«The development of the Azoreanist movement is “WE ARE AZOREAN”: a major feature in the contemporary cultural and DISCOURSES AND political scene ...»
“We Are Azorean”
The development of the Azoreanist movement is
“WE ARE AZOREAN”: a major feature in the contemporary cultural and
DISCOURSES AND political scene of the state of Santa Catarina
(southern Brazil). Aimed at the rediscovery and
PRACTICES OF FOLK celebration of the Azorean roots of the island of
Santa Catarina and other coastal areas of the
CULTURE IN SANTA state, the Azoreanist movement dates back to the 1940s and, having remained an elite endeavor CATARINA (BRAZIL) for several decades, recently became a very influential movement. This paper seeks to investigate the prominent role played by folk culture in the activities and identity claims of the movement, contrasting its ethnogenealogical thematicizations on Santa Catarina’s folk culture with more “autochthonous” visions of local João Leal folklore.
In 1993, an ambitious project called Mapeamento Cultural da Cultura de Base Açoriana (“Cultural Mapping of Azorean-based Culture”) was launched in Santa Catarina by the Núcleo de Estudos Açorianos (NEA, “Group of Azorean Studies”).1 This group, based at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), is currently one of the most active organizations in the Azoreanist movement of Santa Catarina and works to discover the Azorean roots of the state, which date back to 1748 when 6,000 individuals from the Azores settled in the coastal areas of Santa Catarina.2 The Mapeamento aimed to survey Azorean culture in Santa Catarina by collecting information through high school teachers and municipal cultural activists. A survey questionnaire based on the guidebook developed by NEA was distributed in the context of an introductory course on Azorean culture and history.
Besides the actual collection of questionnaires, the Mapeamento was linked to more ambitious objectives. Its first aim was to enlarge the popular influence of the Azoreanist movement, which, until then, was basically an endeavor restricted to the cultural and political elites of Santa Catarina. The second objective was to develop the movement outside Florianópolis and the island of Santa Catarina, giving it an expression coincidental with the area of Azorean colonization. The third objective was to organize a network of 1 This paper is based on research carried out as part of the project “USA and Brazil: Processes of Transnationalization of Azoreanness”, Centro de Estudos de Antropologia Social (ISCTE), Lisbon. The project was generously funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento (FLAD) and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (FCG). A previous version of this paper was presented at the Fifth Anthropological Mercosul Meeting, which took place in Florianópolis. I want to thank Ilka Boaventura Leite, Ana Lúcia Coutinho, Gelcy Coelho (Peninha) and Márcia Wolff for comments and suggestions.
2 For a general overview of the Azoreanist movement of Santa Catarina from 1948 to the present, see Leal (2002). For more specific aspects of the movement in the island of Santa Catarina, see Fantin (2000).
organizations committed to Azorean culture, thus strengthening the Azoreanist movement.
The Mapeamento project eventually came to engage more than thirty municipalities and 3,000 activists and is a major development in the process of rediscovering the Azorean roots of the state’s coastal areas. Given its importance, one of the aims of my research is to analyze in some detail the results of the 4,000 questionnaires.
One of the issues that puzzled me most when reviewing the replies to the questionnaires was evidence of very different interpretations of the idea of “Azorean culture.” In several questionnaires, for example, Azorean culture referred to cultural elements such as the Holy Ghost Festivals, usually perceived as “survivals” of Azorean folk culture in Santa Catarina. In this case, the idea of Azorean culture was synonymous to cultural practices that actually originated in the archipelago of the Azores. However, in other questionnaires, “Azorean culture” was applied in a looser manner. In some cases, it was used to identify aspects of folk life whose Azorean origins, NEA’s activists admitted, were in doubt such as boi de mamão, a theatrical performance centered on the death and resurrection of an ox. In other cases the use of the idea of Azorean culture was even looser and included cultural items, such as local seafood gastronomy, that have originated locally and have no known parallel in the Azores. Finally, a number of responses labeled all local expressions of heritage – from an early 20th-century cemetery to a polenta recipe (polenta is, of course, an Italian traditional dish) – as “Azorean.” In this case, the idea of Azorean culture was applied to anything perceived as being old.
I initially ascribed the divergence of these responses to the inexperience of activists who were new to the Azorean cause. But, on further thought, I came to the conclusion that these different notions of “Azorean culture” were instead related to a more general and interesting pattern: the polysemy of the idea of “Azorean culture” among Azoreanist activists. The objective of this paper is to investigate the various meanings of “Azorean culture” among activists and organizations of the Azoreanist movement of Santa Catarina. In the first section, I analyze the role played by folk culture in the thematicization of Azorean culture. The second and third sections lay out the two main perspectives of folk culture that have been hegemonic in the Azoreanist movement: an ethnogenealogical perspective, connecting the different folk traditions of the coastal areas of Santa Catarina to the folk culture of the Azores; and an autochthonous perspective of folk culture, based on the prevalence of a territorial principle of analysis of culture over genealogy and ethnogenesis. In the conclusion I discuss the importance of this autochthonous perspective of folk culture for the recent development of the movement.
Azorean culture as folk culture Despite significant divergences in their understandings of Azorean culture, all Azoreanist activists and organizations agree on one point: the Azorean culture they talk about is basically defined as folk culture, i.e. – according to the more widely used emic expressions – it is defined as folklore, or as cultura da gente or “the culture of the people.” This consensus that Azorean culture is folk culture dates back to the origins of the Azoreanist movement at the First Historical Congress of Santa Catarina, in 1948.3 Thus, one of the sections of the Congress entitled “Language and Folklore” was specifically dedicated to folk culture and featured six papers on topics related to folklore.4 The Portuguese scientific community was represented by Paiva Boléo, a folk linguist from Coimbra University, and Silva Ribeiro, an important Azorean ethnographer, who, although not able to attend the Congress in person, sent a paper on topics of folklore. In the documents produced at the Congress, folk culture was a topic of major importance, such as in the proposals suggesting the creation of a Folk Museum in Santa Catarina and the launching of linguistic and ethnographic inquiries.5 Folklore and traditional culture also played an important role in the exhibitions and cultural performances of the Congress’ cultural program.
The role folk culture played in the Azoreanist movement became even more important in the years following the Congress, mainly through the activities of the Comissão Catarinense de Folclore (“Committee for Folklore Studies of Santa Catarina”). During the 1950s, the Committee regularly published a journal called Boletim da Comissão Catarinense de Folclore. Besides several articles by local scholars devoted to the study of Santa Catarina’s folk culture, the journal also published several ethnographic papers by Azorean scholars, such as José Agostinho, Silva Ribeiro or Carreiro da Costa.
In the 1970s and 1980s, folk culture played again an important role in the resumption of the Azoreanist movement, which had came to a halt during the 1960s. In 1971, the Ribeirão da Ilha Eco-Museum, located in a small traditional hamlet on the island of Santa Catarina, was created with the objective of “storing the memory of the Azorean culture of the island of Santa Catarina, [which is the] foundation [and] bedrock upon which the culture of Santa Catarina rests” (Pereira 1996: 4). Franklin Cascaes, an important local artist whose Azoreanist work was close to art brut or outsider art, also favored folkloric themes and particularly emphasized local beliefs and stories of witches. His collection, composed of hundreds of drawings and clay sculpOn the First Historical Congress of Santa Catarina, see Flores (1998: 113-141). For further details see also Falcão (2000).
4 Cf. Actualidades, 11, November 1948, p. 10.
5 Cf. Actualidades, 12, December 1948, p. 12.
tures, was central to the launching of the Ethnographic Museum of UFSC, in which folklore plays a major role.6 The Azoreanist movement in the 1990s also emphasized the importance of folk culture. First of all, folklore played a major role in the activities of NEA. As has already been stressed, the Mapeamento Cultural focused on the identification of different aspects of Azorean folk culture in the coastal areas of Santa Catarina. Among the nine different fields outlined in the Mapeamento guidebook, seven are devoted to ethnographic topics such as “folklore,” “arts and crafts,” “gastronomy,” “folk religion,” “folk literature,” “children’s games and toys,” and “traditional means of transportation.” NEA’s other activities are also strongly linked to folk culture. That is the case of the Açor, a huge annual festival that takes place on a rotating basis in different municipalities of the coastal area of Santa Catarina. The festival is now in its ninth year and has become a major event in Santa Catarina’s cultural life, attended by thousands. According to the organizers, the main focus of the festival are the “local gastronomy, folklore, religion and traditional customs of the Luso-Azorean culture” of Santa Catarina.7 The program also includes folk music and dance, boi de mamão performances, traditional cuisine, and the display and selling of folk artifacts.
NEA has also organized conferences and other initiatives aimed at fostering discussion of ethnographic investigations of Azorean culture. That is the case of the First International Congress on Holy Ghost Festivals (1998), where the Holy Ghost festivals were featured as one of the main expressions of the Azorean heritage. In the First Southern Brazilian Congress of LusoAzorean Communities (1996), folk culture was again very important, both in the scientific agenda and in its artistic and cultural program.
The role of NEA’s activists in the ethnographic research on Azorean cultural topics must also be stressed.
Among other organizations active in the Azoreanist movement, folk culture is also a major trend. In the island of Santa Catarina, for instance, since the 1996 election of Florianópolis’ present mayor, the Franklin Cascaes Foundation has adopted an Azoreanist agenda. The Foundation actively supports the promotion of folk culture by local communities and organizes cultural events that emphasize Azorean folk culture. Among these events, the most important is the annual ethnic festival Encontro das Nações (“Meeting of the Nations”) which features folk dance groups, traditional artisans, boi de mamão troupes, and restaurants specializing in menus inspired by traditional recipes.
6 On Franklin Cascaes, see, for instance, Araújo (1978), Caruso (1997) and Espada (1997).
7 Quoted from the Açor bylaw distributed among the participating municipalities.
Outside the island of Santa Catarina in the several municipalities of the coastal areas of the state, the Azoreanist movement also promotes Azoreanist festivals, performances by folk dance groups or boi de mamão troupes, the revitalization of Holy Ghost singing groups, the production of traditional crafts, and the establishment of local museums.
The Azores in southern Brazil: ethnogenealogical perspectives of folk culture
Although generally equating Azorean culture with folk culture, the activists and organizations within the Azoreanist movement have nevertheless distinct notions of what is Azorean in the folk culture of Santa Catarina. For some, Azorean culture is viewed in strict ethnogenealogical terms (Smith 1991).
According to this perspective, Azorean culture is the fraction of Santa Catarina’s folk culture which can be ethnogenetically linked to the folk culture actually existing in the Azores. Although observed in the ethnographic present, folk culture is thus viewed as a set of survivals through which continuity with the cultural background of the Azoreans who settled in the coastal areas of Santa Catarina can be established.
This ethnogenealogical perspective was dominant in the First Historical Congress of Santa Catarina. Although the proceedings of the “Language and Folklore” section were never published, some of the titles of the papers suggest the importance of this approach: “Azores: Heart and Soul of Southern Brazil” (Walter Spalding); “The Azorean Feeling in the Folk Poetry of Santa Catarina Island” (Almiro Caldeira); “Some Folk Superstitions Common to Brazil and Azores” (Silva Ribeiro); and “The Azorean Element of Santa Catarina’s Folklore: the Holy Ghost Festival” (Mariza Lira). The simultaneous reference to the Azores and to Santa Catarina or southern Brazil illustrates the prevalence of a comparative perspective based on the exploration of the historical links between the folklore of Santa Catarina and the Azores.
The ethnographic articles published in 1948 by the local magazine Actualidades in relation to the Congress, show the same ethnogenetic pattern. In one of these articles, Lucas Boîteux, one of the few intellectuals from Santa Catarina
who had actually visited the Azores, wrote about the island of São Miguel: