Posted in English

An Incident

I was interested in this passage from Maremoto, the book I finished the other day. In the passage, the protagonist, Boa Morte, is standing around near a bus stop when a guy he’s never met comes up and starts accusing him of stealing and generally giving him a hard time. Xingar is a good word here: to verbally abuse someone. O homem está a xingá-lo

Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

“Chamou-me preto de Guinea, farrusco vai para a tua terra, escarumba eu sei lá que mais, aqui na rua há quem diga que pareço realeza, não sei se é verdade, o povo Cuanhama é conhecido pela sua majestade”

Maremoto – Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

It’s obviously got a strong racial angle: preto being a word for black that is not exactly polite (“negro” is the more acceptable word). I’ve heard it described in a news program as the Portuguese equivalent of the N word, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be that, judging from the contexts I’ve seen it in. It definitely has a charge to it though. Likewise, Farrusco is related to skin colour, but its literal meaning is more like “sooty”. “Vai para a tua terra” means go back to your own country and Escarumba is just a general, derogatory term for a black person.

I was initially confused as to why he then goes on, in the second part of the sentence, to talk about royalty, but I was probably being stupid: he’s just turning the situation around. The guy haranguing him can only see his colour and is making all kinds of assumptions about him, but he says among people who know him better, he is considered to have a regal bearing. It seems quite a good way of dismissing the idiot as an irrelevant know-nothing.

When I asked about this online, quite a few people said it wasn’t necessarily a racist incident. Say what now? It’s true that the book doesn’t say for sure that the aggressor in the situation is white, but everything about the terms he’s using – three words in quick succession that make specific reference to Boa Morte’s skin colour – just make me think that the speaker doesn’t share that skin colour. I pointed this out, but the Portuguese peeps replied that there were rivalries and snobberies between black Portuguese people and Africans and then within the African community between different nationalities and tribal groupings and that it’s not unheard of for different groups to say ostensibly racist things to each other as a result. Nobody from within Portugal contradicted this point of view; nobody said it sounded like a racist incident. Every Portuguese person who expressed an opinion said it seemed ambiguous to them.

Mmweellll, I’m from outside the culture so I’m reluctant to flat out contradict them but I must say that gets a big 🤔 from me. If anyone else reading this knows the book, I’d love to hear how you read it and whether or not you agree.

Anyway, it all sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it, but Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is a good enough writer that she can handle a pretty heavy subject with a lightness of touch. It’s quite a funny scene, believe it or not!


Just a data nerd

One thought on “An Incident

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