Blood in the Fire: A Cry from the Amazon

Wildfire, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

I’ve been aghast but not surprised to hear about the devastation of the Amazon due to uncontrolled fires set throughout mainly Brazilian territory. I don’t think fire will respect borders either.

I’ve been remembering my own experience visiting the Amazon, a place that had always seemed magical and exotic due to the vast amount of literature I read from Brazil and other South American countries while in my teens and early twenties.

I remember so vivdly seeing the film “Bye Bye Brazil”, a tribute to all the ways of living changed by the domestic colonization and deforestation of the Amazon due to the construction of the Trans Amazonian highway. It’s a fantastically acted story with Brazil’s finest actors and musicians including Jose Wilker and Sonia Braga. I’ve seen it a couple of times. Below I include the theme song from the film, written and composed by Chico Buarque de Holanda—songwriter, poet, novelist and performer, recipient of the Portuguese language’s highest literary award, the Camoes prize (2019).

Bye Bye Brasil

Oi, coração
Não dá pra falar muito não
Espera passar o avião
Assim que o inverno passar
Eu acho que vou te buscar
Aqui tá fazendo calor
Deu pane no ventilador
Já tem fliperama em Macau
Tomei a costeira em Belém do Pará
Puseram uma usina no mar
Talvez fique ruim pra pescar
Meu amor
No Tocantins
O chefe dos parintintins
Vidrou na minha calça Lee
Eu vi uns patins pra você
Eu vi um Brasil na tevê
Capaz de cair um toró
Estou me sentindo tão só
Oh, tenha dó de mim
Pintou uma chance legal
Um lance lá na capital
Nem tem que ter ginasial
Meu amor
No Tabariz
O som é que nem os Bee Gees
Dancei com uma dona infeliz
Que tem um tufão nos quadris
Tem um japonês trás de mim
Eu vou dar um pulo em Manaus
Aqui tá quarenta e dois graus
O sol nunca mais vai se pôr
Eu tenho…
Baby, bye bye
Abraços na mãe e no pai
Eu acho que vou desligar
As fichas já vão terminar
Eu vou me mandar de trenó
Pra Rua do Sol, Maceió
Peguei uma doença em Ilhéus
Mas já tô quase bom
Em março vou pro Ceará
Com a benção do meu orixá
Eu acho bauxita por lá
Meu amor
Bye bye, Brasil
A última ficha caiu
Eu penso em vocês night and day
Explica que tá tudo okay
Eu só ando dentro da lei
Eu quero voltar, podes crer
Eu vi um Brasil na tevê
Peguei uma doença em Belém
Agora já tá tudo bem
Mas a ligação tá no fim
Tem um japonês trás de mim
Aquela aquarela mudou
Na estrada peguei uma cor
Capaz de cair um toró
Estou me sentindo um jiló
Eu tenho tesão é no mar
Assim que o inverno passar
Bateu uma saudade de ti
Tô a fim de encarar um siri
Com a benção de Nosso Senhor
O sol nunca mais vai se pôr

English Translation: Music Match

Bye Bye Brazil

Hi, Honey
I can’t talk for too long
Wait for the airplane to go by
As soon as the winter passes
I think I’ll bring you here
It’s very hot around here
The fan isn’t working
There is already an arcade in Macau
I went by a coast in Bélem do Pará
They put a power plant by the sea
It might make the fishing bad
My love

In Tocantins
The chief of the ‘parintintins’
Got caught up in my Lee pants
I found some roller skates for you
I saw a Brazil on the TV
There might be some heavy rain coming
I’m feeling so lonely
Oh, take some pity on me
A good chance came up
A thing in the capital
Don’t even need to have finished high school
My love

In Tabariz
It sounds just like the Bee Gees
I danced with a sad lady
That had a typhoon in her hips
There’s a Japanese guy behind me
I’ll swing by Manaus
It’s forty two degrees here
The sun is never going to set again
I miss our songs
I miss the countryside and the ‘sertão’
A good thing would be to actually have a truck
My love

Baby, bye, bye
Hugs to mom and dad
I think I’ll hang up
The chips are almost over
I’ll get out of here on a sledge
To the Rua do Sol, Maceió
I got some disease in Ilhéus
But I’m almost well again
In march I’m going to Ceará
With the blessing of my ‘orixá’
I’ll find some bauxite there
My love

Bye, Bye, Brazil
I’ve already put in the last chip
I think about you ‘night and day’
Explain to them that everything is okay
I’m always following the laws
I want to come back, believe me
I saw a Brazil on the TV
I got some disease in Belém
Now everything is alright
But the call is near the end
There’s a Japanese guy behind me
That watercolor has changed
I got a bit of a tan on the road
There might be a heavy rain coming
If feeling like a gilo
I get horny in the sea
As soon as the winter passes
It hits me that I miss you
I’m in the mood for a crab
With the blessing of Our Lord
The sun is never going to set

Submitted by BerimbauBocs on Mon, 08/07/2019 – 01:48

But getting back to my story…The Amazon then, was a place of mystery and exoticism, a place whose story I had been told only by those who tried to destroy and civilize it, not by those for whom it was truly “home.” So when I got a chance to go for work to the Peruvian Amazon, I was over the moon!

I arrived at a small town cleared out of the jungle, on the edge of dense rainforest and river. A town big enough however to have a domestic airport, as trade and security during the ending of Peru’s civil war in the 1990s and the beginning of Peru’s massive involvement with the cocaine trade necessitated better communications and transportation options. I saw a lot of poverty, children on the street, a lot of soldiers, and a highly militarized and masculinized public culture, characterized by much police and army and narco presence (sometimes one and the same!) . I was very surprised as this world was totally new to me.

As I travelled along the edge of the Amazon, I saw too, entire villages devoid of working age men— they had migrated to the city to provide for their families, joined the guerrillas or the narcos, or been taken by the military.

I saw women armed with guns doing civil patrols to prevent kidnapping and incursions into their villages. I met fisherwomen, small famers, and female small livestock producers. I met nurses, teachers and an unofficial village head woman. I met women working in radio communications with communities in the interior of the jungle where radios were used as a common form of communication beween individual people and communities, and between local and central government and the people.
Keep in mind this was about a decade before cell phones were widely introduced, so the radio was a crucial and affordable form of communication for remote communities and local villagers.

But at the same time, I was shocked by how much this part of the Amazon resembles West Bengal, where I was born. Red earth, dense fruit and flowering trees, giant and copious amounts of persistent insects, high humidity, flash flooding, and reliance on sweet water fish as a cheaper form of protein, many, many brown people everywhere—it all disoriented me, and made me feel as though I had been cheated! I never got to be Columbus…

Was the Amazon this exotic and unknowable place that all my reading had made it out to be? Or might the truth be that we have also experienced many other Amazons, forested and magical, full of despised beings, whose glimpses give the colonial mind (whether domestic or international), a sense of rightness in their dominating and civilizing mission?

These multiple Amazons around the world have already fallen victim to the civilizing mission of internal land colonization and even encroachment by multinational mining, logging, and cattle-producing companies. For decades we’ve been hearing that cattle ranchers, soy farmers, oil explorers, etc., are stripping the Amazon of its resources. But the incentives offered by the various levels of governmental agencies, pressures on ranchers to engage in economies “of scale”, the greed for ever higher profit, and the genocidal ethos of anti-indigenous ideology and capitalist development have really come together under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro.

I have added some links to the situation of indigenous peoples who make the Amazon their home. Additionally, the struggle of environmental advocates and indigenous allies has been under threat for at least half a century. I have included a link about Chico Mendes, whose rainforest activism in the 1980s got him assasinated. And since then there have been countless others killed — to turn every part of the rainforest into a commodity— and not a home. There is blood in the fire. The rainforest and all who dwell in her are bleeding.

An update from July 2020 explaining that 28% more is burning this year:

The drawings in this piece are from a series called “Blood in the Fire”.

Fleeing the Flames, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

When the City Fans the Flames, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Red Balloon says:

    thank you! I enjoyed reading your piece on the Amazon as well. Great photos!


  2. nwayneyoder says:

    Great stuff, Bro….love your poetry and art….keep going….


    1. Red Balloon says:

      thank you so much! i also enjoyed reading your blog!


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