Tuesday, 5 June 2007

When the wolves howl

“Quando os lobos uivam” is a novel by Aquilino Ribeiro, published in 1958. It gives a very accurate description of the peasants/Serranos of the central and northern mountain ranges of Portugal (my study area). This book is certainly untranslatable, because its essence is the expressions and the worldview of the Serranos…
“Qual o quê?!” is extremely expressive and I can’t imagine any equiparable wording in English; similarly, “That’s lovely!” has no reasonable translation into Portuguese.

The book starts with Manuel Louvadeus coming back from Brazil after 10 years. His family thought he was dead, but one evening he nocks at the door of their little granite hut in the village where nothing at all has changed. He is talking with his wife when the whole population of the village comes to his doorstep to see him. They hang around and Manuel Louvadeus is told about the expropriation of the commons that the government is planning.

The villagers wonder if Manuel Louvadeus brought much money from Brazil or not. He sometimes pretends to be a rich man. Once he sits with his father, Teotonio Louvadeus, on his land Rochambana and says he wants to build a house there. His father teases him and says that this is quite an expensive business and asks if he brought any money at all from Brazil. Manuel lays on the floor, broken down, and then starts to tell his father about his adventures in Brazil.

He and another Portuguese, Serôdio, travelled together and found employment in the diamante and amethyst mines and started to illegally put precious stones aside. When they had quite a stock of stones they wanted to run away and to sell the stones. But, one day Serôdio and the woman he was with, Maturina, run away with the stones and Manuel was left with nothing. He planned vengeance and searched them all over with the help of another mine worker. Finally he found them and harassed his former friend with his knife in order for him to tell Manuel where the stones were. In the intent to return to the mining camp and recover the stones left there, they travelled together, Serôdio as a prisoner. But, one day, the other man who helped Manuel to find Serôdio and Maturina, killed Serôdio and run away with Maturina. Manuel returned to Portugal with nothing, but he started to imagine that the precious stones were still hidden in a particular hole in the forest close to the mining site.

Meanwhile Manuel gets accustomed again to the village life and he is present in the meeting where representatives from the Forest Service explain the villagers their forestation program. The villagers will not be allowed to use the mountain anymore, from which they had derived fodder, wood, “manure” and pasture for their livestock for time immemorial.

However, one of the richest villagers, Lêndeas, makes a deal with the forester Lisuarte Streit, and he employs his 2 sons, Bruno and Modesto as forest wards. Therefore people in the village start to be split about the benefits of the forestation program.

However, the villagers in general are very angry and on the day when the machines come to start the forestation, the population from all villages surrounding and dependent on the resources of the mountain move up to where the people of the forestry service want to start work. The villagers are armed with their hoes, knifes and some weapons. The forestry service, however, was expecting resistance and was accompanied by the police. A little battle starts in which 4 people die and several are injured. The forestation program is put in place anyway, and many wards are needed to allow it to proceed, because many sabotage acts are carried out by the villagers.

Many villagers are imprisoned and are judged, however little they have contributed to the battle at the beginning of the forestation work. They are suspected to be “Criptocommunists” even though they have no clue about political doctrines. A nice dialogue in the tribunal goes like this:
“And you have been reading Karl Marx, haven’t you?!”
“Carlos Marques?...”
Bruno, the son of Lêndeas, is a witness and he says that Manuel Louvadeus was somehow a key figure coordinating the resistance against the state. As a consequence, Manuel is imprisoned for 3 years. Teotonio Louvadeus is heard to say “You will pay for this - dog!”

Bruno who is now a forest ward starts to courtship Jorgina, Manuel’s daughter, much to the disapproval of Teotonio Louvadeus, who knows that he had been together with Manuel’s wife when she thought Manuel died in Brazil. Teotonio trains his dog to hate Bruno, and to keep him away from the window where he uses to come to talk to Jorgina. One day the dog is found dead.

Teotonio Louvadeus prepares everything to kill Bruno and succeeds, one night when Bruno is returning from the forest to his village, Urrô do Anjo. In the same night Teotonio and his grandson burry Bruno in the river bed, diverting the water to the fields while they shovel the grave. Despite the corps not being found Teotonio is the main suspect of having killed Bruno. But after a while people start to think Bruno run away because he had too many enemies in the village and then they forget about him.

When Manuel comes out of prison he returns to his village only for a short while. Then he tells his father that he will go to Brazil to bring the precious stones home, because he is sure now where they are hidden. He wants to come back rich and to improve village life, bringing sanitation, electricity and health services to the mountain. However…time passes and Manuel never returns from Brazil.

At the day of the village’s saint, in summer, Teotonio Louvadeus borrows a mule and starts fires everywhere in the newly grown state forest. The fire burns for several days and most of the forest is destroyed.

In winter there is a big storm and a huge flood. And the story ends with the wolves, who are roaming around, very hungry, after the storm and find some bones swept at the riverside. Some people come; the wolves move away and observe from some distance how a group of people finds the bones.

2 excerpts that describe the role of the state now and then...

“Faça o senhor doutor engenheiro boa viagem e não nos lançe às feras!” exclamou João Rebordão.
“Vossoria lá fará” - exprimiu Manuel do Rosário, de Azenha da Moura. “Mas vá com a certeza de que não damos o braço a torcer!”
“Se quiserem guerra têm-na! Acrescentou o delgado da Ponte do Junco, as mandíbulas projectadas num ameaço façanhudo.
“Nós também não vamos a Lisboa cobiçar os relvados, que lá há, para pastagem das nossas vacas” gracejou Ribelas. “Pois podia-se lhe chamar aproveitar terra!”

Governo para o aldeão é sinónimo de Estado e de tudo o que dá leis, uma quadrilha de olho vivo. Já lhes levaram coiro e camisa em contribuições, tributos, posturas, alcavalas de vária ordem, e vinham ainda esbulhá-los da serra! Hoje a serra amanhã, por uma razão análoga, corriam-nos de casa para fora. Ah, cachaporra dum santo! O que todos queriam era viver à custa da barba longa, mãos brancas com bons anéis, bom automóvel, amigas para o gozo e criadas para todo o serviço que vinham buscar aos viveiros da plebe, cabritos gordos que se criavam nos ferregiais, e trutas que eles serranos estavam proibidos de pescar nos seus rios. Que maiores carrascões e ladrões!?

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