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Seeing Cariri through lenses that tell of its history, or part of it

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

When I close my eyes and think of Cariri, my brain is flooded not with images, but with the peculiar and strong smell of pequi. For those of you who are strangers to North and Northeast Brazil, Pequi is a fruit found in the Amazon, Caatinga, Cerrado and Atlantic Rain Forest regions. But Pequi is not what you expect from a fruit. Not only is it well known for its strong (and, for many, bad) smell, but it’s cooked before consumption and the pulp is used in the preparation of several savoury dishes.

Anyway, the smell of Pequi is how I was first introduced to Cariri at Mercado do Crato (Crato Market). I can’t even remember what year that was, possibly 2005, but it was the first of many visits. I learned to leave the Crajubar axis behind (Crato, Juazeiro do Norte and Barbalha) and also experience Nova Olinda, Assaré, Potengi, Santana...

The sertão-world of Guimarães Rosa materializes itself when we arrive at Cariri, in Ceará. If you haven’t read Rosa or have never been to the area, think of “Sertão” as the Brazilian version of the Australian outback, a backcountry region that comprises most Northeastern states in Brazil. It’s characterized by the harsh desert-like “caatinga” environment and it’s a region rich in history and folklore, vividly represented in the works of Guimarães Rosa. It is a taste of this dive into the culture of sertão that I would like to share with you. Best of all, this is a trip that you can make today, from your computer screen.

To walk around the city of Juazeiro is to face Father Cícero at every stop (it’s to be expected, as we know well). Father Cícero was a local priest who became a politician and spiritual leader in Juazeiro in the beginning of the 20th century. For many in the region, he is considered a saint, even though he was never canonized. The large statue of his likeness in Juazeiro do Norte attracts a large pilgrimage in his honor every November.

But Father Cícero is not all that Juazeiro is about. No visit to the town is complete without

going to Mestre Noza’s and marveling at the work of artisans in leather, clay and woodcut...

Next stop is Horto, a geosite that is located inside Geopark Araripe. You can’t leave Juazeiro do Norte without asking for Father Cícero’s blessing. Since, for now, you can’t ask for it yourself, you can experience religious tourism in Cariri here (virtual visit to the Museum of the Fundação Memorial Padre Cícero, in portuguese).

If you think religious tourism is all the area has to offer, think again. There are a lot of ecotourism opportunities. If you don’t believe me, check out Geopark Araripe from above (in Portuguese).

What about fossils? The Santana do Cariri Palaeontology Museum (Museu de Paleontologia de Santana do Cariri, video in Portuguese) safeguards the treasures discovered in the region and can be explored through the museum’s website (in Portuguese). It’s a small museum, but with an amazing collection that deserves a visit once the pandemic is over. The town of Santana is also small in size, but very charming. Don’t rush through it when you come to visit, take your time.

Is that all? No! In Nova Olinda, visit Casa Grande Foundation (Fundação Casa Grande - Memorial do Homem Kariri) and get to know the wonderful work they develop with local children.

Walk about two blocks further and you will arrive at the Museum of the Leather Cycle (Museu do Ciclo do Couro), by Mr. Espedito Seleiro. When you can, stop by to listen to the stories of the master leather maker and marvel at the colors and details of his work. While that’s not possible, explore his work here. A great way to learn more about Cariri’s history and culture is through books. If you can read Portuguese (you can give it a try if you are a Spanish speaker), I recommend: Padre Cícero: Poder, fé e guerra no sertão, de Lira Neto Meu coração coroado: Mestre Espedito Seleiro, de Eduardo Motta

Photos: Pe Cíceros (Photo 01) - Sara Parente, Pe. Cícero on the "Horto" (Photo 02) - Rebeca Cavalcante, Sunset (Photo 03) - Rebeca Cavalcante, Mr Espedito Selereiro (Photo 04) - Rebeca Cavalcante.

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