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Black Pearl and the Ceremonial of Compassion


Our local escola de samba, Pérola Negra, has put on a loving and sophisticated show this year based on the work of novelist and playwright Ariano Suassuna.

The staging of his Romance d’A Pedra do Reino by Antunes Filho was one of the more memorable cultural events we have attended since relocating to Sambodia.

I have not seen such an Ash Wednesday-aware presentation since one of the heavyweight champion groups closed out their parade with a funeral procession bearing a tiny, tiny coffin.

Source: G.R.E.S. Pérola Negra
Translation:  C. Brayton

Authored by Ariano Suassuna, the Auto da Compadecida is a highly moral story regarding one’s intimacy with God and simplicity in one’s relations with other people. It is also represents an appeal for divine grace.

The narrative presents the sins of the flesh just as they are, in a joyous and natural manner, reminding us that we are all subject to carnal lapses. We are, after all, human beings, and by that token, sinners. There is no such thing as a purely virtuous soul. We are born to know, to err and, if possible, to learn from our errors.

Common justice, in which rationality unfortunately holds sway, is suffocated by bureaucratic formalities and complications that prepare the way for the distortion of its original purposes. It has no credibility in the eyes of the people, who crave the awareness that Jesus is by their side.

The harsh backlands of the Northeastern sertão is the ideal scenario for the development of characters who practice shameful acts in order to satisfy their hunger and alleviate their fear of suffering, death and solitude.

The simplicity and plain-spoken, naive tone characteristic of the denizens of these sertôes is fundamental to a narrative that is also based on the creativity  of circus lingo, in which parody and satire are intuitively present.

It is within this circus world that the characters will be judged, and where the last-minute intervention of the Comparecida will represent the triumph of mercy, even for those who have sinned, not out of malice, but because of the  poverty and misery of their condition.

Outlining the order of march as it corresponds with elements of the narrative.

PART  I: The big show is about to start

Like the beginning of a circus, a clown announced the show and introduces the characters that will take part.

First Float: «Up with the curtains, the show is starting.

PART  II: The death of the characters

The characters die and pass over into the next world. The trial begins and the magistrate accuses the sinners, pointing out their defects.

Second Float: The passing over and the beginning of the trial

PART III: The triumphant entry of Compadecida

Hellfire is the sealed fate of sinners found guilty of various sins. Now, however, the Mother of Mercy is called upon to intervene in favor of the other characters.

Third Float: The doors of Hell and the appearance of Compadecida

PART IV: The sentence of Manuel and a celebration of the completion of the trial.

Manuel renders his verdict on the destiny of the characters, and here the spectacle ends.

Fourth Float: The triumph of the faith in the person of the Mother of Mercy.

PART V: Thanking the audience

The lyrics would be difficult to translate, but a neat closing touch is paying homage to the patron saint of the Vila Madelena.