chewing gum and, when there is a lack of mother’s milk, is used for feeding babies. The vines (lianas) of the ‘piranheira aplaca’, are smoked by the river people when cigarettes are unavailable.

Curare, a powerful anaesthetic, is abundant in the region, also used by indigenous people in their blowpipes to immobilise prey and facilitate their capture. The ‘matamatá’ is a tree whose resistant fibre is used in local handicrafts and to fasten rafters in houses.

Barges took us along the banks of the Rio Negro where we walked along trails in the forest and saw the ‘tapiba’, a tree which, after a brief tap on its trunk, exhales thousands of microscopic ants which, when squashed on the skin, produce an odour which works as a repellent used by indigenous people and ‘caboclos’ (mestizos) to protect against insects and poisons.

On the river we enjoyed the spectacle of the red river dolphins, usually in pairs, playing in the water. They are the main predators of the ‘piranhas’ which abound in the region. A dolphin consumes 10 to 15 Kilos of these fishes whose teeth are very sharp and have the appetite of vampires.

From the ship we could enjoy magnificent scenery, like the sunrise and sunset in the Amazon jungle and, close to Manaus, the meeting of the waters of the Negro and Solimões rivers whose black and muddy waters together become the Amazonas river.

More than just literature, the trip offered us direct contact with the most important tropical jungle in the world which holds 12% of the planet’s potable water and shelters a biodiversity of 3000 different species of vegetation and animals per square kilometre.

To the music of the Coisa Fina band, and while drinking the juice of the  ‘cupuaçu’, ‘açaí’ and ‘graviola’ fruits awaiting the excellent fish meals of ‘tucunaré’ or ‘pirarucu’, we would comment on how important it would be to de-colonise the minds of middle class and wealthy Brazilians. Instead of taking their children and grandchildren to Disneyland, inducing them to consumerism, how much better and wiser it would be to bring them to the Amazon jungle, to the Pantanal in the state of Mato Grosso or to the Chapada dos Veadeiros, so as to educate them by way of environmental preservation, respect for Indigenous peoples and fishermen, and a love for Brazil.

*Frei Betto is a writer, author of “O amor fecunda o Universo – ecologia e  espiritualidade” (Love fecundates the Universe – ecology and spirituality) (Agir).

[1] <#_ftnref1>  The Portuguese title of this article is “Navegar é Preciso” which is the title of a poem by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa quoting from Plutarch’s “Life of Pompey” where he says “navigare necesse est, vivere non est”.

[2] <#_ftnref2>  There are many native Brazilian names for trees, fruits and fish mentioned, it has not been possible to translate them all so I have resorted to placing the names in single quotation marks: ‘ ’.
http://www.freibetto.org/>  twitter: @freibetto

Copyright 2013  by Frei Betto – Without prior authorization, the reproduction of this article is forbidden by either electronic or printed means. You can subscribe to Frei Betto’s articles and receive them directly by e-mail. Contact: MHP – Literary Agents. (E-mail: mhpal@terra.com.br<mailto:mhpal@terra.com.br> )


He is a Brazilian Dominican with an international reputation as a liberation theologian.
Within Brazil he is equally famous as a writer, with over 56 books to his name.  In 1985 he won Brazil’s most important literary prize, the Jabuti, and was elected Intellectual of the Year by the members of the Brazilian Writers’ Union.

Frei Betto has always been active in Brazilian social movements, and has been an adviser to the Church’s ministry to workers in São Paulo’s industrial belt, to the Church base communities, and to the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST).

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Samstag, 18. Mai 2013 um 03:46 Uhr veröffentlicht und wurde unter der Kategorie Kultur, Politik abgelegt. Du kannst die Kommentare zu diesen Eintrag durch den RSS-Feed verfolgen.

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