Image from the book Memórias Sangradas, life and death in the times of the cangaço
Ulysses de Souza Ferraz shows a photograph of Nazareth's steering wheel, composed by his relatives and commanded by his father. Photo: Ricardo Beliel

Over time, we lost the transmission of history orally; worse, we have lost the power of listening. Of the silence, of the time that passes peacefully without the need to rush it. Over time we lose our ability to look at our faces to see our marks, to understand our being and being in the world.

But it is this lost time, this voice that sweetens the ears, that we find again in the book by reporter and photographer Ricardo Beliel, Memories Bled: life and death in the times of the cangaço, Publisher Olhares and support from Rumos Cultural.

The publication recounts a story that has long permeated the Brazilian imagination, having been told in books, photos and films: that of the cangaço. The movement that dominated the northeastern hinterland from 1920 until it was definitively annihilated in 1938 by the troops of the then government of Getúlio Vargas, in the famous battle of Angico in Sergipe. The saga of Virgolino Ferreira, known as Lampião (1898-1938), Maria Bonita (1911-1938) and his band, composed among others by Corisco, Dadá, Pancada, Labareda, Volta Seca and Jararaca is perhaps one of the most important and well-known in Brazilian history.

And it was after this story that journalist Ricardo Beliel and his wife, visual artist and filmmaker Luciana Nabuco, embarked. “It all started in 2007, when I did a story for a European magazine called Geo. Together with a Spanish reporter we went up the São Francisco River”, tells us the author. It was there that Beliel recalled his childhood, when his mother, a history and geography teacher, liked to tell her family the narratives of Brazilian culture, and listened to the stories of those who still lived there. It was also there that he learned that there were remnants of the cangaço movement. The then boy, who delightedly listened to his mother talk about the northeastern countryside, about the sertão, through books by Graciliano Ramos and Rachel de Queiróz, among many other stories, expanded his imagination.

That same year, in fact, in the same week, Ricardo Beliel, as a freelancer, returned to the northeastern hinterland to produce some articles on the subject of cangaço. He managed to publish some articles in magazines, but it was only in 2014 that he invited Luciana Nabuco to travel together through the northeastern hinterland, look for the places where Lampião's band went and try to talk to the people who inhabited those places, listen to their stories, photograph your memories. From 2007 to 2019 there were nine trips, 11 thousand kilometers traveled by car, seven states visited and many, many, recorded testimonies and photographed faces and places: “We wanted to hear the story of these people. We know that much has already been said and written, but we wanted to tell this story for ourselves as a great reportage, a social memory of that time.” Luciana Nabuco's support was fundamental. Born in Acre, she, like Beliel, grew up listening to her father tell stories of his long journey, of family culture. As the researcher and social psychologist Ecléa Bosi stated: “Oral memory is a precious instrument if we want to constitute the chronicle of everyday life”.

Image from the book Memórias Sangradas, life and death in the times of the cangaço
Ana Cleto and Pedra, relatives of cangaceiros Zé Gato and Sabina. Photo: Ricardo Beliel

At each return, upon hearing the stories they had recorded, they decided that the semantics of the characters' speech should be preserved. The interviewees, most of them nearly centenarians, are descendants of the cangaço era, characters from a cycle of Brazilian history that has not always been well remembered.
In this way, Ricardo Beliel began to write the book, intertwining his vision as a journalist – which he is and always was – with the testimonies of the 43 characters he selected to be part of Bleeded Memories. To the writings, she added her photos, but she also went after the photos that the characters themselves kept in their homes. There is a lot of talk about the Lebanese Benjamin Abrahão (1890-1938), who photographed and filmed the band in the 1930s, but many others photographed the movement without due recognition, since at the time talking about credit in photography was almost non-existent. Often what appeared was the name of the newspaper's owner. Beliel found these images in the homes of the interviewees and reproduced them even without retouching, without bringing a new air to the photograph, but preserving the marks of time that had already been incorporated into the images: “They were photographs taken in the 1920s and 1930s, they acquired marks from the time of history that we wanted to preserve”, comments Beliel.

The result, although in a journalistic tone, reminds a little of the great epic books where stories of death, love, struggle, revenge, encounters and disagreements are retold. Hence the title idea. A book built by listening – in fact, this is the role of the journalist, be it text or photography: “This book is the rebirth of the reporter I never stopped being”, says Beliel. But it is Luciana Nabuco who, in the form of poetry in the preface and afterword of the book, reminds us that “we are losing history because we are failing to listen to our elders. They are our primary sources.”

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