Pedagogia da Terra, Novelas & Football…

Parabéns em Movimento

(“Congratulations to the Movement,” by an anonymous authors’ collective/ published by the Cultural Sector of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement on the occasion of ist 25th anniversary)

Parabéns dos seus amigos e do seu povo sem terra/Pelos 25 anos de história. Viva a luta pela terra (2x)/Quando a bandeira vermelha subiu, o latifúndio tremeu/ Quando uma parte do campo floriu a Mãe Terra agradeceu/ Dignidade rompeu a porteira, sorriso de assentamento/ Viva e reviva MST, parabéns em Movimento (2x) […]/ Quando a bandeira vermelha subiu, o sonho aconteceu/ Colhendo os frutos da rebeldia, um novo ser renasceu/ Seguindo em marcha abre caminhos rumo au novo amanhecer/ São 25 anos de luta, viva o MST! […]

Congratulations from your friends and from your landless people/ For 25 years of history. Long live the struggle for land (2x)/ When the red flag went up and the landlords trembled/ When one part of the field bloomed the Mother Earth acknowledged us/ Dignity broke in and the settlement smiled/ Live and relive MST, congratulations to the Movement (2x) [...]/ When the red flag went up, the dream came/ Reaping the fruits of the rebellion, a new being was reborn/ Keeping on protesting opens up paths towards a new dawn/ 25 years of struggle, Long live the MST! [...] (Setor de Cultura do MST, 2009, p. 16) (translation by the author).

The Landless Movement highly values the arts and expresses itself in music, poetry and theatre (Arenhart, 2006, p. 63; Associação Nacional de Cooperação Agricola, 2002, pp. 22-23). The Movement considers these arts to be mystical elements that bring together its members, are constitutive of the Pedagogia do Movimento Sem Terra, and make up part of the Landless Workers’ identity, as Roseli Caldart [1] writes (2002). This cultural production goes together with the emergence of new subjectivities and demarcates “otherness,” i.e. differentiates the Landless Workers from other social groups – both in their own and in others’ eyes (da Silva-Bereta, 2003; Leite-Ferreira & Dimenstein, 2006). When one visits a Landless Workers’ settlement, one will find plenty of evidence of its history, in interior decoration, printed on T-shirts, represented by photos of massacres, written poems, or CDs with Landless Workers’ music, as the song presented above. This pedagogia does not however dominate all everyday life domains:

The evening comes. I am quite tired and want to retreat to the room where I sleep, but remain for a moment in a space that could be called the “living room,” where the whole family sits – not on but in front of – the sofa, so that their backs are against the sofa and their legs stretched out in front of them. There is a football match, and everybody – including the female family members and children – watch with enthusiasm. I have never been a fan of watching TV, not movies, matches, soap operas, or game shows. However, the scene is quite interesting for my ethnography:

I observe the huge flat screen TV, which I have seen everywhere I have been in Brazil – in intellectuals’ apartments, favelas, or Guarani Indian wooden houses. There is a TV table, quite luxurious, with extra space for a CD player and speakers that also look new and fancy. The sofa reminds me of the sofa in my middle-class parents’ living room. For a moment I forget where I am. But then the posters depicting historical moments of the Landless Workers’ struggles draw my attention. They are hanging on the wall behind the sofa, opposite the TV. Everybody is seated so they are facing the television and not the posters – except me. I am in-between spaces, between staying here and going to my room, on the threshold of once more entering the private – very private – space of my host family or going back to my own private space, my notebook, my thoughts. 

Everybody wants me to sit next to him or her. Fernanda, the youngest daughter of the family, is amazed by my presence there and tells me how much she likes football. Her parents affirm this statement quite proudly, and then I ask what everyone likes to watch: do they usually watch football? The mother/wife of the family, Maria, says that her preference is novelas, Brazilian soap operas. However, she also likes football, and does not complain as my European female friends would have done about Ernesto’s decision to watch the football match. “Football for men,” (but also for women)  “and novelas for women,” says Ernesto. I pretend to be interested in football for a few more minutes – I don’t want to disappoint anyone or be impolite – and then indeed retreat to my private space. 

I am easily allowed to do this because tomorrow is an important day: I will get up early and join Ernesto in preparing Churrasco (ox barbecue), a typical Brazilian food (Ernesto’s family bought the whole animal alive –which is one of the few goods that Landless people need to buy – and a group of men would make all the necessary preparations for the barbecue). It is Friday evening and festivities are planned for the whole weekend: a lot of churrasco will be consumed…

At most of the Landless Workers’ settlements where I was, no one spoke about the global economic crisis or Brazilian economic policies, open questions about organic farming were very little discussed, and there were no reading groups to discuss newspaper articles, classic political economical analyses, or reports by other organic producers elsewhere in the world. Somehow the interest was not there, and a feeling dominated that it was not necessary because a lot had already been achieved. People did not discuss their dependence on money and technologies that they could not produce on their own, or about the future of the movement. Even the settlement itself was organized so that public space was limited.[2]

Has the “identity project” of the Landless Workers become a “closed” or “finished” one without new questions to discuss, as we asked at the beginning of this analysis? What role do the symbolic elements of the Movement currently play? Can it be that they are just decorative and reminiscent of another era? While in the field, it seemed to me that only the Landless Workers’ Newspaper celebrated their 25 year anniversary and still referred to open issues (Direção Nacional do MST, 2009). It also seemed to me that politics and knowledge production were taking place elsewhere – maybe at the central offices of the Landless Workers’ Movement, or in the new land occupations – but not in the “established” settlements, as I had imagined.

[1] Roseli Caldart is one of the main female intellectual figures of the Landless Movement. She supported the movement from the very beginning, and although she enjoyed an upper-middle class urban lifestyle, she chose to become a landless worker while continuing her work as an academic.

[2] There were two distinct modes of spatial organization in the settlements: either one house situated next to one field, or all houses grouped together with all fields somewhere else In both types of spatial organization, the only “public” spaces were the school, an area that – if it existed –was collectively cultivated, and a church. The Landless Workers organize themselves in middle-class families, and I wonder if this organization is related to the official and unofficial involvement of many Christian agents in the movement, as the Church has been very supportive of the movement since the very beginning (cf. Associação Nacional de Cooperação Agricola, 2002). It is, of course, possible that people would not watch soap operas and football if an urgent state of affairs was again present. Indeed, there have been conflicts about collective goods, and at other times people have been concerned about their aging communities as young people move to the cities, or have shared their anger about the low prices at which their products are sold. Very often the Landless Workers help each other out: from very practical things, like transporting something heavy, to quite complex situations, like organizing medical treatment or collecting goods for nearby encampments. However, I had imagined a radically different situation before visiting the settlements, and by my standards the few situations in which a public space was enacted could not be interpreted as implying an overall active political stance by the Landless Workers living in settlements.