“Alter do Chão has a history as a matriarchal village,” Neca explains. “If you did a survey here, you would see that 70 percent of households are run by women.” Dona Lusia never married. “She never allowed herself to be subdued by a man,” says her daughter. “She raised us all on her own.”
Dona Lusia occupied a position of importance when it came to joint ceremonies, cooking, rituals, crafts and storytelling. Neca says her mother was both festive and a fighter. Rituals are a part of these people’s intense lives, and the struggle to prevent their rituals from disappearing is a struggle for their own unique lifestyle.
For Dona Lusia, the effort to save the traditions of her community was also a way to regain her childhood life. When she was 10 years old, the celebration of Sairé, Borari’s annual festival, was banned by the Catholic Church. “It wasn’t until 1960 that people started meeting and holding the Sairé ceremony again,” Neca says. “It was more about dances and rituals than prayer. There were maybe 20 people. ” As one of “commander”- as her daughter puts it – Dona Lusia was instrumental in the efforts to regain Sairé. “Our original rituals, our Amazon carimbó dance. All the dances we have here. She was all for prayer, but she was most preoccupied with the question of dance. She always supported it. She danced. And she enjoyed it. “
Neca’s conversations with her mother was filled with stories from ancient times. The one that Dona Lusia most enjoyed telling was the myth of Lago Verde do Muiraquitã, the lake of society, which is central to Borari’s mythical and daily life. As a tribute to her mother, Neca Borari has taken on the role of storyteller, and when I spoke to her in late March 2020, a few days after Dona Lucia’s death, she told me the myth of the Green Lake:
The Borari people of Alter do Chão have the moon as our mediator with Tupã, the creator. We would not have counted nine months to give birth; we would have counted nine moons. If you need to cut some straw to cover the roof of your house, you can not do it under moonlight. We only plant when the moon is strong. The fish are stronger during a full moon.
Many years ago, when our ancestors lived here, a young Indian woman disappeared from the village. So the people gathered, all the Borari people, to ask the moon to show them where the Indian girl was. And during the ritual, the moon answered them and said: Yes, she would show them. She wanted to give the girl back.
They went to the lake, and that afternoon a great storm began to build up. And they saw a tree rise up from the middle of the lake that bore colorful fruits that shone like light. The tree moved, hovering, along the river. After making a loop, it returned to the place where it had begun. So people went to see what was to be found.
The bright fruits had been transformed. They had turned into green frogs, which together formed a large blanket that stretched across the lake. Thus the name Lago Verde dos Muiraquitãs. The name of the Indian girl was Naiá, and the tree was called Zineira, the tree of the frogs.