Whilst in Rio I had the opportunity to attend a show organised by Cia do Tijolo, a theatre company from Sao Paulo entitled ‘Cante La que eu Canto Ca’. The show celebrated the poems, songs, ideology and memory of Patativa do Assare, an agricultural worker from Ceara who became famous in the twentieth century for his poetry, oral performance and political commentary. The show, presented with clear joy by the performers raised many interesting themes inspired by Patativa. The most interesting for me was the exploration of oral history and the value we give it both socially and academically.
Patativa was known for his talent as an orator, memorising his verses and delivering them personally in a way that his collected written works of poetry cannot hope to convey. he was the voice of a people blighted by extreme poverty and without access to the same standard of education as exists in other parts of Brazil as is still the case today. Oral performance and the passing down of customs, myths, traditions and stories has the potential to reach a wider audience, particularly when that audience is not alphabetised. By presenting Patativa’s works through song, dance and performance this show is able to get closer to portraying his words and meaning than the written text, even though it is part of the nature of oral history that the content will change over time.
Patativa did not have access to education but did not deny its importance. His message was that different forms of education, learning and knowledge should be valued equally. That his voice should be heard regardless of whether he had completed formal schooling or not. The printed text lives on so we give it more credence than oral performance. Moreover, it is potentially the case that we devalue something which can be experienced by all, preferring to retain exclusivity in the access to knowledge and with it power. That Patativa had political opinions, calling during his lifetime for the release of political prisoners during the dictatorship potentially increases the purpose of discrediting or minimalizing the importance of his means of communication.
Patativa gained many prizes and recognition during his lifetime though he never sought fame and continued his agricultural life. His work has not been forgotten. However, on the whole, writers from Northern Brazil, oral tradition and culture still do not receive the same value as written traditions with a European background. This important vein of Brazilian culture continues to be undervalued and poorly represented particularly within literature.
Political discourse in the last two decades has continued to engage with the themes of education, representation and the value to be apportioned to the voice of the masses. Independent of Lula’s success or failures as President claims that his level of education did not qualify him to be in politics or to consider the nation’s education system come back to this same root. Coming from a poor background and speaking to a section of the population who are unlikely to be reached through text causes concern and a protective nature in the more traditional and conservative sides of Brazilian society and their representative political parties.
In his verses Patativa says that education is important and for all but that just because someone hasn’t had the opportunity of a formal education does not mean that they have no opinion or that their opinion should not be valued. In Brazil this means taking into account the opinions and expectations of many more people, previously excluded from politics whose priorities do not always align with those of the richer classes. To value their opinion threatens the status quo explaining why alternative paths to success and knowledge and oral traditions in Brazil may be viewed with suspicion or given a second rate importance.
Cia do Tijolo recognised this in their choice of how to present Patativa’s work, carrying forward oral tradition and performance, its potential and implications to a new generation.