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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 media type -> Poems 46 resources (Edited by Else R P Vieira. Translation © Bernard McGuirk.)

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Zé Pinto


On the road to Canudos

Conselheiro where are you going
In your frightful chore
To tear up fields bereft
Of plantation tender

Your people to lead
To take up arms and seed
And to fight a dragon
As brave as the demon
As cursed as the gain
That taught to rob people
Of their right to bread

Battalions of the ragged
Dreamers, orderly,
On the trail, blood and gun-powder
'Cos of the indecorous deed
Of the Brazilian army

Yet, even amidst the gunfire, the pencil scored
For whoever fights for justice
Is vanquished at great cost
Soldiers baffled and officers lost
But imbibed with vengeance, the dragon wrathful roared

Many more machine-guns
Many more tanks
And the people fell to ground as if turned to smoke
But in their hands, women and men, fallen
Seeds of freedom near their last gasp
Dropped into earth,
Sprout on in us all
Like a stalk of corn


November 2002

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

(1) ‘Peasant resistance that took place in the Bahian backlands, led by Antônio Conselheiro, from 1893 to 1897. The village of Canudos managed to organise 25 thousand people. Surrounded by the Army, it resisted a number of military attacks for five years. As Euclides da Cunha says, in his Os Sertões [Rebellion in the Backlands], the classic work that describes the resistance, ‘Canudos did not surrender’'(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. 63, n. 32).(2)

(2) ‘The Canudos episode represents one of the high points of the poor peasants’ struggle against repression, poverty, and hunger. Its leader, the mystic Antônio Conselheiro, traveled over the backlands of the northeast from 1870 … in the village of Canudos he founded the city of Belo Monte, which assembled 30 thousand of the landless poor, becoming the second largest city in Bahia … Food was shared equally. The ownership of the land was collective … In 1897, the National Army undertook three expeditions, moblizing 12 thousand men with modern weapons … On October 5, 1897, Canudos was destroyed and 5 thousand soldiers died in the battle … The history of Canudos occurred during the messianic phase of the struggle for land’(Calendário Histórico dos Trabalhadores. São Paulo: MST, Setor de Educação. 3a. edição, 1999, p.71). 

Anthology of poems
A first-hand selection, unpublished in Brazil and elsewhere. A militant poetics; the social and political importance of the poet-singer (cantador), the construction of a canon of exclusion; the landless woman; the theme of death as life's horizon; the pedagogic project.
Else R P Vieira

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