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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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The Struggle for land: Dispossession, journeys, occupation, eviction


Irmã Teresa Cristina (4)


The story of the workers of the São João dos Carneiros farm (1)

After a mission
Came a first encounter
When the owner came
Denying permission
For them to gather.

One day a rumour broke
That the owner had sold
That same little farm
To some doctor or other
Without telling the posseiros,
Who had legal preference.

Of this sad event
The crowd was just told
That all their improvements
Were but part of the deal,
That their forty years' sweat
Had been unjustly robbed.

Their preference claim
Then went to court
Soon there was aggression
Organised oppression
Animals poisoned
The water shut off.

Ten months went by
In hope and in torment
With much humiliation
They awaited the judgement
But when justice is corrupt
Suffering doesn't count.

The siege got ever tighter
For the people afflicted
Talk was only of being evicted
And of threats to their lives
Without guarantees
The class was persecuted.

After many a meeting
They came to one conclusion
Thirty families were to go
On the planned occupation
The only way out
To resolve the situation.

The day and time were fixed
All the details agreed
How it would be done
And who would be told
The tasks were allotted
Every plan put in place

But each and every Tuesday
Brought such apprehension
With threats of eviction
Came so much affliction
Yet God protected always
And saved us from humiliation.

For the government to hasten
The disappropriation
We went to camp in INCRA
Where for three days we stayed
We only came back
When certain of their aid.

Disguised as reporters
The UDR came back
To check out the place
And prepare their attack.
Our group, so naïve,
Didn't even spot that.

Close to the camp
A woman they grabbed
Put a pistol to her head
And her mouth they gagged
They threatened to kill her
Tore her clothes and her bag.

We shan't forget
October twenty-four
When Sarney left(2)
And Paes(3) came to power
He tried within that very hour.

Payment wasn't made
The money disappeared
One more disappointment
For those already drained
Again Sarney departs
And Paes takes the reins.

Now the money would be granted
Of that we were sure
Sarney's absence, for us,
Was good, so good,
The funding really came
To ease so much pain.

The experience was worth it
And many of us knew it
Our little group had given
Our oppressor a lesson
The power of organising
Was grasped by the people.

May our struggle go on
Let our comrades unite
Challenging the UDR
For free land to fight
And so a new History
Very soon will ignite.

1 Editor's note: Narrative poem in the Cordel tradition, popular narrative verse typical of the Brazilian northeast. Originally, the stories were often news narrated in verse and disseminated by the singers in local fairs. This poem tells of the process of expropriation and occupation as a form of access to the land. The São João dos Carneiros Farm is associated with a great victory in the land struggle in 1989, which took place in Quixadá, in the northeastern state of Ceará, a region historically associated with great agrarian conflicts; it is also a region constantly devastated by drought.

2 Editor's note: Sarney (José Sarney): President of Brazil (1985-1990).

3 Editor's note: Paes (Antônio Paes de Almeida): President of the Chamber of Deputies, who served as acting President of the Republic when the President was abroad.

4 Editor's note: Irmã Teresa Cristina/Sister Teresa Cristina: a nun connected to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), which had an important role in the genealogy of the MST.


November 2002

Resource ID:



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

'a state action, which by lawful means transfers a private estate to the public domain for the purpose of establishing a rural settlement' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. Pequeno Vocabulário da Luta pela Terra. Unpublished). 

INCRA - National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform
‘Created in 1970 during the military government of General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, to be the executive organ of agrarian reform. It was extinguished in 1987, during the first government of the New Republic - of José Sa rney - and recreated in 1989, by the same administration. Today, it is a part of the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA). From its foundation, it has undertaken projects of rural colonization and settlement’ (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. Pequeno Vocabulário da Luta pela Terra. Unpublished). 

'An organized action of Sem Terra families to appropriate an area on a latifundium for the purpose of pressuring the government to disappropriate the estate and implant a rural settlement. Thus, it is a space for struggle and resistance and has been the main form of access to the land' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. A formação do MST no Brasil. Editora Vozes, 2000, p. 281). 

'The one who has possession of the land without being the owner. To be the owner, one needs to have possession and legal right through a deed that in Brazil is called escritura' (Fernandes, Bernardo Mançano. Gênese e Desenvolvimento do MST. São Paulo: MST, 1998, p. 56). 

UDR - Rural Democratic Union
'Founded in 1985 by farmers … of the stockraising sector and those who were opposed to agrarian reform. In the beginning, the organization was more active in Goiás, the south of Pará, Pontal do Paranapanema (São Paulo) and the Triângulo Mineiro; later, it spread through several states. It acted in several ways: organizing farmers, forming armed militias, pressuring the government and congressmen. It had notable action against agrarian reform during the Constitutional Convention. Its decline began at the end of 1988, when Chico Mendes, union leader and fighter for agrarian reform, was murdered in Acre, his death being the work of UDR farmers. The same accusation has been made against them for the death of Father Josimo Tavares, in 1986, in Imperatriz, Maranhão. The UDR’s decline was complete in 1989, when its main leader, Ronaldo Caiado, became a candidate for the presidency and the party was isolated from the other conservative parties. It terminated its activities in 1990, recommenced in 1996, but only in the region of the Pontal do Paranapanema, with an insignificant number of reactionary farmers. Brazilian society and public opinion has rejected the UDR since its foundation due to its violent methods and backward political proposals' (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. 93, n. 8). 

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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