João Pães Loureiro was born in 1939, in Abaetetuba, a city in Pará located on the banks of the Tocantins River, where he spent his childhood. He studied Law, Literature, Arts and Communication at the Federal University of Pará. He was arrested between 1964 and 1970 as a result of his political activism against the military dictatorship. Much later, he became a master in Literary Theory and Semiology from PUC Campinas and a doctor in Sociology of Culture from the Sorbonne, Paris, in 1990. He held several public positions, having been Secretary of Culture of Pará, as well as creator and president of the Institute of Arts from Pará.
“Nature existed in the beginning. The man came later. They confronted each other, alternated, modified, transfigured. A slow loss of innocence and entry into history.” This is how his thesis book begins, Cultura Amazônica – Uma poética do imaginario, published in 2015 by Editora Valer, in Manaus.
Poet, writer and teacher, Paes Loureiro is the author of several essays on the culture of the region, among them Semiotic conversion in Art and Culture. Loureiro researches the meaning of spaces and objects beyond their usage needs, concerned with the symbolic resignification that they acquire when they are received according to different hierarchies of the functions contained in them. The true cultural construction would therefore be given by the relationship between man and this adjustment.
In the History of Art we saw several movements – pop-art, happenings, ready-made, etc. – changed the hierarchy of objects demonstrating this semiotic conversion, and Paes Loureiro delves into the origins of Amazonian aesthetics, trying to understand the construction of these relationships in a space whose history is preceded by myths, legends, remains, isolation, inhabited and invaded.
In the chapter From the Indian’s gaze to that of the Caboclo – A Same Route, (page 83), Loureiro says:
“In indigenous cosmology, when myths refer to the creation of the Amazonian world, they are actually referring to the creation of the world”, the creation of planet Earth. The first night everything came out of the heart of a tucumã (small palm coconut). (…) You can also turn to Nunes Pereira, in the anthology Moronguetá – an indigenous decameron: The sun, in the past, was a strong and handsome young man (…) The sun drank all the urucu and became red in the face like urucu and the muirapiranga. Then he went up into the sky and got into the clouds. (1) (…) In the Amazonian world, there is the production of a true daily theogony. Revealing a cosmic affectivity, man promotes the aestheticizing conversion of reality into signs, through daily work, dialogue with the tides, companionship with the stars, the solidarity of the winds that drive the sails, the patient friendship of rivers. (…) A unique real and imaginary world.”
Below are Loureiro's words during our meeting, in his apartment in Belém, in November.
arte!✱ – I would like you to start by telling us when and how you began your research into the different ways in which man and nature meet.
João de Jesus Paes Loureiro – I was born in a city in the interior of Pará, the city of Abaetetuba, which is located on the Tocantins river, in a stretch called Baixo Tocantins, close to Belém. There we have the city in front, but being part of the municipality a meeting of 72 islands. I always remember this, because these islands are a kind of mythical region of our municipality. It is a kind of labyrinth and, in this place, we would all spend our holidays, my sisters and I. My father came from one of the rivers on these islands, the Távora River, and an uncle of ours lived at Engenho Tucumã, in Tubarão, where all the kids spent their June holidays.
Interestingly, it was there that I took refuge from the dictatorship. I was young, 20, 21 years old, and that's where I ran away, to hide somewhere I couldn't be seen, going from house to house. I spent some time hiding in a guesthouse in the red light area here in Belém because, let's say, I wouldn't be wanted there. And then I went to these islands. I stayed there for a while, until I couldn't bear that isolation, that anguish, listening to the radio news that came from Belém, Brazil. I decided to go back because I was in my fifth year of Law and was going to graduate and I didn't want to miss the course.
So I came back. Anyway, to put it simply, I returned to Belém. I was arrested. And then I went to Rio. It was tough there, because I participated in the National Union of Students and I had a very, very close presence at the CPC, at the Centro Popular de Cultura, where we were going to create a national program to value listening, culture , the arts, the different regions of Brazil.
We were a committee of five coordinators. Among others, Ferreira Gullar, who was a poet from a generation much earlier than mine, Teresa Aragão, who was his wife, linked to the theater issue, a very active producer. We all continue to be and persecuted because of this. To be able to participate in this coordination, I needed to be studying at the National Faculty of Law.
When I returned to Belém to continue in the fifth year of Law, to be able to graduate, I'm talking about 1964, I already brought my transfer signed by the Minister of Education at the time.
I am putting these two situations so that you can understand, first, my connection with riverside culture, and, secondly, my connection, through academic life as a student, with the renewal movements in Brazil at that time, which always left me with this desire , this concern for an egalitarian society, a democratic society, a society that had a university that was increasingly open to people. So much so that when the dictatorship broke out here in Belém we were holding the first Latin American Congress on University Reform. There were people from Cuba, Chile, people from Argentina.
I realized that all the great texts, the theses that I know and everything about the Amazon and the application of the Amazon as a reason for theory, I think are by European authors, sociologists and anthropologists. Who apply their matrices to study the place, instead of studying the place to create a matrix of it”
arte!✱ – Let’s go back to that strong presence of childhood…
Yes, all this riverside origin served for me as a way of incorporating that type of man's behavior in the face of reality. First, respect and dialogue with nature. Then, the experience of a form of wisdom, the experiences of canoeists, planters and people who, in short, lived with the river in an almost existential way. Less so today, but in the deep Amazon, in the Amazon furthest from Belém and Santarém, a relationship with the imaginary still prevails through mythology, through legends and through a way of understanding the world itself. In the Amazon, the imaginary is a social fact, something shared on the streets and in people’s coexistence.
arte!✱ – This tends to be publicized only as an indigenous issue…
Yes, but it is riverside, indigenous and rural, but riverine is more intense. Especially because reference is made here to this culture, so to speak, born in the Amazon, as folklore, even in a bad sense. Folklore in the sense of diminishing cultural and scientific importance. And that is a fallacy. We don't have folklore in Brazil. What was cataloged as Brazilian folklore is the folklore brought by the colonizer, which was incorporated and, let's say, superimposed on the culture that already existed here. To indigenous culture, above all. It was yet another form of cultural and religious domination. But folklore, in fact, in the scientific and linguistic sense of the word, we don't have, what we have is popular culture. It's a shame that, when the so-called folklorist current became established in Brazil, after the Modern Art Week and from 1930 onwards, when they began to take a scientific interest in searching for original differences across regions, in discovering Brazilian folklore, as in the case of Câmara Cascudo himself , who is a great researcher of this, an admirable figure, made many mistakes in relation to the Amazon, because he never came here. He, for example, catalogs Pássaro Junino, which is a popular theater, set to music, created by the people here, as folklore, perhaps confused with the idea of the Northeastern Boi Bumbá and everything that is European folklore implanted in the Northeast.
arte!✱ - Why?
Because it wasn't created by the northeastern people!
arte!✱ – The Boi Bumba?
The Boi bumbá, no, it came with the Portuguese, it came with the Spanish who already had similar demonstrations there. So, the ox, ours, has its variants, for example, here we have an ox that is from the city of São Caetano de Odielas, which is just choreographic, which has no plot, which is as if they were pierrôs and colombinas . In clothing, the color is the ox, there is music, there is its own choreography, but there is no plot, there is no speech. This (the bumbá) is not an ox, it is choreographic, because we know who invented it, we know the people who continued cultivating and raising other oxen that were similar, calling the ox a mask. Because people go masked. That ox, for example, from Parintins, what is a technological ox?
An ox that conquered the world is not folklore either. It has roots, of course, but it is a variant with a defined author, with people who created it and has another structure and everything. So there is a need, for example, to distinguish ourselves in the southern regions. It is more the folklore brought by the migrant colonizer. Yes it is. I cannot say that, for example, indigenous culture was folklore, indigenous culture, the legitimate popular culture of the indigenous people.
I realized that all the great texts, the theses that I know and everything about the Amazon and the application of the Amazon as a reason for theory, I think are by European authors, sociologists and anthropologists. Who apply their matrices to study the place, instead of studying the place to create a matrix of it. Recognize that there is also a thought in place. There is also a reflection of its own. There is also a life experience reflected by art and mythology.
arte!✱ – Yes. You teach at the university. How, through education, would it be possible to expand and respect these experiences?
There are no studies of Amazonian issues in the education system. The vast majority of private schools now belong to large national groups, which come with handbooks already created with pre-established models.
It’s not just us creating “interpretations”, thinking that, by drinking from this source, very original things will emerge. No. I, for example, think that on these university campuses that are spreading across the State, everyone, whether Federal or State, is starting to generate dissertations and theses from people who live in the right place, who belong, who speak pure, things that they like, that they love, that they believe in, that reveal an experience from which countless contents could be developed.
And delve deeper into Amazonian culture, in a poetics of imagination in dialogue with “world culture”. I understand Amazonian culture as something that lives today, not as a history of the past. Something that happened, no. I think she lives in dialogue with the current world, and it is through this dialogue that she still shows her living presence.
I thought that bubuiar, going bubuia, dibubuiar, dibubuismo, revealed the intercurrence of external action with the interior, navigation and daydreaming, a symptom of an attitude revealing the intelligent coexistence of the native with the environment and I decided to call this act dibubuismo”
arte!✱ – And the idea of “dibubuismo”, how did it come about?
In these contemplations of mine, I saw passing, and I was not young, already as an adult, in the Lower Amazon, pieces of land displaced from the bank by the force of the river during the flood, which became a small island. A floating island with trees, with tussocks, trunks of an açaí tree [açaí palm], with snakes and also with herons that will land on them.
I saw that often the canoeist who was paddling towards his work or to get to the city, for example, to buy things and return, or to go to the place where he could fish, in short, happened to find, going in the same way, direction, one of these marapatá or periantã, which is the indigenous name.
Well, then I saw it. He would tie that canoe to one of those tussocks, and, in this alliance with nature, he would lie down on his back, resting. Towed by the periantã, it continued its journey calmly, floating, or bubbling in the waters, as they say in riverside language. Without needing to make an effort to row, once towed by the floating islet you will get where you want without wasting your energy uselessly. He keeps thinking, remembering his stories, what he wants to do.
This would be a kind of attitude of not wasting your energy when in alliance with nature. And it's not even during idle time. By freeing yourself from work, you create an opportunity for another type of work.
Thus, I thought that bubuiar, going bubuia, dibubuiar, dibubuismo, revealed the intercurrence of external action with the interior, navigation and daydreaming, a symptom of an attitude revealing the intelligent coexistence of the native with the environment and I decided to call this act dibubuismo. Dibubuismo differs from “creative leisure” [a concept created by the Italian Domenico De Masi] because it is not a reaction to practical work. It is a compatible alternation with it and a harmonizing partnership with nature.
No one could ever do that with a chainsaw. No one could ever do that to a ship. Never. So, this was, let's say, the genesis, the origin, let's say, experiential, of the construction of this concept. ✱