Eating the Nation:The Meanings of Cannibalism
in Glauco Ortolano's Domingos Vera Cruz. Memórias de um antropófago lisboense no Brasil [1]

Leila Lehnen

Assistant Professor of Portuguese & Spanish
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
The University of New Mexico


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Cannibalism has had an ambiguous connotation within Latin American cultural discourse since the first Iberians landed in the New World. Anthropophagy has alternately been seen as a marker of New World "savagery" and "inferiority" vis-à-vis European culture while also having been appropriated as an affirmative simile of Latin American identity. As various critics (Arens 1979, Hulme 1998, Conklin 2001, Guest 2001) have pointed out, during colonial times, the practice of cannibalism represented a negative alterity in relation to Old World cultural and societal standards.

In this frame of reference, anthropologist William Arens, in his controversial book The Man-Eating Myth (1979), suggests that cannibalism is one of the fundamental metaphors of cultural difference. Arens argues that the cannibal frequently serves as the marker that demarcates one culture from another. The presumed existence of anthropophagi within a certain ethnicity thus allows another ethnic group to establish its cultural identity through a process of differentiation. Arens states that,

the assumption by one group about the cannibalistic nature of others can be interpreted as an aspect of cultural-boundary construction and maintenance. This intellectual process is part of the attempt by every society to create a conceptual order based on differences in a universe of often-competing neighboring communities (Arens 145).

In this context, the absolute and terrifying otherness of the anthropophagus, embodied by his/hers "unnatural" eating habits (Kilgour 1998), frequently justifies his/her subjugation by the members of a "superior," non-cannibalistic culture. Arens specifically casts a critical glance at colonial enterprises that have used the accusation of anthropophagy as the ideological basis for the economic exploitation of colonized peoples.

One of the examples Arens utilizes to illustrate the ideological power of cannibalism is Queen Isabel's edict from1503. In this year, the Spanish monarch promulgated a decree that prohibited the enslavement of the Indians in the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the same proclamation sanctions the capture and forced labor of anthropophagous natives. Arens observes that, soon enough, opposition to Iberian power and cannibalism became synonymous.

Similarly, in the Brazilian context, resistance to Portuguese rule was equated with savagery and, by extension, with cannibalism. Accusations of indigenous rebelliousness and anthropophagy provided the justification to enslave the autochthonous population. James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz maintain that, in Brazil, royal governors distinguished between "good" and "bad" Indians in that,

the former accepted Christianity and Portuguese control and were willing to work or supply food and services. They could not be enslaved. The latter resisted conversion, ran away, and continued their old habits of warfare and cannibalism. Their enslavement was just (Lockhart and Schwartz 196).

Nonetheless, the disapproving perception of anthropophagy has been much revised since colonial times -- at least in the realm of esthetic discourse. Thus, ironically, in the twentieth-century, various Latin American artists and critics have transformed cannibalism into a cultural metaphor that serves to connote a positive difference in relation to former colonial metropolis and present-day neocolonial centers.

The transmutation of the cannibal into an icon of Latin American culture articulates an anti-colonial critique that symbolically inverts the violence of the conquest. Whereas during the discovery and settlement of the Americas, indigenous and African peoples served to feed European mercantile hunger (Hulme 1998), now the ex-colonies, true to their (real or invented) cannibal ancestors, devour the culture of the former colonial metropolis.

Particularly in Brazil, anthropophagy has become an important archetype of this nation's culture especially since the early twentieth-century artistic movement known as Modernismo, as demonstrated in particular in Oswald de Andrade's famous "Manifesto antropófago" (1928), in which he declared that "Só a Antropofagia nos une. Socialmente, Economicamente. Filosoficamente" (Andrade 1990 47) [2]. Oswald de Andrade was referring, of course, to a symbolic consumption. His reference to the much-denigrated practice of cannibalism is a carnavalizing gesture that serves to épater le bourgeois (Boaventura 1985) and stir up an esthetic debate that still resonates in Brazilian culture.

Since Modernismo, anthropophagy has been a recurrent trope within Brazilian cultural discourse. The symbolic cannibalism proposed by Oswald de Andrade affected not only certain subsequent literary movements, such as the poetry of the Concretista group in the 1960's (Bellei 2000); it also shaped other artistic expressions such as cinema and music. Paradigmatic is Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's film Macunaíma (1969). Furthermore, the tenets of antropofagia reverberate in the music of Tropicália in the 1960's [3] and in contemporary film and literature. [4]

Anthropophagy appears as a key theme in several late twentieth-century novels that deal with Brazil's historical development. Perhaps the most prominent of these texts is João Ubaldo Ribeiro's epic narrative Viva o povo brasileiro (1989). Other, more recent fictional works that reinterpret and comment on Brazilian historiography assuming -- to varying degrees and in various shapes -- the perspective of antropofagia as postulated by Oswald de Andrade include José Roberto Torero and Marcus Aurelius Pimenta's Terra Papagalli (1997), Antônio Torres's Meu querido cannibal (2000) and Glauco Ortolano's Domingos Vera Cruz. Memórias de um antropófago lisboense no Brasil (2000).

In this essay, I concentrate on Glauco Ortolano's text Domingos Vera Cruz. Memórias de um antropófago lisboense no Brasil. I examine how the author uses the anthropophagic discourse of Modernismo as a basis to scrutinize Brazilian history. In addition, extrapolating from his apparently critical review of the nation's historiography, Ortolano also uses antropofagia as a tool to delineate his view of the nation's cultural identity. Akin to his modernist predecessors, Ortolano, through the figure of his anthropophagus protagonist, Domingos Vera Cruz, sees Brazilian culture as the result of the ingestion and digestion of manifold discourses that have been assimilated into one, singular national culture.

Although Ortolano's text is fairly unknown, it is nevertheless representative of a number of contemporary novels published around the quincentenary of Brazil's "discovery" by the Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. As mentioned above, in several of these narratives, cannibalism -- be it metaphorical or literal -- plays an important role. And, similar to the anthropophagic texts of the Modernistas, these works directly or indirectly pose the questions of what constitutes Brazilian culture and how it can be represented in literary terms. In this manner, Domingos Vera Cruz is paradigmatic of a corpus of fictional works that attest to the importance of Modernismo's esthetic and critical bequest.

The enduring popularity of cannibalism as a paradigm of Brazilian cultural identity calls for an analysis of its present-day meanings. In this respect, Brazilian critic Sérgio Luiz Prado Bellei comments that,

A questão da prática antropofágica merece ser hoje revisitada porque permanece viva, em setores significativos da intelectualidade brasileira, a vigorosa crença na prática antropofágica enquanto o método por excelência a ser utilizado para a produção de valores nativos capazes de resgatar a cultura brasileira da sua condição periférica e colocá-la lado a lado com as culturas dominantes (Bellei 181).

For Bellei, there is clearly a parallel between the meaning of cannibalism now and during Modernismo. In both instances, anthropophagy becomes a cultural monopoly capable of distinguishing the center from the periphery. Ultimately, the differential relationship between Latin America and the metropolitan centers of Europe and the United States continues to haunt the artistic production of Brazil. The question is: can metaphorical anthropophagy in contemporary works such as Domingos Vera Cruz exorcise the ghosts of marginality from Brazil's cultural identity?

The protagonist of Ortolano's novel is a fictitious Portuguese merchant turned outlaw who goes by the name of Domingos Vera Cruz. It is noteworthy that the main character adopts as his surname the designation the Portuguese initially gave to what is now known as Brazil. This identification suggests the close association between Domingos and Brazil. Indeed, Domingos's story parallels that of the Brazilian nation. The Portuguese protagonist arrives in the New World in 1500 as a degredado (a criminal outcast) with the fleet of Pedro Álvares Cabral, and, from this date onward, he plays a considerable role in the country's historical and cultural development, often interacting with some of its best-known figures such as the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary Father José de Anchieta and the charismatic leader of the Arraial dos Canudos, Antônio Conselheiro who, in the nineteenth-century, led a popular insurgency against Brazil's federal government. Similar to João Ubaldo Ribeiro's Viva o povo brasileiro, Ortolano's text spans five hundred years of Brazilian history, ending on the eve of the new millennium, which begins, according to the protagonist, not in 2000 but rather in 2001.

Published on the quincentenary of Brazil's "discovery" by the Portuguese, Domingos Vera Cruz, like many other postmodern historiographic fictions, aims to reflect on the nation's past, purportedly emphasizing the less-prominent facets of history.

In this respect, Domingos Vera Cruz corresponds (at least superficially) to the description of what Linda Hutcheon calls "historiographic metafictions." Hutcheon maintains that these narratives,

juxtapose what we think we know of the past (from official archival sources and personal memory) with an alternate representation that foregrounds the postmodern epistemological questioning of the nature of historical knowledge. Which 'facts' make it into history? And whose facts? (Hutcheon 71)

It is thus significant that the alternative depictions of the past that emerge from certain contemporary historical novels tend to point towards the inevitable manipulation of events in the hands of the historiographer -- or the fiction writer. In Domingos Vera Cruz, the protagonist echoes what might be said to be a typically postmodern suspicion towards history. Voicing his wariness towards historiographic discourse, Domingos asserts that,

Quando vou para trás, topo sempre com uma enorme lacuna que se formou entre o que eu li nos livros e o que presencio na realidade. Quando vou para frente também dou sempre de cara com estas mesmas lacunas quase intransponíveis que distanciam, mas distanciam mesmo…assim de perder de vista, a tal chamada realidade, das coisas que serão ditas sobre ela no futuro. Perdi a fé na história (84).

To counteract this deficient history, Domingos presents his own version of the past. And, in a demystifying move that attests to his distrust in history, Domingos intercalates "official" (i.e. history book) versions of the past with his own experiences. The main character thus personifies a counter-history that runs parallel to official historiography.

Hence, for example, when relating the events surrounding Brazil's independence, the narrator offers the reader a not-so-gallant picture of the country's "liberator," Dom Pedro I. If we are to believe Domingos's tale, the prince was suffering from intestinal problems when he emancipated Brazil. This all-too human image of the country's future emperor contrasts sharply with depictions of the "cry of independence" present not only in history books but also in other cultural manifestations, as for example in Pedro Américo's painting "O grito do Ipiranga" (1888), in which Dom Pedro and his troops converge to proclaim Brazil's political autonomy. In Américo's portrayal, both the monarch and his men are mounted on fiery horses, giving the scene a noble and heroic quality. In contrast, in Ortolano's novel, the protagonist maintains that,

hoje a gente me fala que eles estavam viajando era de cavalo. É essa gente que vai lá para São Paulo e vê o quadro da Independência no tal museu lá no Ipiranga. Aí ficam insistindo em dizer que o Pedrinho estava mesmo é num cavalo. … E os soldados que estavam com ele também. … Mas que cavalo de cáuboi que nada. Eles estavam mesmo é montado nuns jegues (124).

The comic, irreverent tone of the narration is further strengthened by use of the diminutive "Pedrinho" to address the prince as well as the anachronistic comparison between Dom Pedro's horse and those of North American "cowboys."

The demystifying anecdotes of Domingos Vera Cruz humorously challenge the authority of what are considered the "great figures of history," such as Dom Pedro and indirectly reiterate the concept of history implied in Oswald de Andrade's "Manifesto." In this text, the modernist writer advocates for a notion of history that will be "Contra as histórias que começam no Cabo Finisterra. O mundo não datado. Não rubricado. Sem Napoleão. Sem César" [Andrade 1990 50]).

Since historiography is fundamental in the construction of a national identity, by deconstructing the representation of history in its written format, works such as Viva o povo brasileiro, Terra Papagalli, and Meu querido cannibal also interrogate the premises around which discourses of the nation have been created. Similar to these novels, Domingos Vera Cruz suggests a rewriting of the country's past not only by demystifying it but also by interpreting it through a cannibalistic lens.

Ortolano's protagonist understands the cannibalistic premises of Oswald de Andrade's "Manifesto antropófago" in a literal manner, devouring not only the ideas but also the bodies of many of Brazil's key historical personages, such as the eighteenth-century revolutionary leader Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, the Tiradentes (1748-1792), one of the heads of the Inconfidência Mineira, an anti-colonial uprising against Portuguese rule in Brazil. Paradoxically, since he himself is originally part of the oppressive colonial metropolis, the Portuguese-born Domingos assimilates these quintessentially nationalistic figures and, consequently, transforms himself into the embodiment of Brazil's counter-colonial history. In the end, he becomes the nation that he eats. Therefore, in Domingos Vera Cruz, Brazil's process of nation building is represented as essentially cannibalistic.

The literal and metaphorical consumption of major Brazilian historical figures in Domingos Vera Cruz alludes to the idea of cannibalism as a manner of communing that is able to erase the distinctions between self and other, between private and public, between Brazilians and Europeans, effectively resolving the contradictions inherent in the country's historical and cultural discourse. The main character of Domingos Vera Cruz explains that anthropophagy has a transformative power that weakens the construction of a stable identity, since it undermines the barriers that separate self from other. Domingos states that "Quando a gente come outra pessoa a gente nunca é mais o mesmo. E quanto mais gente a gente come, menos gente a gente fica … É a lei da antropofagia" (21). The interpretation of cannibalism that surfaces in Domingos Vera Cruz resembles Maggie Kilgour's view of anthropophagy as a communion in which the frontiers between self and other are simultaneously abolished and reinforced (Kilgour 1990). As a result, despite the implication contained in Domingos's assertion that cannibalism erases boundaries and differences between subjects as well as cultures, the discourse of anthropophagy ultimately both absorbs and discards otherness.

In her article "The Tropical Modernist as Literary Cannibal: Cultural Identity in Oswald de Andrade," Leslie Bary argues that the "Manifesto Antropófago" "establishes national identity through the dominated inclusion of otherness, thereby fetishizing heterogeneity and interdicting the 'imagination' of a community with a truly pluralistic power base" (13). In Bary's interpretation, the Brazilian cultural cannibal advocated in Andrade's text inevitably silences the other by consuming its culture and digesting any elements that would question the validity of the elite culture to which, in the end, the Modernistas belonged (see also Colás 2001 and Vinkler 1997). This ambivalent nature of anthropophagy, as an incorporation and hence recognition of otherness and, at the same time, an erasure of differences also underlies Ortolano's text.

As Domingos eats several real and fictive personages of Brazil's history, integrating them into his own self, he does not, as he claims, lose his subjectivity but rather, expands it. Hence, for example, after performing mortuary cannibalism on Tiradentes, the protagonist of Domingos Vera Cruz argues that,

Eu não podia deixar de comer. Era uma espécie de comunhão. Era tomar do seu corpo e do seu sangue. Era para mantê-lo vivo pra sempre. E agora, se eu já era parte Zumbi e parte Felipe [dos Santos] agora eu era também parte Tiradentes. Eu me tornava agora o Domingos Brasileiro de Zumbi e de Ogum e Felipe da Silva Xavier de Vera Cruz! Por inteiro! Tudo bem deglutidinho. Eu era a soma de muitos sonhos … de muitas causas … e de homens de muito peito! (96).

This excerpt points towards the process of assimilation that follows consumption ("Tudo bem deglutidinho"). Anthropophagy allows Domingos to partake in the revolutionary ideals of Zumbi, Tiradentes, etc. But it is an incorporation that absorbs as well as excludes. Domingos processes only the ideas that are convenient for him and the representation of the nation he intends to create. Implicitly, then, Domingos's anthropophagy is not only an homage to but also a violence towards the others that he swallows since he metaphorically turns them into fecal matter, expelling any undesirable elements. Violence towards the other occurs not only through a selective/digestive repudiation but also through the control that Domingos can exert over the subjectivities he absorbs. By becoming part of him, figures such as Felipe dos Santos [5], Tiradentes, and Zumbi lose their autonomy and are co-opted into the perspective of the dominant (white male) discourse.

In this framework, it is remarkable that the hero of Ortolano's novel not only assumes a leadership role in the major resistance movements of the country, such as the popular revolt of the Cabanagem (1835-1840) [6], but the reader also learns that Domingos is the true intellectual force behind the nation's most important insurgencies, such as the fugitive slave community of Quilombo dos Palmares (1590-1694). According to the main character, "Foi Ganga Zumba e eu os primeiros a fugir para Palmares. Nós dois. Só depois é que viemos buscar todo mundo. Eu entendia a cabeça dos brancos e planejei tudinho. Mas foi o Ganga Zumba que executou o plano. Ele era home de ação" (54). Even though this passage reclaims the importance of the African subject within Brazil's historical development, it nonetheless relegates this subject to a limited realm.

It is the Portuguese-born Domingos who assumes the intellectual responsibility for Brazil's most famous instance of slave resistance. The dichotomy between the European's intellectual capacity and the African's potential for action reproduces stereotypical models of ethnic behavior that are prevalent within colonial thought and that continue to dominate Brazil's cultural discourse. This Manichean division between the African and the white European as representing action and thought respectively infantilizes the non-European [7]. He (or she) is perceived as being incapable of accomplishing socio-political transformation without the guidance of a benevolent patriarchal white male who is intellectually superior. In this context, the insertion of a pseudo-subaltern history within the narrative serves as a textual device that further affirms the viewpoint of Brazil's history and of its cultural identity as the product of the African's labor and the European's intellectual capacity.

Being the first white man to set foot in Brazil ("O primeiro branco do Brasil. Sou eu mesmo, sim sinhô" [6]), Domingos retains his Eurocentric vision of the New World, constantly comparing and contrasting what he sees in the Americas with his native Portugal. Although the juxtaposition between Old and New Worlds favors the latter, since the Portuguese-born protagonist consistently identifies himself with Brazil and sees in the newly-discovered territories a possibility of escaping the constraints of European society, it nevertheless reinforces an ethnocentric logic.

Deborah Root affirms that escape fantasies imbedded in western cultural discourse are problematic because "the sense of an outside to Western culture is so often articulated within an aristocratic, colonialist ethos" (Root 183). The "colonialist ethos" Root refers to asserts the superior status of the European subject and its culture over non-European peoples and their traditions. In effect, for Domingos, Brazil is better because he has a privileged position within it. Echoing two common clichés regarding this country, the protagonist says that he stayed in the New World because of the beauty of its women and because "Todo o povo me tinha impressionado. Eram generosos. Me tratavam como se eu fosse divino, superior. Bem diferente do que me tratavam em Lisboa" (13). For Domingos, Brazil only affirms his "superiority" in relation to the native population; it is an authority that he has lost in Portugal when he was firstly betrayed by his wife and subsequently, upon murdering her lover, branded a criminal. But in the New World, his transgressions are accepted and even rewarded. In this manner, Domingos's "godly" status among the autochthonous population only strengthens when he definitively "goes native" and becomes a cannibal.

Metaphorically speaking, cannibalism creates a permanent link between the protagonist and Brazil. By becoming himself an anthropophagus, Domingos steps into the realm of the barbarous and identifies completely with the "savage" nature of his exile country and its native inhabitants ("Foi uma selvageria total. Todo mundo devorando aquela carne" [20]). The description of anthropophagy as a barbarous ritual reveals the main character's initial perception of the New World as a site devoid of a so-called civilization. Nonetheless, the protagonist quickly adapts to the "savage" customs of his new home and embraces the "uncivilized" habit of eating human flesh. Indeed, Domingos becomes an aficionado of cannibalism, arguing that it "Faz bem pro corpo" (23).

For the Tupinambá Indians of Brazil, cannibalism meant an act of both vengeance and homage to their slain enemies. The Indians believed that by consuming the flesh of their foes (or friends and kin), they would absorb their strength (Petrinovich 2000). It is this conception of anthropophagy that echoes in Domingos Vera Cruz. Therefore, after eating the finger of a killed enemy, Domingos is finally capable of understanding the language of his Amerindian hosts. His indigenous wife, Maraí, explains that this happens because of his anthropophagic habits. Paraphrasing Maraí, Domingos tells that he understands the native people better "por causa do índio que eu comi. Eu agora era um pouco ele" (21). For Domingos, anthropophagy becomes a form of union through which Old and New World cultures come together to create a (cannibalistic) Brazilian culture. Taking his cue from the Modernistas, for whom anthropophagy meant "A transfiguração do tabu em totem" (Andrade 1990, 50), Ortolano transforms cannibalism from taboo into a totem of national identity. [8]

Charles Perrone (1996) observes that the idea of a totemic cultural cannibalism allowed Brazilian modernist intellectuals to transcend, at least to a degree, their peripheral status within the western world. Critic Sara Castro-Klarén makes a similar argument. In her essay "El 'Manifesto Antropófago' o la contienda Sócrates-Caraïbe," she maintains that, by transforming the anthropophagus into a symbol of national culture, Oswald de Andrade is able to reverse the colonialist logic whereby the colonized culture is seen as passive and imitative, that is, culturally inferior to that of the metropolitan centers of Europe and, more recently, of the United States. For Castro-Klarén, "Al devorar, pasa la cultura colonial o subalterna de ser un ente pasivo a conquistar para sí una posición no sólo activa y agresiva sino también inusitadamente transformadora" (Castro-Klarén 239). The Brazilian modernists called for a selective consumption and digestion of multiple cultural sources, both national and international. In this context, "digestion" is the key word for it implies a critical and often parodic stance towards the material "ingested."

The new (anthropophagic) culture proposed by the Modernistas that congregated around the Revista de antropofagia (published between 1928 and 1929) is not only important within the national context, as a way of breaking free from models of cultural dependence and affirming an emancipated national consciousness, but moreover, it generates a culture that is fit for export and that will therefore insert Brazil into the global cultural market.

For Oswald de Andrade, Modernista Brazilian poetry, as the expression of a liberated national consciousness is, what he calls a "Poesia Pau-Brasil, de exportação" (Andrade 1970, 7). In Andrade's view, this poetry is suitable for export. The allusion to brazil-wood, the country's first export-product, is ambivalent. Even though it connotes the affirmation of a national identity that is based on a native, not foreign tradition; it also repeats the problematic relationship between First and Third World that the Modernistas were seeking to change. Like brazil-wood and other export-products, the allusion to a "poesia Pau-Brasil" means that the country would be sending its best (esthetic) products abroad, to be recognized and acclaimed by western cultural metropolises.

Several critics have noted the ambiguous nature of Oswald de Andrade's cultura de exportação. Randal Johnson, observes that, "When Oswald de Andrade writes that his Pau-Brasil poetry is for export, he implicitly accepts the continuation of Brazil's historical role as an exporter of raw materials and of a certain 'exoticism' that has long fascinated Europeans" (Johnson 46). Additionally, for Kimberle López (1998), Modernismo's exoticism reflects the ambivalence of postcolonial experience, caught between the desire for an authentic expression of the nation's cultural identity and the continuing (partial) dependence on foreign models. Moreover, as other critics demonstrate (Bary 1991), the modernista's project, although valid, still relies on the very dichotomous system it sets out to deconstruct. Hence, for the Modernistas, Brazil continues to be the locus of the primitive, the savage, and the exotic whereas Europe and North America continue to represent technology, civilization and rationality, albeit a restrictive one.

The postmodern antropofagia of Domingos Vera Cruz evidences this very ambiguity in its representation of the nation. The text is posed between the affirmation of a truly Brazilian consciousness and the reproduction of colonial and neocolonial stereotypes. Even though Domingos Vera Cruz has an ironic, demystifying impulse that is also present in Modernistas's concept of cultural cannibalism; Ortolano's text nevertheless falls short of articulating new ways of understanding Brazil's history and, by extension, its cultural identity. Rather, the novel consistently echoes some of the predominant characterizations of Brazilian national identity defined in terms of the exotic, the erotic and of a fundamental (cannibalistic) otherness vis-à-vis European culture.

In Domingos Vera Cruz, the exoticism of the country is highlighted from the beginning of the narrative. Upon disembarking on Brazilian shores, Domingos describes the land as "mais excitante. Mais exótica. Mais cheia de aventura" (28). The protagonist's words conflate the exotic with the erotic ("mais excitante. Mais exótica."), and echo a colonial discourse of an idealized New World full of sexual, material, and even spiritual promises. The buttressing of Brazil's "exotic" nature in Domingos Vera Cruz only reiterates cultural stereotypes that confine Brazilian national identity to the realm of a marketable commodity, fit for export to more "developed" cultural markets that nevertheless long for the joys of "primitive" societies.

Wolfgang Roth affirms that, paradoxically, the "exotic" image of the country is, in part, the result of attempts to produce a positive, independent definition of the nation. In Roth's words,

Certain images of Brazil, generated by the intellectual endeavor to create an accurate portrayal of Brazil, have degenerated into clichés. These stereotypes seem to be resistant to changes in part because of media reports that emphasize the exotic. Increased tourism probably will increase this stereotyped version of the country (Roth 450).

In search of Brazil's specificity, the national intelligentsia sometimes resorts to essentialized forms of representing the country that parallel the commercialized depictions of the nation. In this frame of reference, Brazil is synonymous with an untouched nature (preferably in the form of white sand beaches or mysterious, adventure-filled tropical forests), pleasurable activities that provide respite from the stress-filled life in more "developed" societies, and last but not least, the possibility of sexual escapades. This representation of Brazil appears not only in enticing travel brochures but also forms part of the country's intellectual heritage since colonial times. More contemporary manifestations of this mode of imagining Brazil are certain novels by Jorge Amado such as Gabriela cravo e canela (1958) and cinematographic productions such as Carlos Diegues's Xica (1976).

As Roberto Reis remarks, the correlation between exoticism and eroticism is not uncommon in the Brazilian cultural tradition. Reis states that,

a maioria das imagens exóticas associadas à cultura brasileira estão carregadas de uma alta voltagem erótica, perpetuando o mito da permissividade sexual: tudo é possível ao sul do Equador.

Esta imagem não existe apenas no imaginário do estrangeiro, sendo mesmo alimentada pela idéia que os brasileiros fazem de si mesmos (Reis 17).

The Brazilian critic maintains that behind the myth of a permissive society lurks a profoundly conservative and hierarchical societal organization. If we analyze Domingos Vera Cruz under the optic of its sexual discourse, the façade of sexual emancipation quickly crumbles, giving way to a more traditional understanding not only of heterosexual relationships, but furthermore of the representation of the nation.

For Domingos, Brazil is more exciting ("mais excitante") because it promises himunbound sexual freedom. In Ortolano's novel, the confluence between an exotic New World and the promise of sexual fulfillment that eludes the protagonist in his native Portugal continues the colonial rhetoric present in texts such as Pêro Vaz de Caminha's Carta de Achamento. Similar to the historical Portuguese scribe, Domingos sensualizes and feminizes the American continent affirming, in reference to his indigenous wife that, "Maraí representava para mim o sabor do Novo Mundo" (17). The autochthonous female body is cannibalized by the (sexual) hunger of the European who relishes it in the same manner as he savors the raw materials he finds in the New World: Brazil wood, precious metals and indigenous bodies (Hulme 1998).

Not coincidentally, Maraí is young and a virgin. The youth of the Indian woman represents the supposed youth of the country itself. Brazil and Maraí are immature and can only reach (social, political, cultural) maturity through the colonizing labor of the Portuguese-born Domingos. Likewise, Maraí's virginity denotes the pristine nature of the American continent but also stands for the "availability" of the land. Like Maraí, Brazil passively waits to be taken by the European male.

Ella Shohat and Robert Stam argue that, in colonial discourse, the virginity trope justifies penetration and exploitation of the colonized territories. The two critics maintain that, "A 'virgin' land is presumably available for defloration and fecundation; ownerless, it becomes the property of its "discoverers" and cultivators. The 'purity' of the term masks the dispossession of an already cultivated land and its resources" (Shohat and Stam 142). In the context of Ortolano's novel, Maraí's deflowering symbolizes the deflowering of Brazil. By impregnating her, Domingos fertilizes the land, and, by possessing her, he possesses the New World. All this is justified by the purported willingness, sexual openness and "innocence" of the Indians. Indeed, the indigenous people are compared to naïve children who blindly follow Domingos's lead because they believe in his divinity ("Afinal de contas…eu era um Deus! E um Deus tinha que dar um bom exemplo pras crianças e pros índios mais velho também. Eles se emulavam em mim. Emulavam tudo o que eu fazia" [19]). Like the African, the indigenous population is infantilized vis-à-vis the European settler and reduced primarily to two dimensions: its sexuality and its cannibalistic practices.

In the context of a postcolonial critique, the eroticized representation of the nation is problematic for it reproduces a colonial logic whereby the colony is characterized in terms of carnal licentiousness that willingly surrenders -- sexually and otherwise -- to colonial power. The sexual compliance of the native populace validates the desire of the colonizer and masks the violence of the colonial encounter.

In his discussion of colonialism, Edward Said argues that, in the discourse of Orientalism, the Orient has suggested and continues to indicate "not only fecundity but sexual promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies" (Said 188). In contrast to this portrayal of the Orient, Europe stands as the epitome of rationality and sexual constraint. In colonial logic, the unbound sexuality of the Orient, or of the New World, calls for and justifies colonial domination. Rationality must be imposed over intuition, restraint over unconstrained sexuality. In Domingos Vera Cruz, the central character defines Brazil using a similar dichotomous schema. However, whereas in the discourse of Orientalism, western constraint was predominately valued over eastern "prurience" (which was perceived not only as "primitive" but also as an expression of moral decadence), in Ortolano's text, the sexual liberty of the New World is paradigmatic of a newfound physical and cultural freedom. The juxtaposition between the Old World and America is meant to critique European civilization but ends up reinforcing precisely the stereotypes projected upon the New World by colonial discourse/desire. Hence, for example, Domingos repeatedly corroborates the notion of Brazil as a Garden of Eden asserting that, "Pra mim era o paraíso na Terra" (13). In this respect, Ortolano's text repeats and yet indirectly also subverts the idealizing tone of Pêro Vaz de Caminha's letter, who saw the newly discovered territories a terrestrial paradise. In David T. Haberly's opinion, the Carta expresses Caminha's,

conviction that he and his companions have somehow returned to the Eden before the Fall - a fair and fertile garden whose inhabitants do not know shame. Moreover, within this garden even European sailors can regain the lost innocence of Adam (Haberly 48).

Nonetheless, instead of regaining "the innocence of Adam," Domingos is more interested in reaffirming his bruised masculinity by becoming polygamous.

Not only does Domingos have various wives when living with the indigenous tribe that takes him into its fold upon his arrival, but he also glorifies this practice arguing that, contrary to European women, his Amerindian partners,

sabiam dividir o home delas. … Elas sabiam certinho o dia que era delas de se deitar comigo. … Era um sistema perfeito. Vosmecê pode não acreditar porque vosmecê deve só estar acostumado com as mulheres da Corte. E se eu me alembro bem, as mulheres da Corte não sabem dividir nem pão. Muito menos home. As índias não. Viviam em harmonia. Irmandade (22).

The protagonist's affirmation that (from his European perspective) the indigenous women live in perfect harmony since they are willing to share their men, gives a sexist twist to the notion of the New World native as a bon sauvage existing in a state of pre-lapsarian bliss.

Ironically, even though Domingos applauds polygamy, he is not in favor of polyandry, a position that is clear in the fact that the protagonist was originally exiled to paradisiacal Brazil because he murdered his wife's lover. Furthermore, according to Domingos, whereas polygamy is a natural part of indigenous society, polyandry is an aberration, only occurring in the absence of females ("Mas isso só no caso de falta de fêmea" [31]). The glorification of polygamy, and, by extension, the classification of polyandry as a deviation from the norm, promotes the idea of Brazil as a paradise for solitary males seeking sexual adventures.

As Glauco Ortolano's novel demonstrates, the cannibalism trope continues to be pertinent in contemporary Brazilian culture. However, the conflictive relationship between center and periphery, between First and Third Worlds, is not resolved in anthropophagic works such as Domingos Vera Cruz. By having the protagonist of his novel uncritically appropriate the tenets of antropofagia, Ortolano indirectly repeats the same ambivalent gesture of recognition and erasure of differences that made the cannibal project of the Modernistas problematic.

In Domingos Vera Cruz, anthropophagy is synonymous with assimilation and homogenization. As the protagonist of this novel presents his view of the country, it is the perspective of a European male who perceives Brazil in terms of the exotic that predominates. As pointed out by Renata R. Mautner Wasserman, exoticism has been a fundamental mode of national definition within Latin America's cultural tradition. In her view, it has served to include a controlled, non-challenging otherness into national discourse. Mautner maintains that "The exotic arises as a sign of interest on the part of the self in that which is not self. It is not, however, the complete other; it is the acceptable, complementary, renewing other" (Wasserman 13-14). In using the exotic to construe his portrayal of national culture, Ortolano reduces difference into a (highly marketable) cliché and thus ultimately silences the culture of the other by turning it into a commodity fit for export to more "developed" markets.


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[1] I would like to thank Kimberle S. López and Mary Long for reading this paper and providing many useful comments and suggestions. I am indebted as well to my dissertation committee members, Cathy L. Jrade, Earl E. Fitz, William Luis, Carlos A. Jáuregui and Marshall Eakin for their comments and suggestions in the first, tentative version of this paper.

[2] In her book Uma literatura antropofágica (1981), literary critic Lucia Helena argues that the anthropophagic tradition in Brazilian literature begins not with Modernismo but rather with the baroque poet Gregório de Matos Guerra. Helena contends that "É Gregório de Matos quem inicia em nossa literatura a festa da carnavalização antropofágica, na qual se sacrifica simbolicamente o colonizador e se pratica uma espécie de "parricídio inaugural". É com sua obra que começa esse longo processo de esvaziamento da influência do texto/contexto europeus que, em sua supremacia, legislava sobre o gosto estético da literatura do período colonial" (21).

[3] For a discussion of the influence of Modernismo in the music of Tropicália see Christopher Dunn's book Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture (2001).

[4] The best-known Brazilian film that thematizes cannibalism is Nelson Pereira dos Santos's, Como era gostoso meu francês (1971). An example of a more contemporary film that deals with the issue of anthropophagy is Luiz Alberto Pereira's Hans Staden (1999).

[5] Felipe dos Santos was one of the leaders of the Revolta de Vila Rica that began on the night between the 28th and 29th of June 1720.

[6] The Revolta dos Cabanos (or Cabanagem), was a popular, anti-federalist revolt in the Northern state of Pará.

[7] I base my interpretation on Ella Shohat and Robert Stam's discussion of the trope of infantilization of colonial peoples in Unthinking Eurocentrism. Multiculturalism and the Media (1994). According to the two critics "The infantilization trope also posits the political immaturity of colonized or formerly colonized peoples, seen as Calibans suffering from what Octave Mannoni has called the "Prospero complex," that is, an inbred dependency on the leadership of White Europeans" (140).

[8] Sigmund Freud in Totem and Taboo (1913) points towards the ambiguous nature of totem, indicating that it entails both a sacred and an unholy meaning. Although cannibalism has been transformed into a celebrated symbol within Brazilian cultural discourse, as a practice, anthropophagy continues to be denigrated. Thus for example, anthropologist Beth Conklin observes that the actual practice of cannibalism continues to be a taboo, perceived as an abominable act that nevertheless also provokes enthrallment.


© Leila Lehnen 2005

Espéculo. Revista de estudios literarios. Universidad Complutense de Madrid

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