Numa pequena ilha do interior do Maranhão (Brasil), uma mulher, vitimada pela "lepra", é isolada em vida, e discriminada mesmo após a morte. “Cantiliana e ...
20th century, Hansen's disease,
devastates and scares people,
on the small Carrapatal island
a case would become notorious.
Cantiliana was a sorrowful woman,
she suffered very much indeed.
Among those I’ve seen, from a family,
who suffered, Cantiliana.
She was about 50,
but anyone who saw her would say
Cantiliana is 80, 90 years old
From her eyes tears dropped all the time, like this.
The cross she bears, isn’t it?
The cross she bears
Cantiliana and Lazar’s disease heirs
I met Cantiliana,
a woman who was ill from a so called leprosy,
as it was called formerly, it is not leprosy anymore,
I no longer know what the name is.
Y allí ella andaba.
Wherever she passed by people would withdraw
to prevent from getting the same dust
she passed through,
when they gave her food
they did so with a stick
As my mum dried her tears,
she showed me, she was passing by
- son, Catiliana.
She gave her some clothes, someone else gave,
another one came, go Cantiliana,
from a distance they threw the clothes,
there it goes Cantiliana,
here’s some food, take it, take it, take it, take it,
take it and go away from me.
Such was the situation.
When the water was boiling,
they would pour it round Cantiliana’s house,
they would disinfect around the house everyday,
so that the disease microbe would go away,
they would wash the whole house.
Superstitious people here,
they didn’t know what the disease was,
she was buried in Jerucutuoca,
by the graveyard there, outside,
because they thought that had she been buried inside,
it would contaminate the others
when they had to dig a grave to bury the dead.
After she died they came
and set fire to the place she had lived in,
but I don’t think they had to set fire
Back then, those who had leprosy,
where were they taken, do you know?
They were taken to the so called Bonfim, weren’t they?
They took the person, got a canoe,
they put a barrel on the canoe
and used a board so that
the person would enter the barrel
directly without touching the canoe.
directly without touching the canoe.
The person was brought here
inside the barrel,
getting rain, sun, whatever,
and that person was brought to be
released on Bonfim beach.
Back then, so that you have an idea of
what it was like in here,
we used to live closed in here,
when we came here, it was to die,
the family wouldn’t come,
the family would cast aside, it was utter contempt,
nobody would come in here,
After the 1920s,
and mainly along the 1930s,
they began to choose,
not just locally but generally,
a treatment aiming
to build large spaces,
which were called Colony Hospitals,
the policy then becomes to isolate,
to take them away from the city,
to place them in allegedly controlled settings,
in fact those places were unfortunately
converted in large dumping grounds for people.
Being leprous within that historic,
social and political context
was having one’s social death decreed,
what did it mean? One remained alive,
social relationships, one’s place of work,
all those bonds
settled along a whole life
would be destroyed due to
leprosy’s alleged contamination.
Then, so to speak, it comes to Brazil,
mainly among physicians and health care managers,
when the idea of alternative treatments
which did not entail isolation arrive in Brazil,
there is a sharp policy within Vargas government
to say: no, we will not carry it on,
because we have dozens and dozens of built colonies
to be inaugurated.
The situation here was so serious that
it was not prejudice actually,
people were scared, they panicked,
there were people who wouldn’t cross us,
they’d change their way.
The profile of those people who ended up stranded
in those large colony hospitals all around Brazil,
were people with little education,
low economic power,
they were mostly poor people
with no education who were thrown away there.
A father and mother wouldn’t even glance
at their child’s face,
when a woman started to deliver,
someone from the family, a neighbour or a friend
would call the midwife,
that lived in the convent of th nuns
midwife, not the doctor.
she came with an assistant,
they would have the baby delivered,
and as she performed her last chores
the assistant would take the baby away.
It is estimated that 40 thousand children were forcefully
separated from their parents in the colonies.
We haven’t felt what breast milk tastes like,
no one haven’t felt tastes like
Serafim was a “separated child”, and also an intern
in Bonfim Colony.
I’ve seen so many people pleading to her,
they come on the dead’s memory day,
they bring flower garlands,
she’s given so many.
She’s performed a number of miracles,
lots of people who came,
when Gersina came, when Joana came along,
she brought a girl from Rio de Janeiro
in order to have that catacomb of hers built there.
My own daughters
have been through an official selective process,
they have pleaded to her:
“Oh, Cantiliana, have me pass this selection,
I need that job”.
And then, there were the three of them,from my family
two daughters and my daughter in law,
they all pleaded to her,
they all underwent the selection and waited,
when they weren’t even thinking about it,
they were summoned
and they’ve worked here so far.
As my grandfather arranged his creel
to go fishing he used to say:
“Oh, Cantiliana, I’m going fishing,
see to it that I get plenty of fish”.
when he came back, he’d got a lot of fish,
then he bought a packet of candles and invited us,
we went, there was her small cross,
then, and he lit the candle for her,
he prayed and he remarked:
my child this one was a sufferer.
This phenomenon of popular devotion,
to miraculous souls,
is common to several places, in many places,
we know that it occurs in Venezuela, in Argentina,
in other places in Brazil, in the northeast.
Why it starts, when it starts,
there is not a logical explanation,
it is the need, the occasion,
then they plead for that person’s protection,
out of some need of their own
and so these beliefs,
popular beliefs develop.
I plead to her, when I want to,
oh, Cantiliana, help me, quickly
deliver me from all evil
And then she pleases me, and I please her,
when I lie down I remember her,
and pray for her.
For all those people who laugh when they should cry,
and don’t live, just bear.