Outono em Minas Gerais: Parte Um
One of my goals here in Minas Gerais has been to try to get a broad understanding of the types of cultural production that involve music-making. Though my research focuses on the Clube da Esquina—a musical collective often categorized as MPB (música popular brasileira)—I am devoted to investigating the many musical manifestations in Brazil and Minas Gerais that influenced their output.
One of those influences comes from Catholic religious celebrations. During Semana Santa (Holy Week), I traveled to two colonial cities in Minas Gerais in order to learn more about the importance of Catholicism in civic life. First, I took my dear friend Jaimie to Ouro Preto.
Ouro Preto celebrated its 300th anniversary this year (1711 – 2011). Its original name was Vila Rica (Rich Village) due to its status as the center of Brazil’s gold rush and was the capital of Minas Gerais for much of the 19th century, well before Belo Horizonte (the current capital) was constructed. Today, Ouro Preto teams with domestic and international tourists, stumbling through the many ladeiras (steep streets; or literally, ladders) to museums, churches, and shops.
Although Jaimie and I ventured into museums and a few shops, my willing assistant accompanied me on at least three of the many processões (processions) scheduled throughout Semana Santa. We arrived on Saturday afternoon, the day before Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday). After checking into a modest, but very well-kept pousada (bed and breakfast), we climbed our way back up to Praça Tiradentes (the central town square) in search of the first of many processions.
We wandered down a few winding streets and found the Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar (head church, or also womb, of Our Lady of Pilar). At 7 pm, the church was already overflowing with a softly buzzing swarm of worshippers. The priest gave a brief sermon introducing Holy Week, and then unveiled a wooden image of Jesus Christ inside of a purple-cloaked dais.
The churches in Ouro Preto share the responsibility and honor of hosting the images of Jesus Christ and Mary. This night, the image of Jesus Christ was carried through the steep and winding streets of Ouro Preto to arrive at Santuário da Imaculada Conceição (Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception).
Church volunteers carried the dais while followers filled the narrow, cobbled streets from door to door. A city band in navy uniforms accompanied the procession playing religious hymns. Marching over the uneven ground at night and reading the sheet music attached to the musician’s backs certainly made for challenging music-making (and photography—my apologies), but ouropretanos are used to scaling these streets.
Two things particularly struck me about this event. First, the processão seemed to be an event for generations to gather together. I saw granddaughters assisting very elderly grandmothers over the cobblestones, nephews walking with uncles, and parents greeting children arriving from other cities in Minas Gerais who had come home for the holiday week.
Second, despite these encounters, the followers were solemn. Mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais), and brasileiros in general, greet family and friends with enthusiasm! But, this night was muted and reserved for an internalized religiosity.
My subsequent travel to São João del Rei would be a very different experience.