Opinion – Daniel de Mesquita Benevides: Sweat from alembic, cachaça was the protagonist in popular uprisings

Opinion – Daniel de Mesquita Benevides: Sweat from alembic, cachaça was the protagonist in popular uprisings

The great Câmara Cascudo defines it: “It is the drink-of-the-people, harsh, rebellious, unsubmissive to the dictates of the amiable taste […]daring to face the sovereign Portuguese wine […]is the saluting liquid of Zumbi dos Palmares.”

“Prelúdio da Cachaça” is brief but gives us a lot. He tells, for example, how soldiers in the Paraguayan War and in Canudos mixed gunpowder with cachaça to gain courage. Or to gain the cowardice necessary for the massacre.

Parati, shame, bashful, my consolation or alembic sweat, cachaça baptized its own revolt. It happened in 1660. In order to favor Port and Madeira wines, the Portuguese crown imposed bans or heavy taxes on the production of caninha. About 112 stills from Rio de Janeiro rebelled.

With popular support, they took over the government of Rio de Janeiro and called for new elections. But after five months they were defeated — and their leader beheaded.​

The episode names a play by Antonio Callado, part of the writer’s so-called black theater tetralogy. Written in 1958, it features a successful playwright, his wife — both white — and a famous black actor. In the background, clinking, a barrel of fine brandy, a gift from the latter.

The actor demands from his friend the promised role of protagonist, a character already sketched, in a play that had been in the drawer for years, with the same name as the one we are seeing or reading. Ambrose says he is tired of being “a servant, a thief, a bookie or a chauffeur.” The cachaça, in the “vengeful vat”, is the symbol of his revolt.

It was a tribute to Grande Otelo and an expression of repudiation of the practice of blackface in the first stagings of Callado’s previous work, “Pedro Mico”. Otelo Ambrósio, a tragic figure, recalls that Anchieta was already in theater and that to this day there is no “black protagonist who is really Creole.” Just painted white. Symptomatically, the play remained unpublished until 1983.

Called by Hélio Pellegrino “the sweet radical”, Callado made high quality fiction with a high content of social, political and environmental awareness.

A foreign correspondent, he worked in London during World War II and went to the scorched napalm jungle in North Vietnam. He closely followed Francisco Julião’s Peasant Leagues, the work of Paulo Freire and the struggle for indigenous rights, which he described in part in the novel “Quarup”.

He was arrested twice during the dictatorship, once with Caetano and Gil. And he was in Bogotá, in 1948, when three pistol bullets prevented Colombia from having its first leftist president. A favorite in the polls, socialist Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was murdered as he left his office to meet with a young Fidel Castro and other student leaders.

He said with conviction: “Yo no soy un hombre, soy el pueblo.” The reaction of the masses was immediate, in one of the biggest uprisings ever seen in this hemisphere, known as Bogotazo. The repression lasted for years, with thousands of deaths.

The victory of former guerrilla Gustavo Prieto and lawyer Francia Márquez, a former domestic of African descent, resumes Gaitán’s project of an authentically popular representation.

Like Dom and Bruno, and in some ways Callado, Márquez faced illegal mining in the Amazon and the threat to the survival of indigenous cultures. They deserve hundreds of millions of freebies. With the unsubmissive Zumbi cachaça.



  • 50 ml of cachaça
  • 20 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 10 ml of honey with water (3:1 ratio)

How to make

Shake everything with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

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