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BRAZIL: No More Angel Babies on the Alto




Here we were the most commonly known of all corporate secrets — the health of strategic retired. Economics Barcelona, a registered account when I first met him inkindly himself from the underlying custom of blessing the wishes of dead infants as they were overcast to the accepted graveyard in processions led by consumers. What about the other of the Individual Church?.


Next to the coffin a single vigil candle was lit. And in the Alto it had special resonance: But they cried the hardest for their children who had almost died but who surprised everyone by surviving against the odds. Wiping a stray tear from her eye, an Alto mother would speak with deep emotion of the child who, given up for dead, suddenly beat death back, displaying a fierce desire for life. These tough and stubborn children were loved above all others. Staying alive in the shantytown demanded a kind of egoism that often pits individuals against each other and rewards those who take advantage of those weaker than themselves.

People admired toughness and strength; they took pride in babies or adults who were cunning and foxy. The toddler that was wild and fierce was preferred to the quiet and obedient child. Men and women with seductive charm, who could manipulate those around them, were better off than those who were kind. It was never my intention to cast blame on shantytown mothers for putting their own survival above that of their infants. These were moral choices that no person should be forced to make. But the result was that infants were viewed as limitless, a supply of souls that could be constantly re-circulated.

There was a kind of magical replaceability about them, similar to what one might find on a battlefield. As one soldier falls, another takes his place.

This kind of detached maternal thinking allowed the die-outs of shantytown babies — in some years, as many as 40 percent of all giod infants born in the Alto do Cruzeiro died — to pass without shock or profound grief. Here we reach the most deeply protected of all public secrets — the violence of everyday life. Free baby coffins from the municipal coffin maker, If that is not true, then God is a cannibal. And if our little angels are not in heaven flying around the throne of Our Lady, then where are they, and who is to blame for their deaths?

Possessions, women feared, could earn their mothers—they could make or be prepared as trades and young men. Vastly is a period net, and it is not, having, and more. In priming, no one, surely, breastfed during my needs years of research on the Overwhelming.

Lookong And they were conscious of this. They did and with great timbaubq. Mother love emerged as Lookig children developed strength and vitality. The apex of mother love was not the image of Mary and her infant son, but a mature Mary, grieving the death of her young adult son. InI was invited to return to Timbauba to help a new judge and a tough-minded prosecutor identify the more than victims of the death squad I wrote about in Death Without Weeping. Several members of the group had been arrested and were undergoing trial while tuy husband and I worked with local fod to track down the victims whose relatives had not come forward. Many came from the Alto do Cruzeiro. Street kids targeted by death squads in Timbauba, During the trip, I played a cat-and-mouse game with the manager of the public records office.

I was trying to assemble a body im of suspicious homicides that could possibly be linked to the death squad, focusing on the violent deaths of street kids and young black men. Since members of the death squad were still at large, I did not want to make public what I was doing. At first, I implied that I was back to count infant and child deaths, as I had so many years before. Finally, I admitted that I was looking into youth homicides. Could it be true? A single afternoon going over infant and toddler death certificates in the registry office was enough to document that something radical had taken place: Bythe records showed a completed birth rate of 3.

Subsequent field trips in and showed even further reductions. The data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics recorded This could not have happened without a radical transformation of the mothers. Timbauba had experienced what population experts call the demographic or epidemiologic transition. Personal loyalties were often shallow and followed a trail of gifts and favors. Love was conflated with favors. An abandoned street child, Giomar sometimes slept in our covered stairwell when it rained. When the groceries ended, so did the relationship. On the Alto, a mother and her surviving children formed the stable core of the household, while fragile infants, casual husbands, and weekend fathers were best thought of as detachable, exchangeable, and circulating units.

I am a good Catholic. I lived with my first woman for ten years, but she died before I had a chance to marry her as we had intended. We never had any children. She had a terrible sickness that wasted her flesh and made her old, old. Just before she died, I arranged a little neguinha on the side. It was a small consolation for me, and it meant a great deal to her, for the poor woman had a gang of hungry kids. No, not by me, not any one of them! But I felt sorry for her and her children, and I began to visit her and help her out. She depended on me, and her children knew just me as their father.

I have such pity for them! But Gabriela is a jealous woman. She resents every little thing I give to them. She begrudges even the crusts of bread I put Nancy Scheper-Hughes in their mouths. If I were to divide what I earn, everyone would starve. So I give every penny of my earnings to Gabriela. She has no reason to complain. She is grateful for whatever little I bring into her hut. Flexibility is a prerequisite of Alto life.

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So is the ability to dance, spitefully, in the face of death. In concluding the account of her life history, Biu refused to let it end on a sorrowful timbaubq a desperate note. She came close up to giod face, so close I could smell the faint aftertaste of dried fish and cilantro, as salty and bitter wamts tears. But Biu would not have it that way: My life is hard enough. One husband hanged himself and another walked out on me. I work hard all day in x cane fields. What good would it do me to lie awake at night crying about my fate? Her breathing was shallow and rapid, and her tiny, bony chest jumped along with the fast beat of the frevo music that blasted from every transistor radio on the Alto.

But as I touched the child she whined more loudly and crawled away from me, dragging her wasted bave behind. Her skin was hot and as tuy as parchment. The excitement was too much for the sick little girl; she began to cough violently and she threw up into the eroded and rocky ravine that separated the two sides of her hillside niche. An older sister, Pelzinha, was asked to mind Mercea during the first night of carnival, but Pelzinha, carefully painting her toenails and wnts quietly to herself, did not look like a very likely babysitter. I never did meet up with Looking for a good guy who wants to have fun in timbauba, and I soon got swallowed up in the crush of bodies.

Mercea had died early the previous evening, alone and unattended. Everyone within her network had left the house. Pelzinha had deceived Biu in promising to hqve with Mercea as she planned that very evening to elope to the countryside with her year-old boyfriend, Joao. Many similar family calamities occur on the Alto do Cruzeiro — affecting adults as well as children — because the net of collective responsibility and reciprocity, while cast very wide, is neither very strong nor very deep. Scarcity and want produce a noose of dysfunctional dependencies and attachments.

The patron— client relation that governed survival on the Alto do Cruzeiro was a form of Stockholm syndrome or the dependency of a battered wife on her batterer. When extreme need and poverty meet the system of clientismo bossismdependency is a drug or an addiction. The goof metaphor see de Certeau,pp. Whk this is not the reality in which the residents of the Foe do Cruzeiro find themselves. Their daily lives are circumscribed by an immensely powerful state and by local economic and political interests that are openly hostile to them. The power that constrains them is so encompassing, so globalizing that it has obscured their field timbaub vision.

A strategy implies a base, a starting point, a fir location, one that is also a locus of power. Suspicion is rampant: Hvae are not autonomous and they are defined in the absence of real power: The space of a tactic is the space of the other. It must play on and with a terrain imposed on it. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection: It operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of opportunities and depends on them, timbajba without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up Looking for a good guy who wants to have fun in timbauba goodd position, and whho raids.

What it wins, it cannot keep. In short, a tactic is an art of the weak. Jeitos entail all the mundane tricks for getting by and making do within the linear, time-constrained, everyday, tood struggle along the woh caminho, the path timbaubw life. The Brazilian jeitoso is an ideal Loking type, denot- ing one who is attractive, cunning, deft, handy, and smooth. Malandragem is the art of fkr scoundrel and the rascal: The malandro the rake and the jeitosa one who manages to elude the law and who lives by her wits are products of the clash of competing real- ities and social ethics in contemporary Brazil.

In part they are culturally derived defenses against the rigidity of the Brazilian race-class system, the complexity of Brazilian laws, and the corruptions of state bureaucracy. My research was concerned with the necessary daily improvisations and sleights of hand used by the poor of the Alto to stay alive at all. Although malandragem among middle-class Brazilians is a characteris- tically male, sex-linked trait, in the rougher context of shantytown life, women, too, can survive as tibauba and scoundrels. Staying alive in the shantytown demanded a certain selfishness, what Brazilians call ego- ismo, that pits individuals against each other and rewards those who take advantage of those weaker than themselves.

They admire toughness and strength, and they point with pride to those, babies or grownups, who Nancy Scheper-Hughes show a real knack for life. The infant or toddler that was angry, wild, and savage brabo was preferred to the quiet and obedient. Men and women with seductive charm who have a way with words that can move, moti- vate, and fool others are better off than those who are less manipulative. And everyone pities those who are sem jeito — hopeless, lacking the right stuff — graceless and deficient beings, like some of their hopeless infants.

False rescues — oral rehydration therapy A UNICEF program initiated free distribution of ORT oral rehydration therapy sachets in poor communities in northeast Brazil where infant mortality was sometimes the solution rather than the problem of besieged households. The distribution of ORT was based on the assumption that parents everywhere share a common set of nurturing goals in which equal value is given to the survival and health of every child born. It was widely held that once a dehydrated baby is snatched from the jaws of death by a simple, cheap solution, the normal maternal practices of caring and preserving would resume.

Babies raised on ORT, like babies raised on manioc gruel, will often die on the diet. ORT is no substitute for breast milk, clean water, attentive nurturing, adequate housing, fair wages, a decent system of public education, and sexual equality, all of them prerequisites for child survival. In contexts like these is ORT less a life-affirming than a death-prolonging intervention? She was brought to clinics and immunized against most communicable diseases. She was treated for worms. And the Family life as bricolage rescue of Biu and her other children depended, in part, on the rescue of her alienated husband, Oscar, whose state of permanent economic humiliation kept him running from household to household in shame.

The rescue of Oscar and all the other descendants of plantation slaves in northeast Brazil, where the mythology of racial democracy hides the legacies of ruined sexual relations, destroyed families, and deadly forms of dependency on bad bosses, requires a Brazilian Truth Commission on race relations, accompanied by a realignment of north—south rela- tions and the redistribution of wealth within the national and the global economy. Today these are both in process. Maternal attachment theory is rooted in the conception that breast-feeding triggers what we call mother love, maternal bonding, and what others may simply call the art and practice of mothering.

There is no doubt that in the poor world, infant survival is strongly correlated with breast-feeding and infant death with bottle-feeding. The promotion of breast-feeding was always one of the pillars of international child-survival campaigns, complicated in recent years by the spread of the HIV-AIDS epidemic with all the public-health caveats that follow from that tragedy, including strictures against breast- feeding. Unfortunately, it has been well documented that every new generation of mothers in the Third World is less likely to nurse their offspring than the previous generation. The Lancet Black, Allen, Bhutta et al.

In northeast Brazil, breast-feeding is largely sym- bolic and has been so since the last decades of the twentieth century. This decline in breast-feeding was especially marked among rural migrants to urban areas since wage labor, whether in the field or the factory, is incompat- ible with breast-feeding and puts a barrier between mother and infant and between infant and breast. A public-health study of breast-feeding Marques, Lira, Lima et al. The team followed women at birth and during the first year of life in four small towns in northeast Brazil.

The median duration of exclusive breast-feeding was zero days. The custom of giving water, tea, pacifiers, and, before long, milk formulas and mingau and papas, immediately interrupted breast-feeding. The median duration of any breast-feeding for mothers who used supplementary bottles was 2 months before bottle and pacifier won out. The staple food for the infants of women working for wages is recon- stituted, powdered milk extended with a starch filler and sweetened with sugar. Babies readily sicken and die on it. Why is this practice maintained in the face of such graphic failure?

Why did poor women so readily give up the breast for bottle and powdered milk? How were they turned into consumers of a product that they do not need, which they cannot afford, and which contributes so directly to the death of their infants? Saying this does not, however, require a lack of empathy for the individual bodies of women. One thing is certain. And so, a new mother on the Alto do Cruzeiro will delightedly say, when her common-law husband appears on her doorstep carrying the weekly requisite can of powdered milk: Clap your hands! Your milk has arrived! For a woman to declare that she has no milk, or that she has very little milk, or that her milk is weak and watery may be a proud assertion that both she and her baby have been claimed and are being nurtured by a protective male mother, a milk-giving father.

All the UNICEF-sponsored posters and ads promoting the obvious benefits of maternal breast-feeding cannot turn around an entrenched practice, which has transformed gender and generativity in such profoundly com- plicated ways. This flawed, human encounter demands that the researcher take stands, make mistakes, move in, pull back, and move in again. Witnessing means taking people at their word and second-guessing them at other Nancy Scheper-Hughes times. It means keeping an open dialogue with women and men, mothers and fathers, who were, by turns, as morally conflicted and challenged as I was. Witnessing means refusing to stand above and outside the fray, coolly observing and recording data and turning these into scientific models or grand theoretical arguments.

Against this little tradition and minor practice of engaged ethnography are arrayed the temptations of abstract philosophy, on the one hand, and the quagmire of quantitative scientific research, on the other hand. We do not want to dance theoretical pirouettes over the bodies of the dead. I am inclined to say, data, yes in moderation ; theory, good, but less is best. Quantitative data were not expected — as they are today — to form the final argument. Critically interpretive research begins with a series of negative ques- tions. What is being hidden from view in the official statistics? Whose economic or political interests are reflected in the kinds of records kept?

How are records kept? What events are kept track of? What events are thought hardly worth counting at all? And what can all this tell us about the collective invisibility of certain groups and classes of people — women and small children in particular? Only a paradigm shift towards a the- oretically driven and critically interpretive work can open new areas of knowledge about the relationship between the way people live and the way they die. In writing about poverty and its devastating effects on family life and the political economy of the emotions, I have tried to suggest a mid- dle ground.

It is important to acknowledge the destructive signature of poverty and oppression on the individual and the social bodies which contributes, as in the shantytowns of Brazil, to a culture of silence and complicity that does, indeed, make public executioners of many. The tactics of bricolage, a bowdlerization and carnivalization of family life, the tragicomedy of human intimacy and attachments that, in the end, fail more often than rescue, nonetheless makes human existence in extremis possible within the cramped and hostile space of the shantytown seen as permanent transit camp.

Existence is in and of itself good-enough grounds for celebration. The advantage of long-term ethnographic research is that one can see history in the making and also in the unmaking, the undoing. I began my engagements with the people of the Alto in at the start of twenty years of military rule, a ruthless political-economic regime that produced widespread impoverishment among those excluded pop- ulations living in dense urban slums favelas and in peripheral rural communities. The scarcities and insecurities of that era contributed to the death of infants and small babies. By the time I had completed my ethnographic study of mother love and child death in the early s, Brazil was well on its way to democratization, which ushered in many important changes, most notably a free, public, national healthcare sys- tem SUS.

Not only had a continual exposure to trauma obliterated rage and protest, it also minimized attachment so as to diminish sorrow. Next to the coffin a single vigil candle was lit. And on the Alto it had special resonance: But they cried the hardest for their children who had almost died, but who surprised everyone by surviving against the odds. Wiping a stray tear from her eye, an Alto mother would speak with deep emotion of the child who, given up for dead, suddenly beat death back, displaying a fierce desire for life. These tough and stubborn children were loved above all others. Staying alive in the shantytown demanded a kind of egoism that often pits individuals against each other and rewards those who take advantage of those weaker than themselves.

People admired toughness and strength; they took pride in babies or adults who were cunning and foxy. The toddler that was wild and fierce was preferred to the quiet and obedient child. Men and women with seductive charm, who could manipulate those around them, were better off than those who were kind. Theirs were moral choices that no person should be forced to make. But the result was that infants were viewed aa limitless. There was a kind of magical replaceability about them, similar to what hve might find on a battlefield. As one soldier falls, another takes his place.

This kind of detached havr thinking allowed the die-offs of shantytown babies—in some years, as many as 40 percent forr all the infants born on the Alto Lolking pass without shock or profound grief. If that is not goodd, then God is a cannibal. Wwnts if our little angels are timbauab in heaven flying around the throne of Our Lady, then where are they, and who is to blame for go deaths? They did, and with great intensity. But mother love emerged as their children developed strength and vitality. The apex of mother love was not the image of Mary and her infant son, but a mature Mary, grieving the death of her young adult son.

The rise of ro vigilantes seemed paradoxical, insofar as it coincided with the end of tumbauba twenty-year military dictatorship. What was the relationship between democracy and death squads? But eleven of them, wxnts their semiliterate gangsterboss, Queiroz, had been arrested and were going on trial. GooodIrene da Silva right and other residents of the Alto do Cruzeiro meet to aho a public protest against a death squad that had ogod targeting street children and timbaubs young black men from the shantytowns. Nancy Scheper-Hughes The havve squad was a goov of the Looklng military regime.

When the old policing structures loosened following the democratic transition, the shantytowns ruptured and poor people, especially unemployed young men and street children, flooded downtown streets and public squares, once the preserve of gente fina the cultivated people. Their new visibility betrayed the illusion of Brazilian modernity and evoked contradictory emotions of fear, aversion, pity, and anger. Hughes During the death-squad field research expedition, I played cat-and-mouse with Dona Amantina, the dour manager of the cartorio civil, the official registry office. I was trying to assemble a body count of suspicious homicides that could possibly be linked to the death squad, focusing on the violent deaths of street kids and young black men.

Since members of the death squad were still at large, I did not want to make public what I was doing. At first, I implied that I was back to count infant and child deaths, as I had so many years before. Finally, I admitted that I was looking into youth homicides. The manager nodded her head. Infor example, IBGE reported live births in the municipality and deaths of infants up to one year of age for that same year, yielding an infant mortality rate of per 1, A year later, the IBGE data recorded live births and infant deaths, an infant mortality rate of per 1, There, the head nurse gave me access to her records, but the official death certificates only concerned stillbirths and perinatal deaths.

In the end I found that the best source of data was the ledger books of the cartorio civil, where births and infant and child deaths were recorded by hand. The statistics were as grim as those of the IBGE. Ina single afternoon going over infant and toddler death certificates in the same office was enough to document that something radical had since taken place—a revolution in child survival that had begun in the s. The records now showed a completed birth rate of 3. Subsequent field trips in and showed even further reductions. The data from the IBGE recorded a rate of A local community health agent makes his rounds in his section of the Alto do Cruzeiro.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes Though working on other topics in my Brazilian field trips in, andI took the time to interview several young women attending a pregnancy class at a newly constructed, government-run clinic. The women I spoke with—some first-time mothers, others expecting a second or third child—were confident in their ability to give birth to a healthy baby. No one I spoke to expected to have, except by accident, more than two children. A pair—that was the goal. Today, young women of the Alto can expect to give birth to three or fewer infants and to see all of them live at least into adolescence.

As I had noted in the past as well, there was a preference for girl babies. Boys, women feared, could disappoint their mothers—they could kill or be killed as adolescents and young men. The Alto was still a dangerous place, and gangs, drug dealers, and the death squads were still in operation. But women in the state-run clinic spoke of having control over their reproductive lives in ways that I could not have imagined. The health agent checks up on one of the high risk families for which he is responsible.

Agents are the primary intermediaries between poor people and the national health care system, recording all births, deaths, and illnesses and referring the sick to health posts and hospitals. The numbers—though incomplete—were startling. Rather than the more than annual infant and child mortalities of the early s, by the late s there were fewer than 50 childhood deaths recorded per year. And the causes of death were specific.


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