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JO√O UBALDO RIBEIRO

(...) Vera Cruz de Itaparica, December 20, 1647.

Capiroca, the caboco (half-caste), loved eating Dutchmen. At first, he didnít differentiate between Dutchmen and other stangers who happened along in the right circumstances, for nothing else if not because he didnít start to eat the flesh of humans until after a certain age, perhaps close to thirty. And also he had not always lived in this way, in the midst of the thickest jungle and most treacherous mangrove-swamps, able to leave a man stuck in the mud up to the groin long enough for the tide to come and drown him slowly, amidst clouds of savage insects and razor-sharp mussel-shells. This only happened after the many bangs, hums and whispers he started to hear in his head, because, some people say, he was the son of an indian girl with a runaway black slave who was taken in by the villagers, and which, from fear, he never left except at night, to change when he needed to, for this reason gaining a certain parentage with bats and nocturnal predators and ceasing to see by the light of day. And itís true that ever since he was a child the coboco suffered somewhat: half-indian, half-black, his father most of the time turned into a night-beast, seeing with his ears and hiding himself from the sun amidst the dense-leaved forest. But the bangs, hums and whispers, like the fire that burned his judgement and provoked him to the strangest forms of behaviour ever seen, first appeared soon after the arrival of the priests, who came with the intention of never again leaving and started to call that whole village and its lands a "Reduction". Nothing happened so suddenly, but every day in the Reduction the coboco found himself more and more tormented by the bangs, hums and whispers which often erupted all at once like an orchestra of devils, during morning or evening doctrines or even at any time when one of the priests was talking, which was almost always. Until the day when, by now driven to desperation for being unable even to see a priest without having to run off with his head stuffed between his legs, that shattering buzz exploding his box of ideas, he stole two women and fled into the backwoods never to return. Some say he continued to know how to talk perfectly, others that he ceased to speak and turned into a bat just like his father had done, even able to fly with the black wings of such creatures Ė a thing his father was never able to do, not even on the day that everyone encouraged him so that he could escape the hands of the Portuguese to whom the priests were to turn him over, as a runaway black, an illegal thing and nothing illegal can be permitted inside the Reduction. And the fact that the caboco eats human flesh, sometimes fattening up the victim in captivity, is common knowledge, even though it came about by chance.

When the priests arrived, a great outbreak of miracles, portents and resurrections was proclaimed. They built the chapel, consecrated it and then, the next day, the earth opened up to swallow, one by one, all those who had thought that construction an absurd activity and who refused to work on it.

They lifted up the images onto the altars and for a long time nobody else died definitively, not even the old who were tired and wanted to go quickly, until they all started to protest and no-one in the Kingdom paid attention anymore to the letters and stories in which the priests told their wielded and witnessed marvels. They laid a dead elder at the foot of the image and after it sweated, bled or demonstrated any such strenuous effort, the deceased, to his and his familyís great dismay, began by acting twitchy and ended up going home alive again, extremely disappointed. Thus, it cannot be affirmed that the priests met only with success, but they did achieve a great deal that was useful and advantageous, despite the fact that all this had caused the suffering in Capiroba the cabocoís head to worsen.

At dawn, as soon as the sun rose, they put all the women into line to go to doctrine. After the doctrine of the women, who were then shepherded off to learn to weave the cloth with which they now cover their bodies, followed the menís doctrine, since itís well known that women and men need different doctrines. In the morning doctrine, they told crazy stories involving dead people with exotic names. In the evening doctrine, sometimes they taught how to trap the tongue hitherto spoken in the village in interminable designs, with the result that, soon afterwards, the priests showed how to use this language appropriately, correcting errors and improprieties and causing great consternation to many, some of whom, twisted with shame, decided never to say anything again for the rest of their lives, whilst others only spoke apologising constantly for their ignorance of the rules of good language. And, principally, special attention was paid to Good and Evil, the difference between which the inhabitants of the Reduction could not understand if explained in abstract terms and so, every day, a new item was added to the list that all strained to learn by rote with dedication. Kill an animal: does this go into the list of Evil? No. Yes. No. Yes, yes. No, it depends on other things in the list of Evil and of things in the list of Good too. Yes, maybe. Few Ė and much less Capiroba the coboco Ė could boast of knowing these lists in detail and only two or three knew some version of them, which they recited as though in prayer and which, at every repetition, changed a little and became even more mysterious. But the wisdom of these matters of Good and Evil was made evident and amply proven when everything began to occur as predicted in the doctrine. Prior to the doctrine, the village was composed of people who were very ignorant, who didnít even have a small list for Good and Evil and in truth, didnít even have good words to express this pair of such important things. After the Reduction, it was seen that some people were evil and others were good, it was only before that this was not known. A bad woman wants to go naked, doesnít want to go to doctrine, doesnít want the priest to grab her childís head and anoint it with green grease, pronouncing magic words that could drive it crazy for ever. Wicked, wicked, evil woman. Good women donít speak to evil woman, evil woman stays alone, evil womanís husband is good man too, evil woman ever more alone, gets very ill-tempered, seems crazy. More and more crazy, punishment from the sky because she is evil woman. Evil men also end up unmasking themselves, and also end up paying for it. Evil man says the priestís story makes no sense, itís all rubbish, heís going fishing. And he also finds himself more and more alone, drinks firewater, nobody speaks to him, evil man always worse, worse, a heavy penance for wickedness, dies drowned and drunk, goes to a place where the flames burn forever and deadly lizards attack all day long. And, finally, there came news of Temptation, formerly disguised so that nobody noticed it but now surprised in the most unexpected places, to the point where on leaving doctrine many young people spent the whole time trying to evaluate whether all that happens is not Temptation in one of its multiple disguises, until they became so scared that they could not even sleep lest they should let Temptation entrap them. (...)"
"Viva o povo brasileiro". Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1997.

translation: Simon Fisher