Death Without Weeping: Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

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Death Without Weeping: Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

By | July 2011
Page 1 of 12
Death Without Weeping
Has poverty ravaged mother love in the shantytowns of Brazil? Nancy Scheper-Hughes

I have seen death without weeping, The destiny of the Northeast is death, Cattle they kill, To the people they do something worse Anonymous Brazilian singer (1965) "WHY DO THE CHURCH BELLS RING SO

often'?" I asked Nailza de Arruda soon after I moved into a corner of her tiny mud-walled hut near the top of the shantytown called the Alto do Cruzeiro (Crucifix Hill) . I was then a Peace Corps volunteer and community development/ health worker . It was the dry and blazing hot summer of 1965, the months following the military coup in Brazil, and save for the rusty, clanging bells of N . S . das Dores Church, an eerie quiet had settled over the market town that I call Bom Jesus da Mata . Beneath the quiet, however, there was chaos and panic . "It's nothing," replied Nailza, "just another little angel gone to heaven ." Nailza had sent more than her share of little angels to heaven, and sometimes at night I could hear her engaged in a muffled but passionate discourse with one of them, two-year-old Joana . Joana's photograph, taken as she lay propped up in her tiny cardboard coffin, her eyes open, hung on a wall next to one of Nailza and Ze Antonio taken on the day they eloped . Nailza could barely remember the other infants and babies who came and went in close succession . Most had died unnamed and were hastily baptized in their coffins . Few lived more than a month or two. Only Joana, properly bap-

tized in church at the close of her first year and placed under the protection of a powerful saint, Joan of Arc, had been expected to live . And Nailza had dangerously allowed herself to love the little girl . In addressing the dead child, Nailza's voice world range from tearful imploring to angry recrimination : "Why did you leave me? Was your patron saint so greedy that she could not allow me one child on this earth'?" Ze Antonio advised me to ignore Nailza's...