The Lonely Sailor
In 1889, the monarch Dom Pedro II was overthrown by the military in a bloodless coup, thus ending the Brazilian Empire and replacing it with the First Brazilian Republic, a military oligarchy led by President Deodoro da Fonseca. Following political unrest, Fonseca was succeeded by Vice President Floriano Peixoto. Elements of the navy revolted, accusing Peixoto of violating the constitution's provision requiring new elections. The uprising was finally suppressed in 1894. "The Lonely Sailor" is the story of a young naval insurgent, Silvino Honório de Macedo, whose actions during the chaos made him a hero.
People openly discuss his arrest, in the street and at home, in clubs, in front of the children, as if in some way this capture brought us closer to a new, fairer order, nobler, even, one more in tune with events in the Royal Court; only now people no longer say Court. The theater of change that made Silvino arm a merchant ship and fire on Niterói and Rio de Janeiro, pushing the state capital—our capital, with its new administrative body—up to Petrópolis, high in the mountains. This was Silvino de Macedo's doing; or he at least had a hand in it.
Now, his cousins, sisters, and mother bob here and there, on rough water, aligned by the wind. Tethered to the pier, they do not go beyond the reefs: Maria Estelita, Adelina, Nicote, and Conceição are painted blue, red, yellow, and white, with parallel stripes, their names in careful lettering on port and starboard. They float as if dancing, lined up before the young Silvino, who is smartly dressed in the uniform of the Escola de Aprendizes, the royal naval academy. Any other sailor would do as this one did, even if it seems sad to give the small vessels he equips or handles the names of his mother and of girls who died before they knew life, in cities only reached by sea, or on journeys imagined at home.
Silvino Honório de Macedo, or Silvino de Macedo e Brito, or Silvino de Macedo Lisboa, as attested by his entries in the register of the Escola de Aprendizes, [End Page 139] is the natural son of the merchant José de Macedo. Filiation: Maria da Conceição. Place of birth: Pernambuco. Estimated age: 13. Color: white. Eyes: brown. Height: still growing. Hair: black. He is a midshipman engaged on 2 September 1882 and discharged 20 February 1884; not long after this, he becomes a boatman on the Lingueta quays. He also starts work as a travelling salesman in the service of his father, who has a tavern on Rua do Imperador, near the port of Pernambuco. These are the facts set down by a lawyer—Dr. Vicente Ferrer—in a posthumous case. But in the less official documents, the details of these facts do not coincide.
Silvino is born at Beco Fundo, on the corner of Beco do Jiló, in Goiana, a sugarcane city. He is mestiço. His father does not sign the register of his birth. Alfredo de Carvalho—a trusted name in regional historiography—describes Silvino best: "He was short, delicate, moreno, his face almost beardless, marked by smallpox scars, with small, very dark, brilliant eyes, in which the energy of his soul was reflected; extremely neat, he fit his brown canvas uniform well, a red band at the waist, four ribbons of the same color stretched over the left shirtsleeve, the military cap perfectly placed, his head held straight, with almost no hair, this being cut so short. He had the nickname Engineer"
Any detailed description in a good history book is an act of imagination. Silvino's eyes, which in the Escola entry were brown, become black, brilliant. His size, still changing, is given as that of a delicate young man. His intense spirit seeks its complement in the perfection of the brown uniform. It is clear that the independence of the military life enchants Silvino and removes him from the service of his father, who, after starting a new family by regular marriage, prohibits the presence of Conceiçãos son among his other—legitimate—children.
From 1884, in Pernambuco, until the beginning of the following decade, Silvino disappears off the horizon of documents. He reappears on 10 January 1892, in Daily Order number 288, when he enrolls at officer training school, the Escola Superior de Guerra, in Rio. Describing the year, another objective observer—Corrêa da Costa—gives Silvino renewed stature: "Tall, strong, around twenty-five years of age, clipped moustache, thin face, slight marks of smallpox" he writes, and the soldier grows, improves in physique; he is now Second Sergeant, but still has "small and lively eyes" and possesses "rare energy and fortitude" Such fortitude—or the changeable color of his gaze—places Silvino, mutineer, practically alone in the path of President Floriano Peixoto. [End Page 140]
Why is it so important to describe the appearance, nature, and origins of our rebels? Still a better question might be the following: why would it not be relevant to understand how the history and the physical form of our victims change according to who observes them? Silvino de Macedo—white-skinned mulatto, robustly delicate, the bastard pride of military and family, his face beardless and mustached, with brilliant black-brown eyes—is absolutely indescribable. And 1892, a long and confused year in the lives of both the cadet and our immature Republic, will place him—that green, minute, mistaken hero—on the map.
Marshal Floriano does not love Rio de Janeiro; that much is clear from his actions. Floriano's history and stature are, meanwhile, transparent; we know where he comes from and we know, too, that he was neither tall nor short. That said, his inner life remains quiet, apparently invisible. In prints from the time, he appears as a rock, an irremediable mountain; as a fearless, leafy oak, his face and stripes at mid-trunk. Euclides da Cunha—a chronicler of action, true engineer, and cadet expelled from military school—notes, "The Marshal is a sphinx." Floriano had the habit of disconcerting silence.
On 19 January 1892, President Floriano travels from Piedade, in the countryside just outside Rio, to the city center, by rail, in the customary forty-five minutes. He makes the journey in silence—and thus far, nothing new. But when he looks out of the first-class window, he sees a double brigade of guards awaiting him. There are eight dragoons of the Republic instead of four, and there are many soldiers of different ranks; they form a compact detachment beside the line, observed by the passersby who stop, swelling this group to a silent crowd. Floriano is displeased. But he says nothing all the same; he does not even ask what is going on. He simply waits to be informed.
The memory crafted by chroniclers is an agreeable one—and malleable, insofar as the infinity of facts, the concatenation of events, can be malleable—in this tour of what has taken place up until now; the annals are unequivocal even when mistaken, suspending fate in a varied mesh of versions. Floriano himself read two of the three lives of Napoleon Bonaparte available in his time. But as for how he viewed the double-printed life of the Emperor of France, this can only be imagined. So, to that end, on the train the old machine is set in motion. Deus ex machina. A day passes, things change; the past changes, because chronicles remake undone lives. The communiqué reaches Floriano from a superintendent of the infantry. He interrupts his reading, places the book on Bonaparte down on the seat, and hears, "The Santa Cruz fortress is [End Page 141] mutinying," and that among the leaders is a certain Sergeant Silvino, who has given an ultimatum—in writing—to him, Marshal Floriano, the President.
"Napoleon pushed open the door and stood on the threshold, letting his eyes scan the faces of those gathered outside. All were present; he recognized each of them without fail, for he had molded them in his own political likeness. There was Régis de Cambacérès; the dukes of Bassano, Rovigno, and Gaeta; Thibaudeau; Decrès; Daru; and Davout. Then, he returned inside: there were his friends Caulaincourt, Exelmans, and the naïve Fleury de Chaboulon. He did still have friends. Every once in a while, one of them betrayed him. Was he perchance a god, to punish or despise them? No, he was merely another man. But everyone took him for a god. And of this god they demanded fury and vengeance; they also expected forgiveness, as they would of a god. He had no time for that: becoming furious, punishing, excusing. Even above the cries of the multitude outside and the clamor of the dragoons in the house and garden, he heard the ticking of the clock behind him. There was no time to punish anyone. He would only have time to forgive and be adored. It was time for favors, titles, posts: the privileges that an Emperor can bestow. Generosity costs less than rage—and, as such, Napoleon judged himself immensely generous"
On the morning of the ultimatum, Silvino is approximately twenty-three years of age, but has only been attending the Escola Superior de Guerra for nine days. He is a cadet, the absolute picture of a greenhorn; he is a nortista, a northerner residing in Rio since a few weeks before, though this can only be estimated. While Floriano, fifty-three, has been President for exactly two months, having assumed this post following the resignation of Marshal Deodoro—that restless old man, frank of ideas and fearful of the opinion of others, who was truly the first face of our Republic. And suddenly, the message from Silvino arrives. Floriano puts aside the biography of Napoleon and reads the letter. "The Navy is armed Democracy" Here we have a cry of little originality. "The Constitution is the will of the People" This very constitution foresees elections in case the Presidency should become vacant before two full years of mandate. But President Floriano takes his time and reorganizes ministries. Under these circumstances, Silvino demands the resignation of the golpista, the deceitful Marshal, before fourteen hundred hours this same day, or else the Santa Cruz fortress will bombard the city of Rio de Janeiro.
It is ten in the morning. President Floriano cannot forego the official carriage, as he usually does, so he jumps off the train and takes the transport. Once inside, he sits and makes a vague gesture that takes no more than a second: the hand in the air, above his head, and a turn of the wrist as he moves his fingers. Officials and [End Page 142] soldiers, curious pedlars, and eight dragoons in a mounted escort surround the carriage. To the infantry superintendent, Floriano's gesture means "Continue!" with his account of the goings-on at Santa Cruz. For the colonel charged with the safety of the President's passage, the signal is clear: "Disperse!"—the crowd must disappear and the military personnel must return to their posts. Meanwhile, to the eyes of the carriages footman, the sign is obviously a "Hup!" and avant with the carriage—a fact that he immediately transmits to the coachman, stretching out and pulling in his arms, fists closed, in the direction beyond the entourage. The coachman understands and sets the horses in motion. After the initial jolt, the carriage door closes and President Floriano continues his journey, uncomfortable, in silence, towards the Palácio Itamaraty.
From a young age, Silvino accompanies his mother, Conceição, to market. One day, she is carrying a large basket of sweet potato, pumpkin, chayote, coriander, and parsley; plus onion, a cut of jerked beef, two scoops of black beans, and a bit of cumin. Silvino's mother promises him a tasty stew for his thirteenth birthday. The two of them walk to the Goiana market, on boards and mats laid for market day on both sides of the street, until they reach the mother church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Brancos. Built in 1570, Goiana is perhaps Brazil's oldest city. Now handcuffed, sitting, his face throbbing, Silvino remembers that day. Once more he sees the butter seller asking if his father, José de Macedo, would be coming back on that huge white horse, since the small dark-skinned greengrocer, his face cracked, wanted to know a little bit more about business in the capital. And crouching, in nankeen trousers and black shirtsleeves, on the floor of the headquarters on Rua Aurora, arrested while returning to Pernambuco, Silvino invokes—gagged, his eyes closed—the sensations of the delicious stew from ten years ago, the week he entered the Escola de Aprendizes; the smells of the kitchen with its hard earth floor, and Conceição peeling vegetables, while he washes the salt from the meat in a bucket filled with water and a cup of milk, and Maria Estelita, smaller, still alive, wriggles on the pork-stripping bench, softly singing one of her favorite emboladas.
"In the midst of the monarchist multitude, someone held a bizarre effigy above people's heads, a ridiculous rag doll made with cloth of various colors. It represented Emperor Napoleon, wearing the uniform so well known to those who had adored him in his long, gray coat, the small black hat on his head. Hanging from a hook in the doll's chest was a white card on which was written, in clear black letters, the first line of "La Marseillaise": Allons, enfants de la Patrie! The Emperor's little head, made of scraps, was attached to a stick and shaken from side to side, or bobbed back and forth; the Emperor was already decapitated, his head hanging by a thread. Napoleon's dummy floated on an immense wave of monarchist flags, amidst the white standards of the House of Bourbon. By [End Page 143] itself, the doll was a great mockery; but the presence of so many flags multiplied the derision one hundred thousand times."
President Floriano has no time to read when he arrives at the palace. He must meet with the Spanish Ambassador, who is bidding farewell to Brazil after serving since the last years of the monarchy. Neither of them mentions the insurrection at Santa Cruz. Silvino's ultimatum to Floriano expires at the very moment the President and Ambassador are discussing Rio, a city blessed with its rocks, its mountains, and beaches. The Ambassador would never forget, never. He praises the Palácio Itamaraty. President Floriano replies that they are going to move to a new palace, in Catete. The Ambassador says that their countries will always be friends, regardless of any change. But when he says change, silence engulfs the Spaniard—the President does not reply—he blushes, regrets the word, and hears the ticking of the clock on the wall. Floriano says that he intends to move in two months, to Catete. The Ambassador says he thinks this is an excellent idea, and takes his leave; he gives his thanks for the cordial treatment bestowed on his compatriots. He gives a formal bow, disconcerted, tilting his head forward with his eyes closed, and then he exits. In his place, a minister and an admiral enter. President Floriano instructs them that the mutiny at Santa Cruz should be quashed today—by land and, should it prove necessary, by sea.
When Silvino hears Admiral Custódio de Melo's name, his chest grows cold and beats with admiration. Consider the case of the free black man nicknamed Escravo, quartered by his own landlady after abolition, after the regime change—and now a Vice who will not leave the Presidency. What Republic was this, so unjust and for so many? Admiral Custódio promises to correct this state of things. Various naval officers are displeased. However, we now know that Silvino also confuses some of these signs. The shots he interprets on 19 January 1892 as a Now! are a festive salvo in honor of Saint Sebastian, the city's patron. On the day before the saint's holiday, fireworks go off at six in the morning, at midday, and at Ave Marias. Silvino proceeds with the planned order, not knowing it is the wrong day. The following morning, the twentieth, the day of Saint Sebastian—sacred protector of cities—the Army invades the Santa Cruz fortress. Resistance is minimal. None of the other forts, or any warships, rushes to the rebels' defense.
When the rebel troop is together in the stronghold, with Silvino among them, a lance corporal posted at the barracks window shoots him in the chin with a musket. The bullet pierces his jaw; his tongue becomes a searing ball of flesh. Silvino can no longer talk. He is found atop a wooden cot, bleeding, with his hand at his face. Questioned, Silvino confesses the influence of high-ranking [End Page 144] officers; he mentions the names of two admirals; he replies using a piece of chalk and a slate. When asked why he is rebelling against the Republic, he writes that he rises up in favor of the Republic, not against it; that the Republic is not the will of a single man.
Nicknamed Caboclo for his half-blood origins—a name that does not displease him—and later Iron Marshal by his followers, and El Segundo by the monarchists, President Floriano takes pity on Silvino: "6 October 1892, Order of the Day number 346, on the third of the present month the decree was given to exclude, from active service of the Army, Second Sergeant Silvino de Macedo, of no designated regiment, who has served at the Santa Cruz fortress and is currently undergoing medical treatment in the Naval hospital." After his dismissal, Silvino finds employment at the Diário Oficial, the government news-paper, and receives one hundred thousand réis from the President to return to Pernambuco. But he does not return; he stays in Rio, hearing rumors that the Navy will still rise up before the year is out.
Napoleon mounts his white horse and rides alone through the wintry Paris streets. He refuses the protection of dragoons. The truth of any chronicle lies in the details. What year is this—1814, 1893? The Emperor urges the horse on with his spurs and crosses the snow-covered boulevard. He already knows that he has lost the battle of Waterloo.
Jornal do Commercio, a Rio de Janeiro newspaper, in the year following Silvino's execution: "The gas lamps, pulled down, lie across the streets; the ruptured burners, their posts bent, were unusable; shattered glass shone on the paving; cobblestones, which had served as projectiles for those depredations, lay jumbled, obstructing the way; all around the remains of broken, burned trams, doors torn off their hinges, mattresses, cans, piles of stones showed the remains of the barricades built by the tumultuous crowd."
On 6 September 1893, Admiral Custódio moves rebel ships to Guanabara Bay, in Rio, positioning part of the fleet against President Floriano. The Admiral promises to "restore the empire of the Constitution" which Floriano swore to while he was Vice President but, even so, violates time and again. On the first day of the revolt, Custódio publishes a manifesto: "Personal document without influence and without principles" is what Counselor Joaquim Nabuco, monarchist, abolitionist, memorialist, calls it. "We went up Castelo Hill to see the ships," and by the following week the city is closed off; the port area and everything around the arsenal, barracks, and fortifications, emptied of anyone [End Page 145] not in uniform. "First bombardment between the fleet and forts. A dramatic failure? Departure of the warship República. The foreign fleets withdrew into the bay. From Novo Mundo Hill, I watch the bombardment of the fortresses by the Javari, Aquidabã, República, and Marajó. There are three governments today—that of the President in the Palácio Itamaraty, that of Admiral Custódio aboard the Aquidabã, and that of the neutral officers in the Ilha das Cobras fortress. The fear of being spied on is written across every Brazilian face. The only licit conversation is, 'What weather we're having!' Whosoever says 'What a time we're having!' would be jailed."
Days later, Counselor Nabuco climbs Nova Cintra hill to watch the Aquidabã moving up through the channel of Ilha das Cobras, where an admiral of well-known monarchic sympathies is in command. On his way down, Nabuco hears the bombardment and sees something fall in Rua Princesa do Catete, lifting a huge cloud of dust next to the house where his father lived for twenty years. "I descend by night—I go to see the house. A lot of dust," he notes; everyone wants to see the damage that the rebel fleet is doing to the city. Meanwhile, President Floriano—"his lost gaze falling upon all, fixing upon none," Euclides da Cunha writes, "dressed in a threadbare military coat, tied with a loose belt from which a sword hung sadly"—receives visits and dispatches, and uses his veto against laws and petitions. He only declares a state of siege in Rio and other capital cities twenty days after the beginning of the Navy revolt.
During those strange events of 1893, sporting bandages and a long scar on his face, Silvino returns to duty. Admiral Custódio appoints him commander of the corvette Guanabara, armed with medium-caliber cannons. Exhibiting his shortened chin, tenacious will, and a wasted voice, Silvino shoots at ships and torpedo boats faithful to President Floriano. Throughout Brazil spreads the myth of a death-sailor who took the Santa Cruz fortress the previous year and now wants to destroy Niterói and Rio. Aligned in the bay between Ilha das Cobras and the fortress of Villegaignon, the rebel ships Aquidabã, República, Trajano, and Javari—as well as the Guanabara itself—shoot at the legalist fortresses. Floriano arms the hills with cannon brigades. The exchange of fire damages the city center several times. Two shots from the Aquidabã hit the tower of the Candelária church; a shell falls in Rua do Ouvidor, breaking the dome of the Lapa dos Mercadores church and destroying part of the neighboring building.
Among the sailors aboard the Guanabara are boys fifteen and sixteen years old. Silvino has a fierce affection for them. From the Guanabara comes the shot that blinds the holophote on Glória hill, used by the Army to track the movements of the rebel Navy at night. On deck, Silvino and the boys watch the lamps of [End Page 146] the Aquidabã hindering the fortress's aim; they see the city aflame, silenced by the darkness of the hour. The lights of the ships throw silvery traces across the bay. The closest patch of light, brought to life by the glimmering undulation around the hull, reveals seaweed, shoals of fish, shadows here and there that, as soon as they disappear, come back in new forms, against the animated motion of others from a minute ago. Everything in the sea is change.
At the fireside, Silvino's mother asks him, Who taught you to row? The lad smiles, trying to come up with an answer; it was when the boat overturned, he says, quoting the lyrics of a favorite folk song. Conceição carries on singing about people who have gone to the sea forever and will never come back, about eternal loves frozen in an impossibly distant past. She is pregnant with Nicote, the stillborn child. And Maria Estelita applauds, sitting on her stool, sucking chunks of sugarcane. The boy Silvino watches his mother and sister. He swears to himself that he will become a sailor and bring back his father, who does not keep his promises, the father riding the great white horse that makes such an impression on people at the market.
Today we also know that, all alone, the sailor made up his own words. Clamear, for asking without conviction, knowing that one plays a game whose point is to kill time. Jãe, when he wanted to indicate haste, with the deliberation of plans long cultivated, but with results not dependent on one's will. Otrofa: a person one cares for greatly, even at a distance, or in the face of indifference from the person. Another chronicler—O. L.—points out a more extensive glossary: "Even though I still do not speak," he writes, and has Silvino think, "inside myself I am putting together words that do not yet exist. Tenderna is that porcelainesque light we see in the bedroom before dawn. Lanstoso: the air of a person who desires to attack us but does not, out of fear. Emarame: the act of coming and going at the same time; and also a doubling, the insoluble movement, before the mirror, of a body reflected in the glass, while both—body and reflection—are contemplated by another." Silvino was, in fact, a spirited idealist.
Towards the end ofSeptember, Counselor Nabuco speculates, "Today I heard that Floriano contracted for 500 thousand réis with a Captain Boyton, an American adventurer, to torpedo the Aquidabã, and that man proceeded to prepare the torpedo and took a launch with a fake English flag. The launch was captured and handed over to the American battleship by Admiral Custódio. I need not comment on the use of the English flag for this end. If the ministry of the Navy connived in this act of piracy, there is no qualification." And, later on, "I went into the city, to the bank. All looked at me with admiration; some assumed me imprisoned, others in Petrópolis. Then I went to the Morro to see my sister. [End Page 147] Bombardment in Niterói by the Guanabara, the Trajano, and two merchant ships. Everyone I saw warned me to be on my guard. Why? This fight is between republicans. And I am not even a federalist because I do not know what federalism wants. I sympathize with it as with the triumph of the rebel fleet, out of hope'.'
In October, the foreign interests intervene, negotiating a ceasefire in the bombardment of Rio; they are mainly American and British ships. President Floriano's slow pragmatism takes effect. Admiral Custódio, commanding from the Aquidabã, signs the treaty. Counselor Nabuco notes in his journal that "the government is withdrawing the cannon brigades from the hills because this is the only way the foreign diplomats will vouch for the rebel fleet. It is an appeal to foreign protection. Such boldness, such conviction that the pirates would be sunk, only to later find that everything requires the protection of foreigners, which is worthless." Nabuco insists that there is great expectation that he will be imprisoned. But, in the end, he is not. The revolt was never a monarchist one. Gradually, the Imperial counselor and former diplomat retires from public life, and sinks into memory: "People from the farm. Henriqueta. Quiet, old black woman, thin, cheerful, wrinkled, scarf tied about her head, the doctor, the midwife who never charged, a local nurse of the street, the old slave house, curing with herbs. Ingratiating, goodwilled, gentle—the living tradition of old recipes—carrying the daily ration every morning," which is a bowl of flour "for fifty families, given by the Baron" And he begins to put together the memoirs of his political training, painting in this a landscape akin to Silvino's childhood in Pernambuco and the brown face of his mother, Conceição.
When Conceição enters the room, a scarf tied around her head, the men stop discussing Silvino's execution. She is carrying a tray with a coffee pot, coffee cups, and a plate of biscuits. What could have made President Floriano act so unreasonably? Perhaps he was still affected by the death of Lieutenant Gustavo Sampaio, a friend of his, hit by the rebels in the batteries of the Lage fort. At two in the morning, Floriano receives a telegram from the Governor of Arms in Pernambuco: the sailor of the rebel Guanabara ship is here, captured. According to the minister who that night accompanied the President, as soon as he reads the message, he dictates a reply, "Have him shot before dawn." Three hours later, at five in the morning on a Sunday, Silvino is shot. The same morning, at breakfast time, Conceição drops a faience tray on her British employers' dining-room floor.
The foreigners, with their property protection brigades, distribute pamphlets, put up posters in the center of Rio, announcing that the foreign fleet is offering protection. Further north, in the port of Pernambuco, the fleet loyal to [End Page 148] President Floriano is organizing, supported by the neutrality of the foreigners. Admiral Custódio knows that, after the agreement not to bombard Rio, the rebel fleet is fighting a battle without shots; their fate depends on the adhesion of other ships, fortresses, and ports. He sends for the Count of Biscussia, a liberal Austrian, who arrives in October 1893 aboard the Strabo. The Count pays visits and takes correspondence; he leaves on 7 November. Upon his return to Rio, he is immediately detained. Letters from local political leaders sympathetic to the revolt are handed to President Floriano. A competent chronicler speculates that the Count has betrayed the rebel Navy. Informed about the situation, Admiral Custódio decides to try once more in Pernambuco—his man this time. Not a foreigner, but a local.
Letter from Napoleon Bonaparte, written after his capture, when he is first offered the option of suicide: "Therefore, the prisoner who commits suicide is like a prisoner who flees; one and the other elude punishment, because this should consist in duration and not in extinction. In death by one's own hands, does the crime go unpunished? No, because suppose the delinquent fled, here he would leave name and memory; and in this the punishment is still exacted; the condemnation of perpetual disgrace weighs against him: what ended with flight or death was worldly punishment, and thus a short punishment, because it ended with life, but goes on to substitute the punishment of ignominy, an almost endless punishment, because chronicles and history cause the memory of infamy to be reborn every instant."
There are two movements in Pernambuco, one of indifference to the events in Rio—captained by the Governor—and another in full support of Admiral Custódios revolt. The sympathizers begin to be persecuted directly following the Count of Biscussias visit. On 22 November, five sailors are tortured and shot in the Imbiribeira arsenal, in Pernambuco. They walk barefoot from the cell to the execution site. One of them, who was thirsty, was denied water. Vicente Ferrer tells us all this. The order is to bury their bodies fifty meters away from the place of torture, in unmarked graves, in open ground, and to let the grass grow over them so that the burial places will be lost. This information is also transmitted to the tortured sailors. One of them, Isácio Coati, is only sixteen years old.
At the beginning of 1894, anchored in the port of Pernambuco, alongside five new German Shichau ships, are the Niterói, the Andrada, and the torpedo boat Gustavo Sampaio, these last three bought by Floriano from the United States. The revolution brought me peace, but not the peace I expected—is what Silvino usually says to the soldiers, encouraging the youngest among them to join the [End Page 149] campaign against the President. On 13 January, Silvino disembarks at the quays where he worked rowing small boats and ferries; he arrives aboard the Belgian steamship Wordsworth, destined for Boston, though his name does not appear on the passenger list. Everything there looks the same and yet nothing is the same. Silvino changes, places change.
On the Lingueta quays, in Pernambuco, with a long scar that makes him easily identifiable, Silvino is immediately aimed at by a blue banner, a soldier of President Floriano's guard whom the people call the Tiradentes. Vicente Ferrer believes that Silvino is not at the service of Admiral Custódio, and indicates the debarkation at a familiar quay, where he was very well known, as a demonstration of having keenly missed his homeland, not one of politics. "Others say that, having taken quite a fancy to a girl on board, he came on land to buy a jangadinha, a toy raft, to give to her. The following is certain: he was at the door of shop number 28 on the Lingueta quays, today Santos Dumont Square, buying one such jangadinha, when Tiradentes Joaquim Freire passed by and, facing him, said, 'You are Silvino de Macedo!' Silvino denied this and stood there, imprudently, right where he was" Minutes later, he was taken prisoner.
The accusations and execution take place far from public opinion, in the middle of the night, in a secluded site, with no warning or trial as prescribed by the martial laws of the time. Silvino is shot by firing squad, with no person or civil body to witness the procedure. The state of siege does not allow for execution without trial; martial law does not authorize exceptions in the sentencing of civilians; Silvino's dismissal from the Army had been issued in the usual way; hence he is neither a soldier nor a flagrant spy; he has not committed a crime in the state of Pernambuco; he must answer, as a civilian, for the crimes committed in Rio de Janeiro. But General Leite Castro appoints a military jury and, at four in the afternoon, begins the interrogation.
Do you advocate absolutism?—How many of you are there?—What do you want in the port of Pernambuco?—Do you know the Count of Biscussia?—And Doctor José Mariano Carneiro da Cunha?—What is your father's full name?—Where is your commission card?—What orders do you now obey?—Write down who is currently the President of Brazil.
With nothing more to ask, an interrogator tips the chair backwards. Silvino falls to the floor and receives a kick in the stomach. For a moment he loses his breath, suffocates underwater, cannot see or hear. The world falls silent. He gradually comes back to the surface; everything in the sea is change. [End Page 150] Silvino lifts his tiny chin covered in blood, a truly monstrous thing, and opens his dark eyes. The interrogators take a step back. The death-sailor says in his nasal voice, "Jãe clameio otrofa lanstoso not that emarame betrays," and there is silence. Once again, the interrogators do not know what to ask. "Speak not in the language of half-breeds, Engineer!" and he receives a blow. Even so he gives no sign of a reply. "Write here" and they hand him, for the second time, a piece of chalk and a slate.
The prosperous merchant José de Macedo, Silvino's father, is called to the jail-house on Rua da Aurora. He is escorted while wearing his nightgown under a long, grey coat with wide tails. Through the little door used for handing over rations, the father sees the son. Silvino is shackled, naked, crouching on the floor. The smell of urine and feces escapes through the cracks of the door. "Is that your son? Because he himself said he was; is he or not, your son?" Only a madman would narrate the past as if it were still happening. The young boy's adventures run through José de Macedo's head, playing, dressed as a sailor. "That is your son, is it not?" There is Silvino, with his sweet apish face, with a long scar and soft eyes, looking like a blind man, desiring the fall of the marshals. "It is not, Lieutenant. My sons are sleeping at home—I already told you that"
At around two in the morning, a telegram arrives from President Floriano simply saying, "Execute him without formalities" Or this, at least, is what the chronicler Ferrer tells us. Corrêa da Costa insists on the aforementioned "Have him shot before dawn" as one of Floriano's ministers recorded. Others—for example, Dr. Júlio de Melo—defend the notion that the message is no more than an ambiguous "Deal with it immediately," resulting in the cable officer's request for confirmation, for the order to be resent.
Every chronicler is a sertanista, an explorer of unknown territory, living in a web of conjectures. There are, among modern men, those who have called Silvino a guerrilla—Corrêa da Costa uses the term. And for those who contest this, there is the question of how to avoid the dangers of a triumphant mentality. Everything impresses and dominates, conquers and indulges them. But a chronicler cannot use mystery as a strategy and, even less so, cheer for the triumph of the strong. In either case, treating the past with delicacy should not rule out the relative weight of imagination, because the past exists only as a great tangle of remembered events. Beyond this abominable rubble of facts is the sensitive and significant life of Silvino de Macedo. The problem of the chronicle is, above all, a problem of the stupidity of facts. [End Page 151]
When Silvino is left alone, bending the chain that binds his feet, he draws with one of the links a yellow, spotted sun on the cell wall, like that big sun glued and nailed to a palm tree at the Palácio das Princesas during the 1817 Revolution in Pernambuco. How long does he stare at it? Suddenly, two soldiers hurl the door open and lift the prisoner from the floor. He is fed and dressed in the same clothes as before. Just like the five sailors tortured in November, Silvino now goes on foot, alone, to the Imbiribeira arsenal. He has his hands behind him and a small wooden rod between his wrists where the ropes are tied; on his head, a brown scarf encircles his face, holding his wounded chin with a knot on top of his head; and thus, he walks barefoot, accompanied only by the guards.
Lieutenant Bellefonte takes charge of the execution—certain officers say he volunteers for this. Once again, Ferrer is the best chronicler of that passion. "Silvino turned to the soldiers, to whom he said he knew they were fulfilling their duty, and asked to give the order to fire. Lieutenant Bellefonte replied, 'A bandit cannot give orders to soldiers!' He was also forbidden to speak, but once the officer's first instructions had been given, Silvino cried, 'In the heart, fire!' And fell writhing in the last convulsions of agony, which ended with the coup de grâce." But no one volunteers to give this shot. Bellefonte then points at an orderly, the youngest in the line, who slowly takes out his revolver, apologizes to the tortured man, and aims the barrel. Silvino contorts and twists his body on the ground, his chest split open. The orderly takes a step back, moving his boots away, stretches out his arm, vexation visible on his face, and shoots, spreading Silvino's head across the arsenal floor.
Dr. Vicente Ferrer: "When I visited the tortured men's grave on 23 February 1896, I was overcome by the most cruel sadness for the premature passing of my only son, which took place that same year, and, in his memory and my Catholic sentiment, I promised to work to have the remains of those disgraced men moved to a sacred place. It was not officially recorded that there were executions in Pernambuco, nor that there were any burials in the Imbiribeira arsenal. I went to General Travassos, and he still denied me permission, because the exhumation might cause some noise. How the general deceived himself … In Brazil, any alteration of the public order on the part of the people is impossible. Moreover, the old rebels wanted to hide their involvement in the revolt. Of them only one gave five thousand réis for Silvino's grave, and asked that his name should not be revealed, but instead be noted as "um cupim," a termite—the name of the abolitionist society that provided key services to the cause of the liberation of slaves." [End Page 152]
Here, at the time, the state capital of Rio de Janeiro was still the city of Niterói, so devastated by the rebel of the corvette Guanabara—our own Silvino. As a result of the bombardments, the capital was relocated to Petrópolis in 1894, high in the mountains, away from the coast. President Floriano did not live to witness its restoration; he died in June 1895, a year and a half after executing Silvino. Niterói only regained its political status in 1904.
Today, I look at these photographs in the magazine and I see dead men. Among them is Silvino. Silvino de Macedo has no ancestors and leaves no descendants. He was shot in the early hours of 14 January 1894, against the trunk of a mango tree in an arsenal a league from the port of Pernambuco. In his last moments, someone shouts to him Tiradentes's cry: A Republic is built with blood and eternal longing for the Monarchy! He hates Tiradentes's followers and the monarchists equally; he sits on the floor and thinks, If the circumstances change, does the man change? The words of his interrogator come back to him: the Navy revolt was the result of deceit, lying, and misplaced loyalties—do you hear? He nods in silence, but Brazil is still governed by a man in a military jacket and twenty plantation officers, is it not? Neither independence nor freedom. At least we can no longer go back to the past: that is the lasting work of revolutions; and only then Silvino smiles. [End Page 153]
João Guimarães Rosa (1908–1967) is regarded as one of Brazil's greatest writers. Born in Cordisburgo, Minas Gerais, he worked as a doctor and, in 1938, as a diplomat for the Brazilian government in Hamburg, Germany. In 1942, he was arrested for forging passports for Jews fleeing the Nazis, and was later freed in exchange for the release of German diplomats. He was honored for this humanitarian work by the state of Israel. He wrote poetry and fiction, and his highly innovative 1956 novel, Grande Sertão: Veredas, is considered a masterpiece of Brazilian and world literature.