April 10, 2009

Coisas da Roça


It’s Semana Santa, the Holy Week, the heart of the Catholic liturgical year and pretty much the lynchpin of the whole theology. It’s a very sacred week with many activities. Passion plays, processions, masses, music performances and over 25 tons (tons!) of fish were sold in my city alone. Many business and most restaurants are closed today in observance of Good Friday, Sexta-feira de Paixão.

Geraldinha mentioned that growing up on the roça, you had to clean your house thoroughly on Palm Sunday and were not allowed to do any cleaning at all until after Easter Sunday. You couldn’t touch a broom or do any mending. That in addition to the ban on hunting and fishing.

But as holy and austere as this all important week is in the largest Catholic country on earth, there is at least one tradition celebrated throughout the countryside of Brazil that involves a party: the burning of Judas - a tradition not part of the church rituals.

I’ve never seen this ritual because, like Carnaval and Christmas, the Holy Week is a very expensive time to travel in Brazil. It’s a vacation week for most families, kids are off school, and prices on hotels double. So we’ve stayed home. Maybe next year if our house is livable, we’ll be up in the village and get to see the festivities, but for now I just get my stories second hand.

On Good Friday, in many small country villages, an effigy of Judas is strung up, tortured and then burned the next day. Usually the effigy has the cutout face of a corrupt politician, or anyone else that the village may hold a particular resentment towards. He’s smacked around a little like a piñata and people are encouraged to yell at it and get their frustrations out. Children sometimes make their own Judas doll and go around with it bugging shop owners for candy, until they fork over the sweets. Then on Saturday afternoon or evening Judas is lit on fire and sometimes fireworks are even set off from inside the effigy. The burning is usually accompanied by music and followed by a party.

The Burning of Judas started in Europe and is still practiced there in some places, although the celebrations have been toned down a good deal because of the obvious anti-Semitism involved. But I don't think that part of it enters into the countryside rituals here in Brazil. Most of the people who participate are simple, many illiterate, and probably don't have much inkling of a connection between their Judas effigy and the Christian dogma that vilified the Jewish people. Instead it’s about scapegoating their grievances for the year on the figure of Judas - particularly with politicians. Geraldinha tells me that they didn’t always even refer to the effigy as Judas – usually they called it by the name of whoever they have a gripe with and frequently it was more than one person. They’d chant, “Let’s burn Sr. João! And now let’s burn Sr. Marcos! And now let’s burn Sr. Henrique!” The poor Judas effigy was assigned many different roles.

Winter is over for many of you, (you lucky tulip-tiptoeing northerners) and while Spring doesn’t play into the Easter symbolism here, it is still considered a time of renewal and rebirth. And as twisted as the roots of the Burning Judas ritual maybe, those countryside fun-loving cachaça soaked celebrations are held in in a the light-hearted spirit of letting let go of past hurts and grievances and starting fresh. While I don't think any of us are going to go around burning a Judas effigy, we could probably all use a way to metaphorically get rid of our grievances and move on from whatever is weighing us down.

Happy Easter!


Stephanie said...

How interesting!...and odd..that Judas definitely looked..well odd..

Feliz Pascoa my friend! See I am learning portuguese already!...minus a few accented vowels...and well an entire vocabulary.. haha

markuza said...

They burn Judases right here in Salvador, although it could be argued that some of the outlying neighborhoods are practically "the interior"

Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

A very interesting post. I had not heard about the Burning of Judas.

I'm glad you mentioned spring and how that is not part of the symbolism here. I think that is the part of the holiday that has struck me the most. I never realized how much I associated the renewal and rebirth of Easter with that of the weather this time of year in general. We have beatiful, sunny days here, but not the renewal of live after winter like at home.

It was so quiet around here on Friday. I absolutely loved it, even the mall was closed. :) Hope you are having a wonderful weekend. Happy Easter!

jessica said...

how very interesting.
i am back in usa, waiting for spring, flowers to bloom, renewal.

AkuTyger said...

Way back when Ju was first born, we went to a Judas burning in Guarajuba at some rich guy who was the uncle of our friend we were visting's house. There is a tradition where someone writes what Judas left for everyone and it's always bad stuff (in my husband's case, it was "many dirty diapers to change") and it's written as a poem. It's quite funny if you can follow it well (my Portuguese was not up to scratch at the time) and is just that, a chance to vent.

You can find Judases available for sale on the side of the road leading in and out of Salvador, usually they are full of fireworks of some kind so they explode spectacularly.