Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Alvaro Villela Exhibit: Human Nature in Raso da Catarina

December 3rd, 2009 - December 30th, 2009
Monday - Friday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Location
Jazz & Heritage Gallery
1205 North Rampart St
New Orleans, LA 70116

PhotoNola: An Annual Celebration of Photography in New Orleans

Opening: Thursday, Dec 3, 6-8 pm

Human Nature in Raso da Catarina

The first I ever heard about Raso da Catarina was a story of desert, sand and thorn forest, a wilderness without water or mercy. In November 2005 I flew over it by helicopter as a guest of IBAMA, the national environmental protection agency. Seen from the air, the mostly leaden landscape with swathes of red sand was gut-wrenching. As I gazed down at the parched and contorted vastness of this sliver of the heartlands of Northeast Brazil, I was in no doubt why its climate is officially classified as semi-arid, or almost desert: it really was death valley down there.

In October 2006, once CHESF had approved the project for the book, I went to Paulo Afonso to set up the logistics required for the challenge of entering Raso da Catarina. I had to tackle many difficulties, such as finding an experienced guide. Even locating a four-wheel-drive vehicle was harder than expected. It took two months to prepare the expedition, including the search for people and information sources that could reveal the secrets guarded by the place Guimarães Rosa called ‘€œthe worst desert there is, a wasteland from hell‘€ (in Grande Sertão: Veredas, referring to the fictional Liso do Sussuarão).

Our first sortie into the daunting Raso da Catarina took place in January 2007. Pedro was our guide, driver, cook and factotum. Better known as a farmer, Pedro is a retired employee of CHESF and a connoisseur of the trails and byways that lead into this region, the harshest in the sertão, a godforsaken outback where a goat will often climb on another goat‘€™s back to reach something edible.

Daytime temperatures in the thornbush- and cactus-covered steppe are never less than 40C (104F). Even the teju, a large lizard that loves heat, takes cover in the shade of the desiccated amburana or burrows down into the hot sand until it finds a little humidity, emerging only at night when the temperature falls, as in any desert, to about 15C (60F).

But this eerie place is a paradise for the Pankararé. The gateway to Raso da Catarina is Brejo do Burgo, a village of some 500 Pankararé families in the most humid part of the Indian reservation. They came here after whites evicted them from the banks of the São Francisco. When a water source was discovered at Brejo and the indigenous land was demarcated, many Pankararé who had become acculturated to white society decided to return and settle in the region. While acculturation remains evident, they try to continue preserving their ancestral customs. Rites performed at the sacred Amaro Stone include dancing the Toré and Praiá in adoration of the ‘€œEnchanted‘€, tiny dark-skinned creatures who protect nature. These dances are the acme of indigenous tradition and a cornerstone of the tribe‘€™s cultural identity.

But we found the essence of life in Raso da Catarina at Baixa do Chico, an even smaller and poorer village than Brejo. Here we met Lino, son of the patriarch Saturnino, and his family of some 50 Pankararé. Although Baixa do Chico is the only inhabited place in Raso da Catarina, it‘€™s hardly what you would call an oasis. Confronted by the dusty, scrubby scenery, humble dwellings, desolate church, and expressions of hardship and distrust on local faces, we could easily imagine ourselves back in some past century if it had not been for two pairs of Havaianas rubber sandals and the threadbare jeans worn by one of the headscarved women. But that was only our first impression. The once unworldly peasants of Baixa do Chico have been changed for ever by the two daily hours of television to which they are submitted, quite happily it must be said. A diesel generator supplies enough electricity to power the only TV set in the village from 6-8 p.m. The same generator also drives the pump that pipes water from a 250-meter well to all nine homes in the village.

Over the ensuing months I got to the know the Pankararé well, not least thanks to a productive mutual learning process that included talking about my photographs and holding workshops for children and adults to teach them photography.

Humankind‘€™s immense capacity to survive and be happy is put to the test in these parts. Everything points to the impossibility of living here, but the children‘€™s delightful hubbub as they play the most innocent games, leisurely conversations in the shade of a big tree, partying when a goat is killed to feed a family or grilled armadillo is prepared, all this made me see the minimalism of life in the sertão. A little is a lot: that‘€™s the essence of life in Raso da Catarina.

Region of fables and fairy tales to which children listen in awe, territory of wild horses, magical beings and animals reputed extinct, Raso da Catarina is also famous as Lampião‘€™s hiding-place and is said to bear the name of Baroness Catarina, who hid a treasure there, lost her way, and died of thirst. So the region is named for a woman, like an American hurricane.

Once upon a time even Petrobras was interested in Raso da Catarina, surveying the region for oil in the 1960s. The engineers bored holes, used explosives and carved roads everywhere, paving the way for hunters who literally fell upon the local wildlife. In the 1980s Raso da Catarina almost became a nuclear waste disposal site.

The quintessence of the sertão is precisely here in Raso da Catarina, marked by the signs of social banditry led by Lampião and of the messianism spearheaded by Antônio Conselheiro. Time here passes far more slowly. Unlike any nature reserve, Raso da Catarina melds fantasy and reality so closely that they can no longer be distinguished from each other. Headless mules and fire snakes, for example, stalk the territory freely, and shades of rifle-toting cangaceiros spook the mounts of unwary cowhands. Power pylons sprout from the ground like the mandacaru cactus in winter, and high-voltage cables are entwined with the misshapen vegetation. The region sustains more than geographical splendor and endangered wildlife. It is the last refuge for one of the best protected treasures of the sertão, a wealth that neither glitters nor can be touched: the ancestral memories of the sertanejo. It conserves places where an old man‘€™s eyes sparkle when someone says this was once the sea and shells can still be found in the soil. Some remember travelers who lost their way and never returned. A boy squatting at his front door while playing with dry corn cobs tells stories of Lampião‘€™s heroic deeds and stratagems for outwitting the government troops. There is a grain of truth in all these tales, because solitude makes fantasy a haven.

- Alvaro Villela

Alvaro Villela is a Brazilian photographer who lives in Salvador, Bahia.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Location:

Jazz & Heritage Gallery
1205 North Rampart St
New Orleans, LA 70116
10 am – 4 pm, Mon – Fri
504-558-6100

View the Event on the PhotoNola Website

LATEST SITE UPDATES

All Events

Upcoming Events

Bate papo! Speak Portuguese!

View Full Event Description

Join us for an informal conversation hour with members of BRASA. All levels welcome. No registration necessary – come and stay for a few minutes or the whole hour! For more information, please contact Megwen at portuguese@tulane.edu.

FRIDAY – April 2, 2021
1:00 PM
Special edition Bate-papo with BRASA! Jones Hall patio.

FRIDAY – April 9, 2021
3:00 PM
Bate-papo. Jones Hall patio.

FRIDAY – April 16, 2021
1:30 PM
Special edition Bate-papo with Rice University. https://tulane.zoom.us/j/7338920192

This event is sponsored by TULASO and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Admission is free. All levels welcome.

On/Off-Screen: The Other Histories of Cinema in Latin America

View Full Event Description

On/Off Screen. The Other Histories of Cinema in Latin America / Las otras historias del cine en América Latina explores practices of film distribution, exhibition and cinemagoing in Latin America. Over the past decade, the receiving end of the film chain, including patterns of film distribution and exhibition and the experiences of cinemagoers, has received increasing scholarly attention. Although this turn has made inroads beyond Eurocentric, Anglo-American limits, there is still a need to highlight other important cinematographic regions, especially Latin America. The symposium brings together scholars working in/on this domain from Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba, and the US, etc to engage in conversations about film culture across the Western hemisphere.

More information can be found on the website, here.

Teaching and Understanding Women's Activism in the Face of Violence

View Full Event Description

(Description via Vanderbilt CLAS)

Join Vanderbilt CLAS and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University for a teacher workshop about incorporating topics of social justice and gender equality in the curriculum. In 2019, Amalia Rubin and Parker Benedict joined forces to create She Stands Up, a project that aims to spark meaningful conversations in high school classrooms about the power of women’s activism in the face of violence. While the project’s lesson plans focus on social mobilization in Latin America, where reporting of violence against women has been steadily increasing in recent years, She Stands Up creators hope to inspire teachers and students alike to tackle relevant and difficult topics in the classroom. In this special workshop, Amalia and Parker will take us through the research behind the project, introduce us to their website (full of resources!), and lead us in an activity from one of their lesson plans. Current and aspiring high school educators are encouraged to attend, and all educators are welcome.

Data across the Disciplines: Notes from Field Research in Latin America

View Full Event Description

This discussion will focus on how Latin Amercanist scholars use data in their research. Marcello Canuto (Tulane University) will present on the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and other geospatial methods in his work in Maya archaeology. In a discussion moderated by Claudia Brittenham (University of Chicago), we will then discuss benefits and challenges, helpful tools, and various approaches to implementing new technologies into field research. This event workshop is for students in any field who are thinking about the possible uses of spatial imaging and other types of technology-collected data in their own research.

Marcello A. Canuto is Director of the Middle American Research Institute and Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. He has undertaken archaeological excavations in the Maya region, South America, India, north Africa, and the northeast US. His primary research interest in the Maya area has been on the integrative mechanisms that the ancient Maya used to build and maintain a socio-politically complex society throughout both the Preclassic and Classic periods. He now co-directs a project in the understudied Northwest Peten, Guatemala where he investigates the construction of social categories and the mechanisms by which complex socio-political organizations develop and were maintained.

Claudia Brittenham is Interim Director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the ways that the materiality of art and the politics of style contribute to our understanding of the ontology of images. Her current book project, Unseen Art: Vision and Memory in Ancient Mesoamerica, explores problems of visibility and the status of images in Mesoamerica. Ranging from carvings on the undersides of Aztec sculptures to Maya lintels, and buried Olmec offerings, it examines the distance between ancient experiences of works of art and the modern practice of museum display.

Register in advance for this meeting with this link

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Sponsored by the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, under the auspices of the Tinker Field Research Collaborative.

Download the pdf of the flyer here.

A Discussion of Obscuro Barroco: "Imaginaçoes de Carnaval"

View Full Event Description

Join Drs. Ana López, João Luiz Vieira, Leslie Louise Marsh, and Catherine Benamou for a discussion of the documentary film Obscuro Barroco.

Obscuro Barroco is a documentary-fiction film about the dizzying heights of gender and metamorphosis in Rio de Janeiro. Following the path of iconic transgender figure Luana Muniz (1961-2017), the film explores the different quests for the self, through transvestism, carnival and political struggle. In turn, it asks questions about the desire for transformation of the body, both intimate and social.

The full film is available to watch here.

You can also watch the film, browse resources, and meet the panelists on the event webpage, here.
We encourage all attendees to watch the film prior to the event.

Special thanks to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the PORTulane community, the Department of Communication, and the Howard Tilton Memorial Library for co-sponsoring this project.

Kaqchikel/K'iche' Language Table: K'iche' Language Learning

View Full Event Description

Join fellow students, teachers, and native speakers to practice your Kaqchikel language skills and deepen your understanding of Kaqchikel culture. This event is held on the last Thursday of each month for the duration of the Spring 2021 semester.

The April 29th session will focus on K’iche’ language learning with guest speaker Nela Petronila Tahay Tzay. It will be facilitated by Ignacio Carvajal.