Beautiful Bandit

Maria Bonita, Better Half of
Brazil’s Riskiest Love Story

It’s easy to romanticize about outlaws who fall in love, lead a trailblazing life, and burn out like shooting stars, leaving the holes in their story to be filled with awe by future generations. As legends recede, it’s ever harder to match them with reality.
But the life of Maria Déia and Capt. Virgulino Ferreira da Silva sure packs all the heat those landmarks evoke, placing them at the rarefied pantheon of anti-hero couples whose feats and memory still transfix the living, no matter how much time has passed.
As infamous leaders of a ragtag bunch, who terrorized the hinterlands of Brazil’s Northeast and entranced the nation in the 1930s, Maria Bonita and Lampião are at par with contemporaries Bonnie and Clyde, and after them, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.
They all rose quickly from the anonymity of underprivileged classes to news headlines by the way of the gun, leaving a trail littered with crime and death in their wake, but also, a surprising tenderness, represented by their mutual affection.
But while Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were not lovers, and Charles may have manipulated Caril Ann to follow him, Maria Bonita (Beautiful Maria) and Virgulino (lampião means oil lamp, but his nickname is a reference to his lethal firepower) did it all together.
They were equals and in synch in both love and killing skills, although she may’ve been demonized by the Brazilian press at the time, because she was a woman. How fitting then that Sunday, March 8th, the International Women’s Day, also marks her 104th birthday.

QUEEN AND KING OF CANGAÇO
Lampião, 14 years her senior, was already a wanted bandit when he met and literally swept Maria off her feet, around 1930, in the arid Sertão of Brazil, in 1930. A kind of local Robin Hood, he’d avowed to avenge his parents’ deaths in the hands of government soldiers.
When she joined in, Maria became a de-facto co-leader of his gang, which certainly benefited from her charisma. They became folk heroes and it’s not hard to picture how the impoverished populace embraced their fight against enforcers of big landowners and corrupt politicians.
Lampião’s campaign lasted some 16 years, and even as Maria could have played Marian to his Robin exploits, the cangaceiros, as they were known, were closer, by the violence of their robberies, to brothers Frank and Jesse James of the American Old West.
Constantly on the move, despite their frugal and brutally harsh living conditions, the group enjoyed a certain notoriety in the underdeveloped rural Brazil, and their reputation spread out to the rest of the country. That may have doomed them.

BRIEF FAME & GRUESOME DEMISE
This rare 1936 set of pictures were taken by Lebanon-born Brazilian Benjamin Abrahão, and captured Lampião and his gang at their peak. Coincidentally, just two years later, both them and Abrahão were killed a few months apart by government forces.
But while the photographer was stabbed several times by an unknown attacker – presumably under orders of Getulio Vargas, Brazil’s dictator and/or his Estado Novo regime, Lampião was mercilessly hunted down through the Caatinga region and executed along his gang. Their severed heads were publicly displayed for weeks afterwards.
The irony is that, back in the 1920s, Virgulino Ferreira received the honorary Captaincy post as a license to hunt down Luis Carlos Prestes, a Communist politician and the leader of the Coluna Prestes, another sad chapter in Brazil’s politics. Look it up.
Since not much was left from Lampião’s cavalcade at the margins of law and state, more than to a credo of rebellion and fight for the oppressed, the endurance of his legacy may be credited mostly to his romance with Maria Bonita. Or at least, that’s how they’re remembered.

A PASSION SPROUTED OUT OF DRY LAND
That’s when their legend leaves the outlaw narrative and reverses back to tragic romances, real or fictional, such as Abelard and Heloise, or Tristan and Isolde, even Romeo and Juliet. Including a contemporary couple here too, such as John and Yoko, would be entirely up to you.
Their stories all share this sense of inevitability and doom, a powerful magnet that attracted them for a moment – as brief as breath and as intense as the sun – which somehow seized our imagination and split time in clearly defined before and after eras.
The world, though, is always partial to generals and warriors, loners who supposedly change history on the sheer strength of their individual drives. We don’t particularly care for any of them. Instead, we find that even romanticized love narratives distill more life and reality.
It may have something to do with the intrinsic boredom underlining winning stories, however earthshaking they may be, and how so utterly devoid of grace and heart a victor’s proclamation can be. We tend to get richer and more fulfilled with loss than with gains.
At the end of the day, Maria and the Capt.; the Capuleti and the Montecchi; Peter, the Sherwood thief, and their beloved nuns; Wagner and Mathilde; Bonnie and Barrow, Caril Ann and Chuck; even Lennon and Ono, are just flesh and blood people.
Their love affairs, however, will always outlast them all.
_______
Read Also:
* Women’s Day
* The Body of Choice
* Phony Outrage

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4 thoughts on “Beautiful Bandit

  1. Jorge says:

    Confesso que sou fascinado pelas histórias desse período do cangaço. Tenho algum material editado e gravações em vídeos. Interessante tb é a estética que eles criaram, produzindo objetos, vestimentas e acessórios. Para saber mais:

    ESTRELAS DE COURO – A ESTÉTICA DO CANGAÇO
    Frederico Pernambucano de Mello, Ed. Escrituras

    Resultado de pesquisa minuciosa, Estrelas de couro – A estética do cangaço, do historiador Frederico Pernambucano de Mello, autor do já clássico Guerreiros do sol (publicado em 1985), coroa quase 40 anos de estudos sobre o cangaço – desta vez, abordando especialmente a estética, os símbolos e os trajes de Lampião, Corisco e outros bandoleiros emblemáticos. Em linguagem sofisticada, quase poética, Pernambucano de Mello, escritor inserido na linhagem intelectual (e familiar) de Gilberto Freyre e Evaldo Cabral de Mello, descreve o dia a dia dos cangaceiros, seu cotidiano nas agruras do sertão e agreste nordestinos, trazendo de volta à vida aqueles que, segundo ele, são um exemplo nítido do “irredentismo coletivo, armado, popular e metarracial brasileiro”. Afinal, para ele, “os objetos falam”. E é justamente através dos objetos, muitos de sua coleção particular (possivelmente a maior do país), que o autor penetra no mundo dos cangaceiros, seus hábitos, seu estilo de vida.
    A indumentária daqueles homens, neste caso, só seria comparável à dos cavaleiros medievais e à dos samurais. Em um ambiente cinzento e árido, usariam roupas coloridas, trabalhadas com esmero, com o objetivo maior de lhes proporcionar uma voz singular, um rosto, uma personalidade. Os símbolos “mágicos” nos chapéus, por outro lado, cumpririam não só uma função estética, mas também lhes dariam proteção, ou seja, uma “blindagem mística”. Por isso, o uso do signo de Salomão, estrela de oito pontas, cruz de malta e flor de lis, por exemplo, vestígios quinhentistas e seiscentistas que teriam permanecido até quase meados do século XX, uma clara referência do autor à força exercida pela cultura e pelas mentalidades dentro de uma análise histórica de longa duração.
    Também cabe destacar aqui a beleza das fotos e ilustrações do livro, os capítulos referentes aos punhais, chapéus e trajes de volantes e cangaceiros, assim como a assimilação de Lampião e seu grupo na cultura nacional, em pinturas, revistas, jornais, sambas, canções populares, cordéis, cinema e literatura. Em suma, um livro imperdível.

    Luiz Bernardo Pericás
    Historiador e autor do livro Os cangaceiros – Ensaio de interpretação histórica (Boitempo Editorial)

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    • colltales says:

      Que interessante, Carlinhos. Esta intuição deles, de usarem símbolos e indumentária específica, se percebe mais do que as motivações que possivelmente ele teria, em ‘fazer justiça,’ mas certamente não seriam tão importantes pra eles se não tivessem um contexto social assim. Acho que vai se descobrir mais sobre eles e a quase ideologia do Cangaço que professavam. Mesmo em tão pouco tempo, naquele ambiente brutal, e sem ser ostensivamente religiosos, só mesmo algum ideário incipiente deve tê-los motivado a continuar. A tentação de entregar o bando deve ter sido muito forte, mas ele, e ela, resistiram até o final. No meu artigo, foquei na estória de amor, que não deve ter sido tão romântica como muitos vêem, mas certamente era real, pra ter resistido. Valeu mesmo. Um abraço

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  2. unclerave says:

    Reblogged this on Unclerave's Wordy Weblog and commented:
    Happy International Women’s Day

    Like

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