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ArribaAbajo In Praise of Treason: Three Contemporary Versions of Calabar
Severino João Albuquerque

University of Wisconsin-Madison

For much of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, the nation's playwrights were presented with and forced to respond to a series of repressive acts and conditions, ranging from censorship to persecution, arrests and torture, and from denial of subsidies to closing down of theaters, and even arson. Indeed, of all the art forms, the theater was the most frequently and seriously harassed by the military government. Playwrights, directors, actors, and those associated with the theater in general were major targets of the Federal Police, who interpreted any expression of dissension as an act of treason and a threat to national security. Careers were often ruined or seriously damaged due to problems with the censorship division of the Ministry of Justice, whose officials were particularly wary of the theater because of the ever present possibility of improvisation, with the actors departing from the pre-approved script, in a live performance. Moreover, especially in the late sixties and early seventies, the military regime identified as one of its strongest opponents the alliance between college students, labor unions, and theater groups. Those were the days when the infamous Comando de Caça aos Comunistas had tacit government approval for actions such as the violent interruption in 1968 of a Grupo Oficina performance of Chico Buarque's Roda viva, followed by the virtual destruction of the theater where the play was being staged. Two years later, Julian Beck, Judith Malina and their Living Theater group, then on an extended visit to Brazil, were arrested, tortured, and expelled from the country.

Especially with the severe curtailment of the freedom of the press, the theater had a unique contribution to make, and not only because many of its own people were at the forefront of the resistance. In spite of arrests and torture experienced by Augusto Boal and others, the nation's dramatists seized the political moment and countered the victimization with an art form that was often as urgent as the confrontations on the streets. During the military dictatorship, and especially after the coup-within-the-coup of 1968, the historical approach became a particularly useful tool for committed dramatists. Because of the ruthless censorship then in effect, it became necessary for these playwrights to resort to metaphor in order to comment on the repressive regime. The colonial past, moreover, lent itself well to a metaphorical treatment of the contemporary situation because of the parallels in issues such as freedom of speech, human rights, torture, and the overall relation of power and oppression.

It is my contention in this paper that, in particular, the dramatic treatment of the question of treason is essential to an understanding of political protest drama in Brazil during the military regime. Using as historical frame the conflict between the Dutch and the Portuguese in colonial Brazil, no less than four contemporary playwrights (Geir Campos, Ledo Ivo, Chico Buarque and Ruy Guerra) have portrayed a single major historical figure in an effort to examine the concept of treason and its implications for modern-day audiences.

Brazilian-born Domingos Fernandes Calabar (c. 1600-1635) was a mestizo landowner who joined the Portuguese army in the fight to expel the Dutch from the booming, sugar-cane-rich Northeast area of Brazil in the first half of the seventeenth century. In 1632, reversing a series of Portuguese successes, the Dutch were able to gain control of much of the province of Pernambuco -thanks to the cooperation of Calabar, who, having switched sides, was given the rank of «major» in the Dutch colonial army. After several key battles, the Dutch, helped by Calabar's familiarity with the terrain, controlled most of the Northeast, from Bahia to Maranhão.   —557→   It took the Portuguese forces a quarter of a century and a major war effort to expel the Dutch and regain full control of the region in 1654.

In 1635, thanks to an informer, the Portuguese were able to capture Calabar and some two hundred Dutch soldiers in his hometown of Porto Calvo. Domingos Fernandes was summarily tried, found guilty of high treason, and hanged, after which his body was dismembered. It goes without saying that Calabar went down in Portuguese historiography as a traitor. Until fairly recently, with very few exceptions, Brazilian historians adopted this Portuguese position. But with the reemergence of Nationalism that accompanied Modernism and the Vargas and Kubitschek eras, the meaning of Calabar's gesture was reassessed. A contemporary scholar, Hércules Pinto, has even appended the epithet «o patriota» to the title of his study of Calabar (1976), while the subtitle of a recent biography by Flávio Guerra denotes the persistence of unresolved issues regarding Calabar's role; the book's subtitle is a question: «Traidor, vilão, ou idealista?» (1986). At any rate, the consensus among Brazilian historians today is that under the control of the Dutch Count Maurice of Nassau (Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, 1604-1679), the province of Pernambuco enjoyed religious freedom and experienced considerable economic, artistic, scientific, and urban progress-advances unthinkable under Portuguese rule.

It is surprising that, with the exception of a minor figure, Agrário de Meneses,78 the fiercely Nationalistic dramatists of Brazilian Romanticism and Modernism overlooked the significance of Calabar's gesture. Reacting both to that neglect and to Calabar's rehabilitated reputation, contemporary playwrights have undertaken the dramatic exploration of this major episode of Brazil's colonial history. The three plays examined in this paper are Geir Campos's O sonho de Calabar, Chico Buarque and Ruy Guerra's Calabar: O elogio da traição, and Ledo Ivo's Calabar. Because of their diverse configuration (Buarque and Guerra's work is a musical; the other two are fairly traditional dramatic poems), these works attain different degrees of success as theatrical representations of the circumstances attending Calabar's inner conflict and shifting loyalty. However, they share a belief in the use of historical subject matter in the theater as a way of casting light upon the contemporary state of affairs. The crucial events of Brazil's colonial past reconsidered in these plays are presented as valid commentary on the present-day political reality and as implements in bringing about desired social changes. With Enrique Buenaventura, Campos, Ivo, and Buarque and Guerra seem to be convinced that «aun cuando la obra sea del pasado o aun cuando se refiera a un tiempo lejano, continúa cuestionando la ideología y en caso de referirse al pasado lo hace para distanciarse del presente, para verlo mejor, para verlo como algo tan cambiante como el pasado y tan sometido a las leyes del cambio social como el pasado» (Buenaventura 1974: 95). In a study of these plays, several questions must be kept in mind: How can a man who was not a Portuguese citizen be accused of high treason to Portugal? How can a man who was actually not a citizen of any independent nation, and who thus had no legal citizenship, be accused of treason at all? If, at the time of Calabar's «desertion» Brazil was a Portuguese colony while Portugal was under Spanish occupation (1580-1640), what constitutes treason to a colony of a colony? If Calabar made his decision based on the well-being of his people and the progress of his land, was he not a good individual? Are traitors then good individuals in the context of colonialism? If Calabar knew, as he certainly did, that he could die for joining the Dutch, shouldn't his gesture be interpreted as a prefiguration of Brazilian patriotism? Almost two hundred years before Brazil became independent, wasn't this man shaping the future of his country when he understood and acted upon his belief that the liberal nature of Dutch capitalism was more conducive to an early independence than the backward, essentially predatory Portuguese colonization? Moreover, this committed theater seems to ask the spectator how Calabar's gesture relates to modern-day Brazil, whose economy is increasingly controlled by multinational corporations and foreign banks.

As its Prologue explains, Geir Campos's play gives dramatic configuration to a Portuguese priest's conjectural account of Calabar's dream of liberty for his land and his people. Following their recapture of Porto Calvo, the Dutch retaliated for the loss of Calabar and their soldiers by slaying those who did not flee with Matias de Albuquerque and his troops. A Portuguese survivor, Frei Manoel dos Oculos, is brought to the presence of the Dutch governor of Brazil and his chiefs of staff, who urge the priest to record the events that led to the execution of Calabar by the Portuguese. Frei Manoel Calado do Salvador, also known as Frei Manoel dos Óculos, is a historical figure who lived between 1584 and 1654. He is the author of the two-volume   —558→   O Valeroso Lucideno e O Triunfo da Liberdade, published in Lisbon (Vol I, 1648; Vol 2, 1668), which is one of the very few surviving contemporary accounts of the Portuguese struggle to oust the Dutch from the Northeast of Brazil.

Agreeing to comply with General Lichthardt's request, Frei Manoel announces the title of his work, O triunfo da liberdade, which immediately arouses the suspicion of a Dutch colonel, who charges that «O padre vai contar a história à moda dele» (23). Indeed, in the three acts that follow the Prologue, Frei Manoel provides not the historical record envisioned by the Dutch officers but a fictionalized account of the last months of Calabar's life. The inaccuracies contained in Frei Manoel's lines parallel those found in O Valeroso Lucideno, an encomiastic work whose title refers to João Fernandes Vieira (1602-1681), one of the leaders of the Portuguese armed resistance.

Campos's play is only relatively successful in conveying the complexity of the priest's position in real life. For all practical purposes a prisoner of the Dutch, Frei Manoel claimed to be writing Calabar's story from the Dutch perspective, when all along he was in fact producing a pro-Portuguese text. Furthermore, he accepted Nassau's financial support, which caused him considerable harassment from his religious superiors, who were fiercely loyal to the Catholic Portuguese in their struggle against the Protestant Dutch. It is clear, then, that Frei Manoel, too, might qualify as a traitor to at least one of the parties involved. The playwright, however, chooses not to explore in the priest's character the concurrent issues of power and risk involved in the act of writing in a colonial society -that is, on one hand the power wielded by the holder of a monopoly on knowledge or by the privileged source of information for future generations; and on the other hand the risk posed in threatening the status quo defended by contemporaries who are in control of the political process.

Likewise detrimental to Campos's play is the absence in Frei Manoel's speeches of any attempt to foreground the discourse of the colonizing powers by contraposing passages from O Valeroso Lucideno with the audience's knowledge of historical fact. Campos's decision to downplay such potential diversions from the main thrust of his work is readily understandable. However, one cannot help but regret that in doing so the playwright chose to emphasize not the ambiguities in Frei Manoel's role, but rather the tendentiousness of his position with regard to Calabar's gesture; this the play shows none too subtly. As a result, the spectator is able to discern the priest's distortions much faster than even the wariest Dutch officer. And consequently, the historian-priest loses his credibility much too soon, the political stance he supports is compromised beyond rescue, and any possibility of internal conflict is eliminated.

Frei Manoel himself serves as narrator and commentator in frequent addresses to the audience. It is not until the latter part of the third act that he participates directly in the action, in two consecutive interchanges, one with the Portuguese commander, Matias de Albuquerque, and the other with Calabar. These scenes are of central importance not because they provide irrefutable evidence of Frei Manoel's allegiance to the Portuguese cause, but because of the dramatic representation of Calabar's plight in the hands of the Portuguese. In the former scene, the priest's intervention convinces Albuquerque to deny Calabar the treatment that was due to him as an officer of an enemy Army, and thus to proceed with the prisoner's execution without formulating the legally mandated appeal to the King of Spain. In the latter scene, Frei Manoel's attempts to make Calabar admit to guilt and regret are met with the bitterness of a fighter who has come to realize the essential similarity of all types of colonial rule. Summing up his mistake in believing that the Dutch might be the lesser of two or three colonial evils, Calabar says to Frei Manoel, «[Agora sei que o que os holandeses fizeram foi] A mesma coisa que já haviam feito, antes, os portugueses [e] depois, os espanhóis... Na prepotência, na injustiça, no egoísmo ... para mim [os três] são iguais. Lamento agora ter servido à Holanda, da mesma forma que lamento ter servido à Espanha e a Portugal» (148-49).

Toward the end, the attitude of Frei Manoel the character is in sharp contrast with that of a much less committed commentator, one whose wavering prevents an outright condemnation of Calabar, and whose position is in fact best defined by his, and the play's, last speech, a rewording of his comment to the audience at the closing of the Prologue:

A memória é um fio fino,
A língua é um tosco tear:
De tantas coisas contadas
E tantas deixadas no ar,
Tire cada um a lição
Desta vivida ou sonhada
História de Calabar!


The spirit if not the letter of these last lines   —559→   («Tire cada um a lição desta história») recurs in Ledo Ivo's Calabar. Ivo's play, like Campos's, is a dramatic poem, but unlike Campos's work, Ivo's Calabar is more concerned with establishing parallels with the present political situation than with investigating historical accuracy. Thus, instead of a large cast of historical figures, Ivo's play includes only three anonymous characters (a Native of Alagoas, a Scribe, and a Tourist), the voice of a commentator, and the widow of Calabar, who only appears at the very end to deliver the closing speech. Moreover, as in Guerra and Buarque's play, Calabar himself is not seen on stage, since most of the events referred to followed his execution, and (in Ivo's play) the action itself takes place in contemporary Brazil.

The Tourist plays the student to the Scribe's and Alagoano's instructors. His first speech, upon his arrival in Porto Calvo, already reveals some distrust of the official rendition of Calabar's story. In an almost apologetic tone, the Tourist readily concedes his former naïveté: «Limiteime a repetir / o que aprendi na escola / e as conversas que ouvi / da boca dos patriotas» (15). Such suspicion is of course fertile ground for the Scribe's teaching, from the initial series of rhetorical questions (14-15), through a barrage of riddles and distorted proverbs (34-35, 37, 38), to his final remarks, as he apparently despairs of lecturing to the slow learner under his charge (45-46).

The Alagoano proves to be a less enigmatic teacher, as he comments unambiguously on the similarities between the political situation in Brazil then and now:

Senhor Turista,
eis o Nordeste: quanto mais rico
mais pobre fica.
Quanto mais cresce
mais diminui.
Quanto mais ganha
tanto mais perde.
Foi sempre assim
desde os bons tempos
de Portugal
e das Espanhas
e das Holandas.
Chegam as naus
e levam tudo,
desde o que é grande
ao que é miúdo.


The Tourist's search for the tomb of Calabar brings to the fore the similarities in the past and present political moments, for just as Calabar's grave has never been found, the burial sites of hundreds of victims of the military regime have yet to be located. Domingos Fernandes is thus identified not only with present-day guerilla fighting but also with the mystical, Messianic longing of the nordestino for the coming of a warrior who is to lead the fight for his redemption. As the playwright himself explained in an interview,

Desde os tempos da guerra holandesa... o povo nordestino vive a esperança. Nós... ainda estamos esperando que alguém... venha salvar-nos. A presença do deus-guerreiro, no poema, corresponde no fundo a uma multissecular esperança do povo, ao ancestral sonho coletivo... A busca ao túmulo do guerrilheiro... é uma metáfora... do Brasil dos nossos dias, que não se conforma em não buscar e remexer o passado... Os povos precisam de sua própria memória... e da experiência individual coletiva para... reconstruirem as suas vidas.

(Ivo 1986: 8)                

In order to stress further the likeness of the two historical periods, the Alagoano's speeches are pervaded with regional dialect and allusions to contemporary Brazil. In time, his interventions establish an essential identity between Calabar and his people. Such equivalence is initially worded in connection with the situation of the landless peasants (17-18); later, the identity is illustrated with a reference to the Northeast's urban dispossessed (25); finally, the correspondence is stated in no uncertain terms when the Alagoano responds to the Tourist's demand that the townspeople reveal Calabar's real identity:

Só sei o que sei
nem mais e nem menos.
Tudo o que aprendi
foi andando e vendo.
Major Calabar
não é de alto sangue
não foi nenhum nobre.
Foi como eu sou hoje.
Foi um bunda-suja,
um homem do povo


The Voice heard offstage fulfills several functions. First and foremost, as a commentator, it places the meaning of Calabar's gesture in the context of the political reality confronting the spectator:

Calabar é todo este ar
da pátria que respiramos.
É voz que fala escondida
em nosso tempo de mudos.
É o grito que escutamos
em nosso tempo de surdos.
Calabar está em tudo


Calabar's significance to contemporary Brazil is   —560→   most forcefully stated when the Voice alludes to the fate of the political activists and the disappeared of the sixties and seventies:

Calabar mora no túmulo
secreto dos guerrilheiros.
Mora na cova escondida
dos que morreram querendo
mudar a ordem do mundo.
Seus restos esquartejados
estão dispersos na vala dos desaparecidos
que, embora pertençam à morte,
ainda pertencem à vida,
vivos enterrados
enterrados vivos


It is noteworthy that at one point the Voice becomes the mouthpiece for Domingos Fernandes himself. Addressing his country, Calabar equates Brazil's past and future with those of the New World:

Todos nós somos a América: esta miséria cercada de ouro,
estes homens acocorados que nos olham
como os índios expulsos de suas tabas
ou os negros que ainda hoje buscam os seus
deuses derrubados e as suas pátrias perdidas.
Somos a América. Nosso futuro está no passado,
como a aurora antes do meio-dia e o
candelabro das constelações quebrado pelo sol.
Nosso futuro está no futuro
quando o povo sonha e é a América
pátria de ouro e diamante
raiz que no fundo da terra guarda o dia e o sol.


In its last intervention, the Voice assumes the role of a Greek chorus in pronouncing a final curse on those who killed Domingos Fernandes. Addressing the dead man by his rank in the Dutch Army, the speech combines the curse with a last remark on the urgency that Calabar's struggle has for contemporary Brazil:

Major Calabar,
soldado de que pátria,
na Pátria sem pátria,
quem te matou, que beba
teu sangue derramado.
E nele mate a sede
de ver-te esquartejado.
Oh, Domingos Fernandes
Calabar, mulato
além de bastardo!
Ainda hoje te chamam
de contrabandista ladrão de cavalo
e filho da puta,
sinal de que ainda
não terminou a luta
e nos ares de fogo
chovem chuvas escuras
de pólvora e calúnia.


The work closes with a long speech by a woman in black, identified as Calabar's widow. Standing centerstage, the motionless woman delivers her sole speech in the play, in which she expresses her rage at those who have brought about her present state of emotional and material deprivation. A scathing condemnation of all who have contributed, albeit indirectly, to her husband's infamy, the widow's last words refer to our own, as well as Calabar's, contemporaries:

Malditos sejam os que perdoam, mil vezes malditos
sejam os que esquecem!
Maldito seja o dia de hoje, vento negro
que derrubou um cavalo branco


By far the best known of these three plays, Buarque and Guerra's Calabar: O elogio da traição is also the one that raised the strongest objections of the censorship bureau.79 The play was banned from the stage until 1980, and the release of the album containing 11 of its songs was not allowed until the recording company (Phillips) agreed to delete segments from some of the songs (as «Fado Tropical» and «Bárbara») or remove the entire lyrics, as in «Vence na vida quern diz sim». Nor was the title permitted to appear on the album cover; in fact, the censors rejected every design submitted to them, except for a plain white cover bearing only the composer's name in small print. The title did appear on the book cover, which reproduced Regina Vater's concept originally designed for the album cover. Vater had the name Calabar «subversively» inscribed in white paint on a dilapidated wall. The printed text itself fared better with the censors, who were generally more lenient with literature than the other arts, given the cost of books and their relatively small potential audiences. The book was kept in print for most of the seventies, and had reached the tenth edition by the time the so-called «abertura» (liberalization of the regime) was implemented toward the end of the decade.

Buarque and Guerra's Calabar unmistakably states the urgent relevance of Domingos Fernandes to modern-day Brazil. Their work was written at a time when the Brazilian military, not unlike its seventeenth-century Portuguese counterparts, was invoking the need for a climate of tranquility that would foster economic growth. In the name of «national security», the regime suppressed virtually all intelligent discussion, not to mention dissent, in the country. Thus, the text frequently alludes to contemporary discontent, from depiction of torture (2-3) to references   —561→   to jingoism (51), conformism (80-81), authoritarian discourse (91), and Brazil's imperialistic practices toward its poorer neighbors (16). The military regime's assumptions are denounced in wild parody, as in the last song, «O elogio da traição», a takeoff on General Juracy Magalhães's outrageous statement, «O que é bom para os Estados Unidos é bom para o Brasil» (93). In addition, episodes of colonial history traditionally depicted in grave and solemn tones are ridiculed, as when Matias de Albuquerque and the Dutch commander negotiate the terms of the latter's capitulation while defecating in an outhouse (16-23). As Fernando Peixoto insists, both roles must be played by the same actor so as to stress the essential similarity of the two kinds of imperialism (or of any kind of imperialism) and also to stress the similar fates of the two men, who were eventually charged with betraying the interests of the Crown in the colony -the Portuguese Crown in the case of Albuquerque and the Dutch State in the case of Nassau (1980: 156).

As I indicated above, most of the events depicted in Buarque and Guerra's play are subsequent to the Dutch defeat in Porto Calvo and the Portuguese capture of Calabar, who does not take part in the action. Central to the musical are Domingos Fernandes's wife, Bárbara, and her relationship with Sebastião do Souto, the informer who was instrumental in the capture and consequent execution of her husband. While Bárbara is convinced of Calabar's heroic stature, she denounces his former friends, Souto, the Indian Felipe Camarão and the freed slave Henrique Dias -the three men revered as founding fathers of the Brazilian nationality- for their cynicism, ambition, and lack of vision (37-42). As Bárbara castigates the three men, the rolling of drums signals Calabar's execution offstage.

The fact that Bárbara has had an affair with Sebastião introduces an additional dimension to an already complex weaving of loyalty and betrayal. In the wake of Calabar's death, as Bárbara struggles to justify her infidelity and also to comprehend Sebastião's amorality and remorselessness, she ponders the meaning of treason in several key speeches. When Sebastião reminds her that he too is a traitor, Bárbara rebuts his claim, noting that his vile naming of names is not to be compared to Calabar's vehement gesture:

Pobre Sebastião, você não sabe o que é trair. Você não passa de um delator. Um alcagüete. Sebastião, tira as botas. Põe os pés no chão. As mãos no chão, põe Sebastião, e lambe a terra. O que é que você sente? Calabar sabia o gosto da terra e a terra de Calabar vai ter sempre o mesmo sabor. Quanto a você, você está engolindo o estrume do rei de passagem. Se você tivesse a dignidade de vomitar, aí sim, talvez eu lhe beijasse a boca. Calabar vomitou o que lhe enfiaram pela goela. Foi essa a sua traição. A terra e não as sobras do rei. A terra e não a bandeira. Em vez da coroa, a terra.


After Sebastião dies, a Dutch woman called Anna de Amsterdam tries to comfort Bárbara with lavish attention, gifts, and love. Reacting to Anna's remark on the similarities in the actions of both men, Bárbara offers one of the play's most damning commentaries on the contemporary situation:

Tudo isto aqui em volta, tudo continua a rodar sem eles. Tudo isso que fez Calabar trair... Sebastião enlouquecer... Não valia a pena morrer por isto... Ha... Calabar... Queria que Calabar estivesse vivo, só para ter uma idéia do que se chama traição.


Later, Bárbara closes her rebuke of Frei Manoel's subservience to the various oppressors with a reference to an image of regeneration borrowed from a Brazilian folktale:

Um dia este país há de ser independente. Dos holandeses, dos espanhóis, [dos] portugueses... Mas isso requer muito traidor. Muito Calabar. E não basta enforcar, retalhar, picar... Calabar não morre. Calabar é cobra de vidro. E o povo jura que o [sic] cobra de vidro é uma espécie de lagarto que quando se corta em dois, três, mil pedaços, facilmente se refaz.


As in Ivo's Calabar, the last speech in Buarque and Guerra's play is Bárbara's. Addressing the audience in the formal vós treatment, Bárbara implies that the spectators too are guilty of treason, and urges them to revel in the «mistérios da traição» (93). Bárbara's expressed hatred for «ouvinte[s] de memória fiel demais» contrasts with her counterpart's final curse in Ivo's play, «mil vezes malditos sejam os que esquecem». At first glance the statement in Ivo's work seems a more logical reaction to the situation than does Bárbara's call, in Buarque's play, for partial disregard for historical authenticity; but the fact is that the conclusion of Ivo's play is virtually necessitated by the limitations of the dramatic poem -and the same can be said of Frei Manoel's final speech in Campos's work.

History in these plays functions, then, as the «magnifying agent» that, as Herbert Lindenberger has stated, «creates specialized perspectives through which we experience [the spectacle]» (1975: xi). However, a comparison of the effectiveness of the three works suggests that the dramatic poem -the form used by Campos and Ivo- may not be as adequate a medium for the representation of events from the national past in contemporary historical drama as the Brechtian frame chosen by Buarque and Guerra.   —562→   Furthermore, the lesser impact that stagings of the first two plays have had, seems to indicate that the conventions of that mode may seriously hinder a play's power when the dramatic text is translated into the so-called performance text. On the other hand, Buarque and Guerra's use of song and music to underscore action, as well as other elements of Brechtian theater, allows for a more vivid and theatrically effective investigation of the contingencies and repercussions of Calabar's gesture. Moreover, Buarque and Guerra's Calabar is a more successful work because its form lends itself well to an examination of the notions of loyalty and treason in the light of Brecht's concept of the hero. As we know, Brechtian theater demythologizes the hero by presenting him in such a way as to stimulate conscious or critical rather than blind imitation. Besides, as Martin Esslin points out,

the Brechtian theatre is a theatre designed to arouse indignation in the audience, dissatisfaction, a realization of contradictions -it is a theatre supremely fitted for... denunciation, therefore essentially a negative theatre. That is why Brecht' s plays conspicuously lack positive heroes, why the good characters are invariably crushed and defeated.

(1960: 153)                

Several features in Calabar render him particularly attractive as a Brechtian character: the switch in loyalties, the bitterness, the final defeat. Whatever empathy the audience feels for him is tempered by reason and criticism. Through distantiation devices we are repeatedly made aware of the fact that what we are watching is a theatrical representation, not a faithful reproduction of reality. And all along we are asked to reflect on, and draw lessons from the short scenes, songs and music with which we are presented. This, and the fact that we know that the actions Calabar was involved in happened in the past, at a certain time, in a certain place, and with a certain outcome, place Buarque and Guerra's play squarely in the epic theater tradition. For the epic theater, to quote Esslin again, «is strictly historical; it constantly reminds the audience that they are merely getting a report of past events» (1960: 134).

In a 1979 article on Buarque and Guerra's Calabar, Daniel Zalacain builds his analysis of the play around a distinction between the concepts of «high treason» and «low treason». The essay disregards the key relation in the work between treason and subversion of the notion of the hero, focusing instead on a contrast between Calabar's actions (which are called «high treason») and Souto's conduct (termed «low treason»), apparently ignoring Bárbara's caveat against trying to draw distinctions between the two attitudes. Such artificial separation amounts to a critical dead end, which is in fact inevitable if one attempts the futile task of «ranking» expressions of resistance by the oppressed in the context of a dependent culture. I am convinced that the issue is more adequately addressed in the terms proposed by Jean Franco in her 1975 article, «Dependency Theory and Literary History in Latin America». Instead of focusing on questionable differences in degree that might be detected in responses by the colonized, it is more fruitful to consider, as Franco does, the fact that from the Conquest onwards, the colonizer and the colonized were separated on the basis of culture, with the dominant group appropriating the power to determine the validity of expression, political or otherwise, thus relegating the native inhabitants to a role or position of dependency.

Although Franco does not examine the situation in colonial Brazil, it can easily be adapted to fit the framework she proposes. In the case of the Portuguese colony, the dependent group will include a new, fundamental element, namely the African slaves the Portuguese imported to the sugarcane plantations of the Northeast starting around 1550. At the time of Calabar's «treason», the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Dutch were putting to work the mercantilist mindset -a trait they shared as metropolitan powers vying for hegemony in the area. Dependency theory posits a direct relation between the development of dominant powers such as these three and the existence of dependent economies; in other words, we cannot treat the two terms as if they were separable; or still in other words, underdevelopment is structurally linked to development in the dominant nation (Franco 1975: 67).

In the context of the works under consideration, regardless of which colonial power is being affected, treason becomes a native's reaction to the superimposition of foreign structures on his land's economy. Moreover, Calabar's frustration at the end of his life results from his realization of the essential similarity of the three colonial powers, as well as from his failure to channel decades of latent defiance on the part of the oppressed into armed struggle. Calabar's example was not to be in vain, though; it bore fruit, and rather quickly. A major outbreak of colonial rebellion was to start only two years after his death, when a «quilombo», or run-away slave republic, was formed at Palmares, located only a few miles   —563→   from Calabar's birthplace in Porto Calvo.80 In spite of frequent Portuguese attacks, Palmares thrived for more than half a century as the first successful independent territory in the Americas, an early forerunner of Frantz Fanon's vision of the struggle between Colonizer and Colonized.

By way of conclusion, it seems evident that, problems with form notwithstanding, these contemporary dramatic examinations of a key chapter in Brazilian history convincingly allude to the perpetuation of a colonial situation in contemporary Brazil. With varying degrees of success, these three works consider treason as an instrument of resistance for the oppressed, regardless of historical time (the 1630s or the 1960s) or identity of the oppressor (the Portuguese sugarcane barons, the Dutch West Indies Company, or the Brazilian Armed Forces).

The problematic character of historical narratives has been stressed by Michel Foucault and other thinkers. Moreover, as Hayden White suggests in Metahistory, «it is possible to view historical consciousness as a... prejudice by which the presumed superiority of [a certain] society can be retroactively substantiated» (1973: 2). This would mean that as works of art, these historical plays constitute an additional distortion of an already twisted discourse, namely, the body of written accounts put forth by the Luso-Brazilian majority as the indisputable version of national history. It stands to reason, then, that the very mode of the three plays examined here automatically endows them with yet another element of betrayal, which, I believe, only adds to the impact as works of art of these attempts to revise Brazilian colonial history. Less interested in settling the issue of Calabar's martyrdom than in provoking serious debate about the meaning of loyalty and national identity in times of political repression and in the context of a dependent culture, these plays must in the final analysis be submitted to critical scrutiny for the dramatic effectiveness with which they bring to the fore the manifold ambiguities the colonized face in reacting to the hegemonic rule of the colonizer.


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