The shroud shredder, the urutau, the YyamiOxorongá and the wrong and the death omens that dominate contemporary Brazil

The pit of night floods the woods outside, a shrieking sound freezes the spine and a running white specter cuts the view, an augury of the nearby ent to whom she approaches

THIAGO MARTINS DE MELO

N° Edição: 50

Publicado em: 12/05/2022

Categoria: English

Frames do filme Rasga Mortalha (2019), de Thiago Martins de Melo

The Shroud Shredder (Rasga Mortalha) is a sign disseminated in Brazil’s North and Northeast regions, having as varied origins as the cultures that inhabit those areas. Suindara may have been an albino girl or a plump girl nicknamed a white owl. Whatever her origin, the end that gave rise to the legend was the same – forfeited love and life cut short by murder. The horror of her inhuman scream, as her name suggests, echoes the injustice suffered, the avenging rage and the inexorable fate of those who behold her.

The Shroud Shredder is not the only narrative known in the country that relates women, birds and the omen of death. The indigenous matrix brought the Urutau, a Tupi name that means “ghost bird.” Known in the Brazilian Midwest and in Bolivia, it deals with the tragic story of an indigenous woman whose father murdered her lover for not accepting the relationship and turned the daughter who witnessed the act into a bird, so that the secret would not be revealed. At night, the bird echoes the voice of the young woman crying for her lost love. 

On the other hand, the Atlantic Ocean, through which the voduns, orishas and inquices arrived from Africa, brought the cult of the IyamiOxorongá, mothers as old as Africa, endowed with a deep female ancestral power and who, in Maranhão, have their cult related to NochêNaê, the mother of all voodoos. The cult of IyamiOxorongá is surrounded by taboos and forbidden to lay people both in Africa and in Brazil. The Iyami have the power to transform themselves into a black, nocturnal bird, which in Brazil was associated with the owl. Just like the Shroud Shredder, it bursts into the night with a grim cry that brings the omen of death to those who encounter it.

Death omens dominate contemporary Brazil, from the establishment of necropolitics as an unofficial state policy to the systematic attacks on Brazilian cultural diversity. Dilma, Marielle and Luzia’s fossil are emblematic of the martyrdom of the feminine in the dark phallic era the country has entered into. The catharsis of centuries of activity by the colonial meat grinder breaks into another cycle, this time with the return of fascism to official power. Rasga Mortalha, the film, emerges as a record of this terrible omen that in the year the work was finished is materialized with the election of president Jair Bolsonaro. The historical, perpetual and cyclical catharsis suggested in Rasga Mortalha, allied to the rise of fascism, ended up giving birth to the concept of Necrobrasiliana, a series of paintings presented in early 2019 that opens this officialization of violence and death as signs of the Brazilian pictorial imagination. The series was based on the re-reading of images, signs – official or not – of Brazilian history and its funereal construction, based on the invention of a country on the remnants of massacred and assimilated civilizations and peoples.

Therefore, as in the story of the Shroud Shredder, the era of darkness that plagues the country awaits its curse to be broken. This time, not by the hands of a savior, but by the collective construction that will give rise to the delayed Brazilian revolution, whose utopia will break the cycle of collective sacrifice engendered by our history’s political tragedies. The histories of Brazil, as well as those of the world, are always the same, only the signs that cover them are transformed, and utopia, as writer Eduardo Galeano would say, is on the horizon just for us to keep on walking.

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