From Portuguese: BURIALS AT INHAÚMA by Lima Barreto

(My translation of Os enterros de Inhaúma, which was published in Feiras e mafuás in 1922)


erhaps it’s just me, but the Inhaúma municipal cemetery doesn’t give me any of the feeling of peace, resignation and melancholy, the ineffable poetry of the Beyond, that I find in other cemeteries. I think it’s ugly, impersonal, with a touch of inland revenue about it. But even though the cemetery itself doesn’t interest me, I always pay attention whenever I see a funeral procession on its way there, no matter whether rich or poor, on foot or in motor vehicles.

The poverty of most inhabitants of the suburbs helps preserve that rural custom of carrying the loved one on their shoulders. It’s a sacrifice that confirms a true friendship and is one of the most sincere and devout ways in which the living can pay homage to the dead.

When I see them passing, I always wonder how long they’ve already been carrying that voyager to such distant lands, and it always strikes me they’ve still got a fair way to carry their friend. I usually watch the funeral processions when I’m sitting at the corner of José Bonifácio Street and Royal Road. In the mornings I like to read the papers in a bar down there. When the mornings are clear I can see, apart from the newspapers – printed in that special dark-blue ink – , an old farmhouse nearby, its top half orangey-coloured; I can see oxcarts, pack mules carrying panniers of coal, carts loaded with bananas, small herds of cattle, with their herdsman riding behind, his right foot always wrapped in rags.

At times I take a longer break from reading the newspaper and cast my eyes lazily over the soft, green carpet of the meadow opposite, losing itself in the distance.

I start daydreaming about life in the country; I wonder what it used to be like here. Indians, cane plantations, slaves, tree trunks, kings, queens, emperors – all this blends with the sight of those mute objects that say nothing of the past.

Suddenly there’s the bell of a tram, a car horn, a lorry carrying beer bottles; the bucolic scene fades and, with it, nostalgia for those long-gone times when the carriages of Don João the Sixth used to pass by here. It all disappears and I’m listening to the hammering of iron at a factory being built nearby.

But the funeral of a child is approaching, and off I go again.

The coffin is being carried by girls. It’s tiny, but still heavy. I can see clearly that it’s a struggle.

They’re dressed in white, with high-heeled shoes. Taking the weight of the little coffin as they walk along the potholed road, it’s not easy for them to fulfil their pious task. And, again, I remember how far they’ve still to go! But at least they’re about to be free of one torment: the paving in Senator José Bonifácio Street. They’re entering Royal Road, in the stretch where the Municipality’s done no more than pile up stones, leaving the ancient public way in the state of virginal nudity in which it was born. It’s been like that for years.

As soon as the little pallbearers step on to the packed clay of the old path, I imagine the relief they must feel from their feet to their heads. And then I see it in their faces. Behind them come other girls, who’ll promptly take turns in the touching mission of carrying a dead child to its last dwelling in this world; and, straight after them, closing the cortege, sombre gentlemen in black, hat in hand, together with simple artificial wreaths and cheap, woodland flowers wrapped in palm leaves.

The paving of Senator José Bonifácio Street, which must have been laid down at least fifty years ago, consists of misaligned cobbles and is full of unexpected bumps and holes. It’s bad for the dead. It even brought one back to life…

Let me tell you. The hearse was pulled by mules. It had come from over in Engenho Novo, and all was going well. The mules were keeping up a regular pace at the front and the hearse was followed by friends of the deceased, in six or seven two and four-wheeled calashes. When the cortege got to Todos os Santos station, it turned right from Arquias Cordeiro Street, down into José Bonifácio Street. The hearse and the calashes immediately started bouncing like storm-tossed boats. Everything inside them was shaking. The coachman on the hearse could hardly keep his seat, swinging from left to right and right to left like a mast in a fierce gale. Suddenly, before they got as far as the ‘Two Brothers,’ the hearse tipped into a pothole, swung violently to one side, the coachman was spat out, the straps securing the coffin snapped, the coffin came sliding down and smashed into the cobbles and – oh, the horror! – from inside there emerged a foot, the foot of the deceased, on his way to burial: quick, alive, very much alive. Once he’d put two and two together, he couldn’t contain his fury and let out a curse:

‘A pox on the poxy municipulty what leaves this poxy road in such a poxy state! Me on me way to me final rest! Thanks to ye an yer neglectance I’m come back to this world to hear me wife’s complanations about the cost of livin’ what’s nohow the fault of mine and put up with the impertinations of me boss Mr Selrão on account of ’is ’emorrhoids what’s also nohow the fault of mine. Ah! Poxy municipulty, did ye ’av an ’ed I’d show ye ’ow strong me fist is!  I’d kill ye for bringin’ me back to this poxy life!’

I wasn’t a witness to the incident; I didn’t even live in the area at the time; but I have it on the highest authority that it’s true. Anyway, there was another very interesting funeral when I was living there, and I heard about it immediately afterwards, from people who’d been present.

It was a Felisberto Catarino who’d died: a polisher and upholsterer in a furniture workshop in Cascadura. He used to live in Engenho de Dentro in his own house with a bit of land where there were some orange trees and a big, shady mango, beneath which he and his friends and colleagues used to meet up on Sundays for a drink and a game of bisca.

He was very popular, both at the workshop and in the neighbourhood, so it was no surprise his funeral was a big event. From where he used to live, it was a long haul to Inhaúma cemetery, but his friends wouldn’t be dissuaded: they were going to carry him there themselves. They had a tipple at the house in his honour and another at every public house they passed along the way. Once they’d got out of town, even the pall-bearers were leaving the coffin by the side of the road and going into the pubs ‘to gather strength.’ At one of the last stop-offs, the current team of pall-bearers agreed among themselves to leave their heavy load for the others and slip ahead to the cemetery gates. (It has to be admitted that, by now, both they and the others were worse the wear for drink.) The other teams came, separately, to the same agreement about slipping ahead; and so the whole cortege, divided into groups, set off for the gates of the consecrated ground, leaving the coffin with the mortal remains of Catarino abandoned at the roadside.

At the cemetery gates they all waited to see the coffin being borne in by one of the other groups; but there was no bearing in. After a while, one of the bolder members of the cortege turned to the others and put this question:

‘Would you not be thinking as we’ve lost the deceased?’

‘How so?’ asked the others in unison.

‘Well now, he’s not here and we are.’

‘That’s very true,’ said one of them.

Another suggested:

‘Will we not go and find him? Wouldn’t that be the best thing?’

And they all set to and went off to look for the overlooked…

Oh, you sad funeral processions to Inhaúma! Were it not for those occasional picturesque – nay, rocambolesque – touches giving us so much cause to think, no one would notice you; and you wouldn’t have the opportunity to convince us that there are worse things than dying.


(The following biographical details have been translated from the [now defunct] Casa Lima Barreto website.)

Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto was born in Rio de Janeiro on 13 May 1881 and died in the same city on 1 November 1922. The son of a typographer at the National Printing Works and of a state-school teacher, he was of mixed race. He was taught at first by his own mother, who died when he was seven. Through the influence of his godfather, Viscount Ouro Preto, an imperial minister, he completed his studies at the Pedro II National School, from where he went, in 1897, to the Polytechnic with the intention of studying to be an engineer. He had to give up his course, however, in order to become the breadwinner at home, after his father – bursar at the Colony for the Insane on Governador Island – himself became mentally ill in 1902. In the same year he had his first work published in the student press. The family moved to the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Engenho de Dentro, where the future writer decided to take part in a public examination for a vacancy in the Ministry of War. He came second but, because the first-placed candidate withdrew, he was able to take up the post, which he did in 1903.

Because his salary was only small, the family moved to a modest house in the suburb of Todos os Santos in which, in 1904, he began the first version of his novel Clara dos Anjos (Clara of the Angels). In the following year he began his novel Recordações do escrivão Isaías Caminha (Memoirs of the Clerk Isaías Caminha), which was published in Lisbon in 1909. He also published a series of reports in the Correio da Manhã newspaper and commenced the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá (Life and Death of M. J. Gonzaga de Sá), which was not published until 1919. He participated in the Fon-Fon magazine and in 1907, together with some friends, launched the Floreal magazine, which survived for only four numbers but attracted the attention of the literary critic José Veríssimo. During this period he devoted himself to reading, in the National Library, the great names of world literature, including the European realist writers of the period; he was one of the few Brazilian writers who became familiar with the works of the Russian novelists.

In 1910 he was a juryman in a trial that condemned some soldiers involved in a student’s murder, an incident that came to be called ‘The Spring of Blood’; as a result he was passed over when it came to any possibilities of promotion in the secretariat of war. In the space of three months, in 1911, he wrote the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma), which was published in instalments in the Jornal do Comércio, for which he wrote, and also in the Gazeta da Tarde. In 1912 he published two instalments of the Aventuras do Dr. Bogoloff (The Adventures of Dr. Bogoloff), in addition to little humorous books, one of them printed in the O Riso magazine.

Although alcoholism was beginning take hold of him, it did not prevent him from continuing to work for the press and, in 1914, he commenced a series of daily feuilletons in the Correio da Noite. In 1915 the A Noite newspaper published his novel Numa e a ninfa (Numa and the Nymph) in instalments, and he began a long phase of work with the Careta magazine, writing political articles on various topics.  In the first months of 1916, the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma appeared as a book, together with some notable short stories such as ‘A Nova Califórnia’ (New California) and ‘O homem que sabia javanês’ (The Man who Spoke Javanese); these were warmly received by the critics, who saw Lima as a true successor to Machado de Assis. He began writing for the political weekly A.B.C. After being hospitalised in July 1917, he delivered to his editor, J. Ribeiro dos Santos, the manuscript of Os Bruzundangas (The Bruzundangans – Bruzundanga being Lima’s satirical name for Brazil), which was not published until a month after his death, in 1922.

He applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but his application was not even considered. He published the second edition of Isaías Caminha and, subsequently, the novel Numa e a ninfa in book form. He started publishing articles and feuilletons in the alternative press of the period: A Lanterna, A.B.C. and Brás Cubas, which published an article of his showing sympathy for the revolutionary cause in Russia. After being diagnosed with toxic epilepsy, he was pensioned off in December 1918 and he moved to another house in the Rua Major Mascarenhas in Todos os Santos, where he lived until his death.

At the beginning of 1919 he ceased his collaboration with the A.B.C. weekly, because he took issue with an article it published criticising the blacks. He published the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá, which was personally edited and sent for typing by the editor Monteiro Lobato; this was the only one of Lima’s books to receive such standard editorial care and for which he was well paid; it was also well advertised, being praised by both old and new literary critics, such as João Ribeiro and Alceu Amoroso Lima. At this time he applied once more for a vacancy at the Brazilian Academy of Letters; on this occasion his application was accepted, but he was not elected, although he received the permanent vote of João Ribeiro. Under the title of ‘As m��goas e sonhos do povo’ (The People’s Sufferings and Dreams), he started publishing, in the Hoje magazine, weekly feuilletons of so-called ‘urban folklore’ and he entered into a second phase of collaboration with Careta, which lasted until his death.

From December 1919 to January 1920 he was hospitalised in consequence of a nervous breakdown, an experience recounted in the first chapters of the memoir O cemitério dos vivos (The Cemetery of the Living), which was not published until 1953, when it was issued in a single volume together with his Diário íntimo (Intimate Diary). In December 1920 Gonzaga de Sá was short-listed for the literary prize of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the best book of the previous year; it received an honourable mention. In the same month, the short-story book Histórias e sonhos (Stories and Dreams) was published, and the manuscript of Marginália (Odds and Ends), comprising articles and feuilletons already published in periodicals, was delivered to his friend, the editor F. Schettino; the manuscript was lost, however, and the book did not come to be published until 1953.

A section of O Cemitério dos vivos was published in January 1921 in the Revista Souza Cruz, under the title ‘As origens’ (The Origins); but the work remained incomplete.  In April of that year he went to the little town of Mirassol in the State of São Paulo, where a doctor friend of his, Ranulfo Prata, who was also a writer, tried to put him together again, but in vain. With his health badly undermined, he turned into a sort of recluse in his little house in Todos os Santos, where friends came to visit him and where his sister Evangelina looked after him devotedly. Whenever possible, however, he would embark on another walk through the city he loved, keeping reading, meditation and writing for home, despite the constant presence of his father’s madness, which got worse through a series of crises.

In July 1921 Lima applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the third time, but he withdrew his application for ‘entirely personal and private reasons.’ He delivered the manuscript of Bagatelas (Trifles) to the publisher; this book was a collection of his principal journalistic work from 1918 to 1922, in which he analysed, with rare vision and clarity, the problems of the country and of the world after the 1st World War. However, Bagatelas was not published until 1923. In November 1921 he published, in the Revista Souza Cruz, the text of a speech ‘O destino da literatura’ (‘The Destiny of Literature’) that he had been due to make – but had not managed to do so – in the town of Rio Preto, near Mirassol. In December he began work on the second version of his novel Clara dos Anjos, which he finished the following January. The manuscript for Feiras e mafuás (One Thing and Another) was delivered for publication, which did not happen until 1953.

In May 1922 the magazine O Mundo Literário published the first chapter of Clara dos Anjos, ‘O carteiro’ (The Postman). His health was declining steadily as a result of rheumatism and alcoholism amongst other things, and Lima suffered heart failure and died on 1 November 1922. They found him holding the copy of the Revue des Deux Mondes – his favourite journal – which he had just been reading. Two days later, his father died. They were both buried in the São João Batista cemetery, in accordance with Lima’s wishes.

In 1953 a publisher issued some volumes of his unpublished works. But it was only in 1956, under the direction of Francisco de Assis Barbosa and with the collaboration of Antônio Houaiss and M. Cavalcanti Proença, that all his work  was published in 17 volumes; these comprised all the novels mentioned above and also the following titles that were not published during his life: Os bruzundangas, Feiras e mafuás, Impressões de leitura (Literary Impressions), Vida urbana (City Life), Coisas do reino de Jambon (A Report from the Kingdom of Jambon), Diário íntimo, Marginália, Bagatelas, O cemitério dos vivos and two further volumes containing all his correspondence – both letters sent and letters received. In the following decades Lima has been the subject of many studies, both in Brazil and abroad. His works, particularly his novels and short stories, have been translated into English, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Japanese and German.  He has been the subject of doctoral theses in the United States and Germany. To mark the centenary of his birth in 1981, conferences were held about him throughout Brazil, resulting in the publication of innumerable books, including essays, bibliographies and psychological studies of the author and his works. There is currently a growing interest in him among new Brazilian writers, who see him as a pioneer of the sociological novel. His literary production, which is vast in view of his early death, is gaining him – quite rightly – more and more distinction.

Translator’s note: In an obituary for Lima in the Jornal do Brasil on 5 November 1922 , Coelho Neto – who had given the oration at Machado’s funeral in 1908 – described him as:

one of the best novelists Brazil has had, who observed things with the power and precision of a microscope, and who wrote with magisterial assurance, describing ordinary life like no one else has done. Just as he was neglectful of himself, of his own life, so was Lima Barreto neglectful of the work he constructed, not seeking to correct its defects of language, presenting it just as it flowed from his pen, without the necessary revision, the indispensable polishing, the definitive final touch which a work of art needs. Despite everything, however, what has remained to us of this man is worth so much by way of observation of life and depiction of characters that the rough edges cannot destroy the beauty: sometimes they compromise it here and there but only in the same way that a wall with stains and cracks can affect the harmony of a fresco, but cannot negate the magnificence of the painting.

Despite the nit-picking, this might be considered gracious in view of the virulent criticisms made of Coelho Neto by Lima.

Translator’s note (2): The Todos os Santos station mentioned in this story was opened in 1868. All that remains of it are some ruins by the side of the track. The photo below is from 2009.


2 thoughts on “From Portuguese: BURIALS AT INHAÚMA by Lima Barreto

  1. Reblogged this on talqualmente and commented:
    A translation by Francis K Johnson of Lima Barreto’s Chronicle “Os enterros de Inhaúma”, published in Feiras e mafuás in 1922.

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