USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘brazil’
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Tame Sort of Trance

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“I was just thinking about my experiences when I was a teenager in Brazil with a family of Lebanese immigrants who were Druze, and had the belief of many paths to the mountaintop. But they also had a uh.. a spiritualist element. And after I’d been there several months, they let me go to a family ceremony which was on a Sunday. One of the uncles would go into a trance and kind of channel spirits and try to get insight into some of the issues facing the family. So he would stand there and close his eyes, and appear to be communing with the spirits. And everybody would be quiet and sitting around, um, and then he would speak to them. But that was all in Arabic so I didn’t understand a word. Um.. But other than that, then they would say he’s asking about some problems we’re having with the business or this or that, and he would get some direction. They…they had these kind of sessions where one or more of them would kind of be in a sort of trance-like state. So I remember viewing that and thinking that was sort of interesting.”

Whenever I think of communing with the spirits, I picture ouji boards or fire-and-brimstone preachers in the deep south flailing around with snakes on their arms. I picture people getting real serious and asking about life’s deeper questions. It’s quite funny to picture this fairly frequent occurrence, where a member of the family would go into a trance and just ask advice for everyday problems. Obviously, the whole thing was treated seriously, as my dad had to earn a certain amount of trust before he was allowed to attend. But even so, there’s a lightness to it that is not normally associated with channeling spirits.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Commonplace Reincarnation

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese, Druze immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And they also believed in reincarnation. Very strongly. Cause my – the Brazilian father of the family I was with never talked about it, but his wife said as a boy growing up in Lebanon, uh, when he was a young boy he started remembering his death as another person. His life. And he kept remembering more and more about it. And he was a young guy and, uh, a middle aged man or something, and there was a feud going on with another family.  And every year he started to remember more about this past life.  And uh, one day he remembered going to the water and he was bending over, washing his face, and looking up in the water and seeing one of his enemies behind him swinging something down. And he remembered his own murder. And after that he never talked about it. But it was common knowledge in the family, when he was growing up, as a kid he remembered this other life. So they all, they all believed in reincarnation. But it was interesting because, I would never have imagined this serious businessman recounting past life experiences. But he was a boy. But there was some story of him going to the house of the person who had been killed when he was twelve years old. And he knew the family and he told the family. And he knew where things were hidden in a drawer and things like that. Yeah, cause he remembered from his.. from his past life. So, but – the family – I was going, ‘weren’t they amazed’? But when they were telling me this story – it was the old uncle Rashid who was telling me this – and he said, ‘oh no, it happens all the time in the Middle East, it’s no big deal’. Like it’s common. ”

Holy cow this story is incredible. I’ve only ever read about these sorts of reincarnation stories online, but to hear it from my dad was a whole other experience. In America, stories such as these are usually scoffed at and forgotten in a matter of hours The same is true in the Middle East, however their reasoning is the exact opposite of ours. Whereas we think of reincarnation as being wholly impossible, there, it is so commonplace that stories such as this are considered drab and boring. It’s insane to think that there is a whole group of countries that believe in reincarnation so readily that they never really talk about it at all.

Holidays

Reveillon

Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: This holiday is New Year’s or Reveillon, in Portuguese. Ever since I can remember we always used to celebrate it. It is a very fun holiday. We always wear like white clothes, and everybody is happy to say goodbye to the old year, and to welcome the new year, and we see a lot of fireworks at night, and theres party, and everybody throws flowers into the sea, and we have a big supper with lots of food. It’s a lot of fun.

Collector: Do you know why you wear white?

Informant: I think we wear white because it’s to bring you peace, and it’s a custom that we do and everybody does, but nobody really explains why, we just assume that it’s to bring peace.

Collector: Do you know why people through flowers into the sea?

Informant: It’s like an offer to the goddess of the sea called Iemanja to bring good things for the new year. It’s an African thing, it’s a custom that we usually do. We have a lot of African influence in our culture.

Collector: What if people aren’t be the sea on New Year’s?

Informant: Most of the people go to the beach for New Year’s, but even if they’re not, most people wear white or eat grapes usually foods with seeds inside. I don’t know why, but they have to eat certain things to bring good luck. We usually have to eat grapes and lentils sometimes we eat also. They usually serve turkey and everybody like has a turkey or something made of pork and panetonne, which is something from Italy. But everybody have panetonne in their house, which is a mix of bread and cake. People think that eating these things will bring you good luck. Everything you do on new years is to bring you good luck.

We also jump the seven waves. It is a tradition also, we jump it to bring good luck. I don’t know the reason, I just know that we usually do that. There is a superstition of making the wishes as soon as it turns the year. We go to the beach, and jump the seven waves and for each wave we need to make a wish, it’s a link to Umbanda which is an African thing, its purpose is to honor Iemanja, it’s a gift, because 7 is like a number that is considered spiritual. And when you jump the 7 waves you call the power of Iemanja to open new paths for the next year. It’s like the Brazilian version of a New Year’s resolution but spiritual.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: Because it’s something that is a lot of fun, we are always with family and friends. We are surrounded by love we are partying and happy and theres lots of food, and it’s nice. It’s summer in Brazil at this time of year so it’s a holiday and it’s a lot of fun. I was born in rio, and it’s really big in Rio. It’s famous for the very big party in Copacabana, a lot of people go there because it’s right next to the beach.

I am actually Brazilian, and have celebrated Reveillon multiple times. However, I never really thought about why we do the things that we do, such as wear white and throw flowers into the ocean and eat certain foods. I found it really interesting to learn about the reasons behind what we do, and that it has a deep-rooted history in our culture and the formation of Brazil and it’s people. I also think it’s funny that most of the things we do are meant to bring luck for the New Year. Nothing really is dedicated to love, or friendship, or health, it’s all for luck, which I find really interesting.

Game
Riddle

O Que É, O Que É?

Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: So this is a game of riddle. It’s like a riddle, but it’s also a game. It’s called “O que é o que é,” which is “What is it What is it.” You come up with the riddles at school with friends. It’s something that you need to make people think and have fun. It’s our popular culture. It’s very used with kids, kids play with that a lot. You give clues to what a thing is by describing it, and then the other people have to guess what it is.

Collector: Can you maybe give me an example?

Informant: Ok, for example

O que é o que é

It is deaf and mute but tells everything?

Collector: I don’t know.

Informant: A book. (Laughs)

O que é o que é

That is always broken when it’s spoken?

Collector: Promises?

Informant: Secrets, but close. Last one,

O que é o que é

Is extremely thin, has teeth, but never eats, and even without having money gives food to whoever is hungry?

Collector: What?

Informant: The fork. These are just some examples. I remember a lot of them because they were a really big part of my childhood.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because we used to have a lot of fun we used to play with it all the time, everyone used to have one of these riddles and we used to play all the time, it makes you think and it’s funny. Everytime we were with friends and we were talking or even with family we used to play, but mainly with friends, we used to read books about this to tell friends. It’s just a happy time, we used to play a lot and it was funny.

I remember hearing these riddles when I was a kid. Every time I would go on a road trip, my parents would say these riddles to me about things that would pass by our windows, and it was a fun way to pass the time. It’s really cool to learn that this was also a part of my mother’s childhood, and that she would often play this riddle game with her friends – something I never did. Although it’s mostly a children’s thing, any Brazilian will recognize the famous phrase “o que é o que é” as a riddle. A lot of the riddles are actually quite silly, such as the ones that my mother told me, but it is because they are so silly that they make people laugh.

Festival
Holidays

Carnaval

Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: Carnaval is a big festival in brazil, usually happens in the first two or three months of the year, it is basically a whole week. Everybody uses costumes, and when we are a kid ,we just go to little parties and plays and watch samba, which is a kind of music that we have here, there are other typical musics of carnaval. Everybody dances. We have this big party which has a parade, in the main cities of Brazil and in the northeast it’s also big. We usually stay the whole month partying for carnival, a lot of people drink, a lot of people have fun, but I actually don’t like very much. Because I don’t like samba, and I don’t like to samba. But I like the holiday, I like having days off. A lot of people also drink, and I don’t like, there’s a lot of drunk people.

Collector: Do you know where this festival came from?

Informant: It’s a Christian celebration, the date is never the same, its not a specific date, it’s a Christian festive season that occurs before the Christian season of lent, it’s calculated a specific amount of days before. The term carnival is usually used in areas with large catholic presence. I think it’s funny because a lot of things happen that are not very Christian. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval is considered the world’s largest party with 2 million people per day.

Collector: Are there big parties outside of Rio as well?

Informant: Yes, there are a lot of street carnaval parties. I never participated in this street carnaval. It’s called bloco de carnaval, people go in the streets and also dress up in costumes and mask and play this type of music of carnaval and dance and drink and a lot of people have a lot of fun. So in these blocos there are like trucks or busses or something that come and play music, and people gather around it and party. But in Rio there is a special place called Sambodromo where they have special schools of Samba like Santa Isabel and Portella, and each school goes through the whole street and they need to be dancing all the time and at the end, they receive a grade for the parade that they did. So the judges they look at the richness of the costumes, if everyone was dancing and singing, and they give a grade for each one of these schools, and at the end of the three days parade they have a winner. I saw it in person, but I hated it because I don’t like samba and it was three days the whole night. But lots of people go they love it and love to participate, I just don’t like to drink and I don’t like samba, so for me it’s not the right party.

Collecter: Did you ever like Carnaval?

I used to like the small parties when we were kids because we used to dress up. I dressed up as an indian and the other time I dressed as police and it was fun. We used to throw confetti, and make a lot of noise. I used to like it, it was much lighter. When you’re a kid, you don’t see the naked women and the lots of drinks. It’s just small little parties that my family used to take me, and we used to dance and I used to like to dance in costumes

When I lived in Brazil, I would often see the huge celebrations during Carnaval. However, I never really experienced any of it. Carnaval, for me, was always just a break off of school, when I would go and spend a week at the beach. It’s really cool to hear about Carnaval from my mother who has had a lot more experience with the actual festival and the festivities. I didn’t know that Carnaval was a Christian holiday, and like my mother, I would never have imagined it because there’s nothing about Carnaval that really emulates the Christian spirit.

Humor

Making Fun of the Portuguese (From Brazil)

Title: The Portuguese Joke (from Brazil)

Interviewee: Rafael Blay

Ethnicity: Brazilian

Age: 19

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room in Webb, with 3 other friends playing video games in the background. It was a Thursday in April, all the work done for the week, so spirits were high. The interviewee sat on his bed to recount some tales and such.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “You ask a Portuguese person if they have the time. He says yes.”

Analyzation:

This joke and all the humor targeted towards the Portuguese seem to speak for itself. The humor is target towards the country that once “owned” them, the country that started them as a colony. This phenomena is common amoung all colonies, much like Americans make fun of British people, and Mexicans make fun of Spaniards. The jokes always seem to center around their people being silly or stupid, and just generally not in touch with the modern day and in touch with the average person. Remaining hatred left from colonialism is probably the reason for that type of humor. And generation to generation, that humor is then passed down and repeated, until you end up with the jokes of today.

Tags: Joke, Brazil, Portuguese

Legends
Narrative

Guarana: An Origin Story

Title: Guarana (Origin Story)

Interviewee: Rafael Blay

Ethnicity: Brazilian

Age: 19

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room in Webb, with 3 other friends playing video games in the background. It was a Thursday in April, all the work done for the week, so spirits were high. The interviewee sat on his bed to recount some tales and such.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “The legend says that there were two Indians that wanted to have a kid, and they prayed to the good god. The good god heard their plea and gave them a child. The child grew to be a young adult. Another god, jealous of the happiness of the child, turned himself into a snake and found the child. The god snake bit the boy and killed him. The parents were devastated. The good god took pity on them and told them to take the child’s eyes and plant them in the dirt. From the dirt grew the Guarana plant, as it looks like eyes. That is where the plant is from.

 

Analyzation:

This story in an of itself is unique to Brazil and the Guarana plant, but once again there are similarities one can draw upon to examine this piece. Like any good folklore story about the origin of something, it explains how it came to be and how it cam to look a certain way, or act a certain way. In this case, the Guarana plant actually looks like a bunch of eyes growing on a plant, so while the origin story is outlandish, one must look at the actual plant and realize that the story is as weird as the plant, and the two go together. This story is something and has been passed down by Brazilians, as the interviewee said that he thinks the people that went through the ordeal were natives of South America.

 

Tags: Guarana, Brazil, Origin Story

Customs
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

New Years in Brazil

Title: New Years in Brazil

Interviewee: Rafael Blay

Ethnicity: Brazilian

Age: 19

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room in Webb, with 3 other friends playing video games in the background. It was a Thursday in April, all the work done for the week, so spirits were high. The interviewee sat on his bed to recount some tales and such.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “Everyone wears white to signify that Brazil is a peaceful country. If you don’t wear white you’re the one kid that doesn’t wear white, so they don’t want to stand out. Some people buy new underwear, and they only wear it for the day, for the event.

Also some people try to go to the beach, and jump over 7 waves.

After the fireworks, after the year begins, there are a lot of parties and there are concerts and things of that nature. A lot of alcohol.

There are customary foods by my family just eats whatever. Some people eat lentils on the day.

Big dinner that is usually held later so that they can see the fireworks.

People do a bunch of resolutions, which a lot of people in other countries do too.”

Analyzation: This appears to be a collection of superstitious things that people do on new years, not just one simple tradition. People have different reasons to be doing these traditions, and not everyone does every action. For example, the Interviewee himself says that some people do some things, and he himself only does some of them with his family.

Tags: New Years, Brazil, Traditions

Contagious
Customs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Yamaya/Yemoja: An African Deity

My informant states that Africans from what is now called Yorubaland brought Yemaya/Yemoja and a host of other deities/energy forces in nature with them, when they were brought to the shores of the Brazil as captives. She is the ocean, the essence of motherhood, and a protector of children. Once in Brazil, the myth was passed through oral tradition because the Portugese slave owners didn’t let them worship their deities openly. Her name slowly evolved into Yemanja over time. What is also interesting is after the Independence of Brazil, people were allowed to worship whatever deities and Gods they wanted. Yet Brazilians ended up enjoying the ritual of asking Yemoja for a blessing on New Years, as the ocean is a big part of Brazilian culture. Even during Brazilian carnivals, there was floats and imageries of Yemoja, as she is now a strong symbol of Brazilian culture.

My informant stated that his  mother first told him about this because it’s tradition to wear white on New Year’s day and go to the beach and put flowers in the ocean to honor her and for her to bless your new year with good luck. Everyone in Brazil now do this as it is part of their New Year’s tradition. Not only do Brazilians do this during New Years, but also when family members pass away.

This is an interesting analyzation of how another culture adopted a different culture’s customs and ritual to fit their needs. The fact that sending flowers to the ocean to celebrate Yemoja brings good luck is another example of asking for protection. What is also interesting is whether one believes in the deity or not, everyone does it during Brazil as it has transformed into a tradition.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Xica da Silva

Xica da Silva was an African slave woman in Brazil long before the nation abolished it in 1888.  She was able to gain her freedom through marriage into the Portuguese court.  A particular royal Portuguese official (Tax Collector according to my informant) “fell desperately for her” and she gave him sexual favors, winning her emancipation.  The collector, who was becoming wealthy and powerful due to the success of gold mining in Brazil, had a palace built for his wife.  Even though the colony in which they lived was landlocked, he also built a ship and a lagoon for the ship, just so Xica could feel the sensation of sailing.
My informant says that it was Xica’s rise out of slavery and into wealth and luxury that made her legendary among the slaves.  I asked her if Xica was some kind of hero to the slaves or did anything to benefit them, and my informant said that Xica, through sex, earned only her own freedom and in fact had slaves herself.  This story remained a popular local legend until the emancipation of the slaves in 1888, and has now apparently become a migratory legend.  When the slaves were freed, their labor was replaced by that of immigrants.  My informant’s family, originally of Italian descent (she had one Portuguese grandmother; the rest of the family were Italian), emigrated to Brazil in 1890, where her grandfather grew up on a coffee farm.  He heard this historical legend from the local workers, who were former slaves, and he passed it to my informant, who recalled it as the story “that impressed me the most” of all those she heard from Brazilian lore.  She said that Xica was indeed a historical person, and that the essence of the story is true (how Xica used sex to buy freedom and lived in abundance as the wife of a wealthy nobleman), but that the popular imagination among the slaves may have exaggerated the amount of gold and luxury she enjoyed.

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