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  • The Lonely Sailor
  • José Luiz Passos (bio)
    Translated by Lucy Greaves

Editor's Note

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...


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pp. 139-153
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