Rita Gregório de Melo

from the text “Madrinha Rita: 80 years old” published in the virtual magazine Arca da União by Francisco Nóbrega

Rita Gregório de Mello, widow of Sebastião Mota de Mello, founder of the CEFLURIS (Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light Raimundo Irineu Serra), celebrates on this June of 2005 her eighty years of age.

Being today well-known and respected worldwide, for a long time she was only “Rita of Mota”, a Mestre Irineu’s humble fardada who never sought to stand out as a female leadership, even when his husband became a Padrinho leader of his own center, or when later in Mauá, in Rio de Janeiro’s State, she was homaged by Alex Polari de Alverga and his group from Céu da Montanha when giving name to CEFLURG – Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light Rita Gregório.

Discreet carrier of a hinário that she completed with 25 hymns, Madrinha Rita, who today is the maxim representative of a whole female battalion of the very praised Queen of the Forest, just proceeded exercising a position in CEFLURIS’s Presidency after having become a widow, while representative of a spiritual legacy inherited from his missed husband and kept through the children of this union. In honor to this lovely matriarch of the Amazonian rubber plantations, we present here a little of her northeastern origins and her life trajectory.

Of her origins in the Várzea of the Açu, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte

Madrinha Rita Gregório was born on June 25th, 1925, daughter of Idalino Gregório and Maria Francisca das Chagas, in a Várzea do Açu’s Ranch, in Rio Grande do Norte’s State. There were also born her siblings Francisco Gregório, Joana, Manuel, Luísa, Teresa, Júlia and João Batista. Between the 20s and the 40s of the 20th century the Antunes Gregório family lived in a Camilo’s family property; owners of the famous Alemão Farm in Várzea do Açu. Alike the majority of northeasterners of this time they did not have their own land, neither cattle, neither a cowboy’s status.

Várzea do Açu is today very different from the time in which the family of Rita Gregório started and grew, in the first half of the 20th century. In that time there was not the Rio do Açu’s dam, one of the largest in the Brazilian northeast, inaugurated in 1983, in the last military government, where today lays the agrarian industry of fruits to export, the ceramic industry (tile and brick), both with great environmental impact and less in the social development. Moreover, as well as Várzea do Açu, the territory of the Rio Grande do Norte became one of the largest Petrobrás’ Continental Petroliferous extraction bases.

But the Açu River, before the dam inauguration, was not soil fertility alone. It provoked floods, destructions, flooding farming’s, making the riverside population and herds flee, burying villages. In the middle of the 20s, when Rita Gregório was born, cattle breeding still had strong presence in that region, where the rich farmers and cowboys were the most highlighted characters.

The carnauba also had great economic importance in that time. Native palm tree of the Northeast, called “tree of life”, its wax had wide industrial use. The straw and stem were used to build houses, the house furniture and utensils of the country. It is also used to make straw mats, purses, hats, broom and other utensils. Its wood fits the civil construction, furniture, corrals, fences, bridges, tubes and water pump.

Seu Idalino Gregório leased the small products of carnauba. He would cut and hang the straw to dry, dust it and also make the wax. His children, Rita included, also helped in this collection service. Nowadays, without more economic prestige, the carnauba is being threatened of total deforestation in Várzea do Açu, to give place to the new agricultural fronts, mostly the export fruits.

If it well rained they planted beans, corn, pumpkin, watermelon; the crop being divided 50/50 with the boss, the Camilo’s family. Seu Idalino harvested his plantations and still worked harvesting the neighbors’ plantations: Cashew chestnut crops, of cotton, in the carnauba straw cut and even in the saline, where his son Manuel worked as a cook. They also fished in the camboas* and at the sea and they hunted with dogs in the caatinga* to catch small wildlife. In the early 40s, the last years that the family of her Idalino and Maria Francisca das Chagas lived in Várzea do Açu, were years of strong droughts, what motivated most the northeasterners migration to the Amazon

Camboas* are small lagoons along the ocean coast created by the tide.

Caatinga* is a type of vegetation and an eco-region characterized by this vegetation in the northeastern part of Brazil. The name “Caatinga” is a Tupi word meaning “white forest” or “white vegetation”. It covers over 10% of the Brazil’s territory. Caatinga is a xeric shrubland and thorn forest, which consists primarily of small, thorny trees that shed their leaves seasonally. Cacti, thick-stemmed plants, thorny brush, and arid-adapted grasses make up the ground layer. Many annual plants grow, flower, and die during the brief rainy season (wikipedia).

61 years ago: the move to the Amazon during the rubber plantations era

In the 30s decade some striking political facts happened in Rio Grande do Norte and in Brazil, of which certainly the people of seu Idalino Antunes Gregório and Mrs. Maria Francisca das Chagas, parents of the young Rita Gregório, heard too much: The president João Pessoa’s assassination (governor), who was from Paraíba, the ascension of Getúlio Vargas*, the communist action of taking the city of Natal, the death of Lampião* and the world war II. With the war there was the loss of the Malaysian rubber plantations, which supplied rubber to the allies, and the only supply source left was situated in the Amazon. Such facts would go to change the life of the Gregório’s family forever and the life of dozens of thousands of northeasterners that would go to the Amazon, summoned for the “rubber battle*”. By the back countries of Brazil it was only heard of how much one would become rich in the rubber market.

Getúlio Dorneles Vargas*, provisional President, ruled as dictator (1930-34), congressionally elected president (1934-37), and again dictator (1937-45), with the backing of his revolutionary coalition. He also served as a senator (1946-51) and the popularly elected president (1951-54). Vargas had risen through the system of patronage and clientelism, creating a new form of political power–populism. Using such insights, he would gradually establish such mastery over the Brazilian political world that he would stay in power for fifteen years. During those years, the preeminence of the agricultural elites ended, new urban industrial leaders acquired more influence nationally, and the middle class began to show some strength (wikipedia).
Lampião* was the great hero of Brazilian folklore. Lampião (“Oil Lamp” in Portuguese) was the nickname of “Captain” Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, the most famous leader of a Cangaço band (marauders and outlaws who terrorized the Brazilian Northeast in the 1920s and 1930s). Thus started the legend of Lampião and Maria Bonita (his companion), who became subjects of innumerable folk stories, with all the elements of drama, passion, and violence typical of “Far West” stories. By many, he was considered a folk hero, a kind of Robin Hood and the head of a peasant revolt against the all-dominant, feudal farmers of the region (the so-called coronels). The fact remains that he was the most notorious of the many rural bandits (in his own admission) that infested the poor hinterland of Northeast Brazil (wikipedia).

Rubber battle* is an allusion to a period during the world war II when the Brazilian Army drafted people, many times against their will, to harvest rubber for the Allied war effort. They were called “rubber soldiers”.

From April to August of 1943 more than four thousand northeasterners entered the city of Manaus. Many did not go to the interior, disenchanted in the “rubber battle” failure, remaining there, initiating the swallowing process [creation of slums] of the Amazon capital and popularizing the northeastern immigrant called “arigó” (rustic individual; yokel), that the policeman chronic helped most to spread their bad fame.

In 1944 an immigrant’s agent appeared in Várzea do Açu, where lived the young Rita Gregório, her parents and siblings. The man profited by person, summoning the people to go to the rubber plantations. They say that the young Rita, then with nineteen years old, was full of joy with the family decision to go to the Amazon: “Let’s pack it up people; it is over there the land to make money”.

They left of the Saco ranch in a pau de arara* kind of truck, at eleven o’clock in the morning of April 28th, 1944. It is natural that good-bye tears were dropped, but it is sure that there was more euphoria in this family of seu Idalino Gregório, gathered in benches crossed along the truck’s bed and covered in canvas.

Pau de arara* is a designation given in the Brazilian Northeast to a flat bed truck adapted for passenger transportation. The truck’s bed is equipped with narrow wooden benches and a canvas canopy. The term refers to long metal rails extending lengthwise under the canopy where passengers would hang on to when standing. In past decades, it was widely used by migrants fleeing periodic drought conditions in their home region.

The ocean travel between Fortaleza and Manaus was foreseen to last four days. The steamboat cut the Atlantic waters in Manaus’ Search, thronged with “rubber soldiers” immigrants, many of them along with their families. The ship went being convoyed by other military vessels because there was the danger of being torpedoed by Nazi submarines. After Belém the ship followed travel in the great Amazon River. When they disembarked in Manaus it was about three days since a river boat had left to Rio Branco, in Acre, where seu Idalino had thought to go. A younger brother of Rita, called João Batista, sicken, weak, weakened of the weeks’ travel, does not resist, dying in Manaus. The mother, Maria Francisca das Chagas, afflicted, after burying her son said that she would not stay one more day in the city. It was when a rubber baron arrived from the high portion of the Juruá River, seeking five families willing to go back with him. Seu Idalino’s children came to an agreed with the old man [their father] and they transferred the travel objective that was to go to Rio Branco, to the Juruá River instead.

Towards Juruá: the dream girl of Sebastião and the encounter with Mestre Irineu in Alto Santo

They left Manaus in July and arrived in August of 1944 in the final destiny of the travel: Eirunepé. The young Sebastião Mota de Melo lived in a neighboring rubber plantation from the location where the family of seu Idalino was installed. When the boy saw that northeastern immigrant, of round and happy face, he did not have a second thought. She was the girl to marry that he had seen in dream.

Sebastião and Rita got married in the late 40s. In the period of seven years that this family lived in Juruá were born the couple’s first children: Waldete, the first-born and Walfredo (today the Padrinho Alfredo, successor of his father in the CEFLURIS’s Command). In 1951 the old Idalino moved to Rio Branco, Acre, with his wife and children, among them Rita and her husband Sebastião with the kids (besides the two older sons they also had Maria das Neves, Iracema, Pedro, Ivanildo, Isabel, José, Raimunda Nonata and Marlene). Establishing himself in the Santa Maria Colony, part of the so called “Colônia Cinco Mil”, near Porto Acre’s highway, they all lived as neighbors, dedicated to farming and cattle breeding, but also working spiritually.

In the middle of the 60s Sebastião Mota de Mello knows the Santo Daime, being cured by Mestre Raimundo Irineu Serra. It started then his initiation and of his family in the Santo Daime Doctrine and Sebastião Mota became a “feitor” (Daime maker), giving sequence to his healing works: In 1974 was founded the CEFLURIS, under the natural leadership of Padrinho Sebastião and thus the Gregório de Mello family came to constitute the true Daime clan that we have today.

Of this way we conclude this deserved homage of ours to Madrinha Rita, presenting the hymn with which his son Waldete presented her in his hinário book:

“Salve todas festas juninas
Salve os santos destes festejos
Salve, salve, salve, salve
Santo Antônio, São João e São Pedro

Salve a aniversariante
Que também é deste calendário
Salve, salve, salve, salve mamãe
Parabéns por seu aniversário

Parabéns, parabéns, parabéns mamãe
parabéns por seu aniversário
Parabéns, parabéns, parabéns mamãe
Por nos dar este hinário

Parabéns, parabéns, parabéns mamãe
Parabéns por seu aniversário
Parabéns, parabéns, parabéns mamãe
Que Deus lhe dê mais de um centenário

Parabéns, parabéns, parabéns mamãe
Eu te dou com alegria
Parabéns, parabéns, parabéns mamãe
E assim seja de toda família”

(The Juramidam Family site is seeking the current English translation of this hymn,
being very thankful for any help on this regard)

Francisco Nóbrega* is a journalist and researcher of native northeastern Brazil’s popular culture. Rooted in Campina Grande (PB), founder of the Eclectic Center of the Flowing Universal Light Alex Polari, he, however, is potiguar (indigenous tribe that inhabited the margins of the Paraiba do Norte River) of the valley of Açu, contemporary of Rita Gregório.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *