The Arraial of Alto Santo
By Antônio Alves*
Some things are taken away by time... But one day it returns. Only those who are over 50 years of age can remember vividly the great arraiais* of the city of Rio Branco, in the time that they put chairs on the sidewalk to talk to neighbors, when the power plant put out the light before midnight and the radio went off the air, and the time of the great chills in the early Amazonian summer.
*Arraiais -- small villages (from arraial / singular); a festivity celebrated in Brazil, traditionally during the festas juninas (June fairs), with regional food, a tall bonfire, quadrille, music and characteristic costumes. The place where it happens is set with stands resembling a small village.
Those who are now "old", still remember the oldest and their customs brought from the Northeast. Amid all, the celebration -- the arraial and the quadrille in country fashion, the forró and the typical dishes, the bonfire and fireworks, where the flirtation with promises and spells can end up in marriage.
Far from the city, over the Custódio Freire area, [see map], where the rural Willys and the Jeep rode only in the summer, the people of Mestre held one of the liveliest arraiais. People from all over the city attended, because the Alto Santo community was very well known and frequented. Alto Santo because it was a high place -- in the highlands after the San Francisco stream --, abbreviation of the name Alto da Santa Cruz that Mestre gave to rename the old settlement Espalhado of the great rubber plantation Empresa.
Also tall, and holy, is what the people said about the old Irineu Serra, who healed the sick who were disillusioned by doctors with his powerful prayer and with the Daime, which was how he called the ayahuasca, spiritual and medicinal beverage of the Indians that he used to teach the Christians.
In the arraial, Mestre rested his nearly two meters tall [around 6.6 foot] and his nearly eighty years of age in a chair in the "house of gifts", and watched the excitement of the people, talking to visitors, saying "God bless you" to those who came to kiss his hand, advising those in need, remembering stories of times past and warning of the hard times that were to come.
And they came, these turbulent times. In the early summer of 1971 the community was encouraged to make the arraial, but Mestre did not allow. He said that it would not be held in that year. In July he "traveled to the spirit world", as his disciples say. In those 40 years that have passed since then, the world shook and rocked many times.
The people of Alto Santo carried on with Mestre’s work, with the leadership of his former colleagues and his wife, Mrs. Peregrina, but the arraial was never the same.
In the 80s and 90s the tradition was still kept in the school grounds, where the youth from the community held some arraiais with the usual enthusiasm, but with little publicity in the city, most for the own community. But this year Mrs. Peregrina decided to bring back the great arraial of the good times. And who goes on the road in front of her house sees a large group of workers roofing stalls with straw and a lively group rehearsing the quadrille.
Back then it was of this way: the people went out for the colonies, sometimes beyond the Aquiles Peret, buying chickens for the bingo. Each one brought a gift, sold a raffle, gave one day of service, a little money if possible, and the party happened. It came back now, but with the time differences, of course.
The place where the “house of gifts” stood is now a sacred site, chosen by Mestre himself to be placed his tomb, which now has a chapel that is the most beautiful thing, and who has not seen it will have the opportunity to see. And the stalls will be in front of the house of godmother Peregrina, where you can see the old wooden house where she and Mestre lived, now listed by the Historical Heritage and turned into a Memorial.
But the community effort is still the same, each giving what they can to make a big party. And the money that is collected, as well as in the old times, will be used in community benefits -- this year, for the restoration of the headquarters (the temple of religious works) and the construction of the parking lot. Other than that, it is as before: the music of the oldies, those traditional ones, that even the youngest of Alto Santo still retain and enjoy playing; the very simple quadrille in country fashion; the "coppers" arresting and fining those who do not behave right; cassava cake and hominy corn and all those typical foods of arraial that we don’t even have to mention, and a big pan of caiçuma*.
*Caiçuma is an indigenous alcoholic beverage, made of cassava, consumed at parties. It is traditional in the Amazon among the elders.
But there's news: a cultural program with performances by musicians and singers, theater groups, shepherdess… and the programming of the Radio Cipó with messages and melodies to the capital, the interior and the outside world. The good times are back. It is this weekend: 27, 28 and 29, after six o'clock. Only a fool to miss it.
*Antônio Alves is a journalist and member of the Alto Santo center. Text taken from the Blog do Altino.