Opinion – Josimar Melo: The brave women of Santa Luzia


Santa Luzia do Itanhy is located in the south of Sergipe. So far south that, standing at the mouth of the Rio Real, looking to the other side, what you see is Bahia. The beautiful point that divides the river from the sea is Mangue Seco, a village in Bahia known for being one of the scenarios of the misdeeds of the title character of the novel “Tieta do Agreste”, by Jorge Amado.

Something else, in addition to the dense mangroves and the beautiful landscape, identifies this intersection of the two states. The passion for aratu.

This is the name of the small red crab that, on other Brazilian coasts, roams impassively, ignored by the surrounding ones, but which, on the coast of Sergipe and in this part of northern Bahia, is the target of gastronomic greed by the locals: there the aratu is more than a delicacy, it is a product with a familiar and traditional flavor, as well as a way of life.

Strolling around the surroundings allows you to see other heritages with a local flavor. The native mangaba trees produce the acid fruit typical of Sergipe, the mangaba, which also lends itself to juices and jams. On the tables (all over the state), peanuts cooked in their shells, served still in the bean to be opened and consumed between sips of the beer that scares away the tropical heat.

But the most eye-catching production is that of the aratu, because it discreetly takes over the everyday landscape of the village streets. It starts with fishing, which takes place at dawn in the region’s mangroves. It is the job of women, of their sharp eyes, of their agile and callused hands, and also, believe me, of their vocal cords: for it is with their singing that they call their food.

In the afternoon, the work of these women takes place outside the mangrove. Now is the time to “pick up” the aratu — in this case, in addition to fishing, it is taking its meat, separating its small chunks from its carapaces.

This work, although individual, is done in small groups of women, sitting together on the sidewalk in front of their house, as they socialize with each other and with the passing community.

In Santa Luzia do Itanhy alone, an estimated 300 women (thus 300 families) are dedicated to this economy, which is a delight for connoisseurs, but not so much for producers: valued product, generates profits in the distribution chain, but negligible gains for these women .

Not to mention that their idyllic singing walks among the mangroves are, in fact, hard and unhealthy work. Decent work with beautiful traditions, no doubt, but it needs to be safe, and well paid.

The brave women of Santa Luzia are also found, gathered, in the village of Crasto, in a small dock where larger fishing boats arrive. They are the ones who get together to decorate the shrimp brought, this time from the high seas.

And women are also the cooks who take care of feeding the children in the schools in the region, balancing a modest budget and a standardized view of lunches that barely resemble local cultures.

It is for these lunch ladies that, at this moment, two guest chefs, Janaina Rueda (Bar da Dona Onça and A Casa do Porco, São Paulo) and Max Jaques (Instituto Brasil a Gosto) speak at the municipal nursery of Santa Luzia.

The duo was invited by social entrepreneur Saulo Barreto, from IPTI (Institute for Research in Technology and Innovation), a social organization with eighteen years of existence, which has applied innovative initiatives to fight poverty using art, science and technology.

Among the various fronts of the institute is the branch they call Nham, which, among other things, thinks about initiatives aimed at food security in schools and integration with family farming. Themes dear to the two guest chefs.

The challenges are not few. To make matters worse, the region is being taken over by captive shrimp farms, in tanks that dump wastewater into rivers, fatally injuring the mangrove ecosystem – a promise to liquidate the aratus, shellfish and the family economy that revolves around their.

Overkill? No. Just look at the ecological and human slaughter produced by the same uncontrolled shrimp farm in Ceará. All this needs to be preserved.

When in doubt, dress up as a tourist and have breakfast at Pousadinha da Lulu, in the town of Pontal. Or eat aratu pickled fish and sea bass moqueca hooked in the harpoon at Restaurante da Dona Rosa, in the village of Rua da Palha. Or just watch the gentle rise of the tide in the village of Crasto.

You will understand me.


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