Popular Tales from Rio Grande do Sul [Contos Populares do Sul] | Stephen Basdeo [Trans.]

I recently had the pleasure of visiting several places in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, in August just gone. Arriving in the city of Porto Alegre after a three-hour flight from Belo Horizonte, my friend Luiz and I then took a three-hour bus journey to the city of Pelotas.

In Pelotas, Luiz and I met our friend and fellow academic Profa. Dani Gallindo, who is a teacher and researcher at the Universidade Federal de Pelotas. After a conference, at which I was very kindly invited to give a keynote address on the opening night, Luiz and I, with Dani as our guide, were treated to various tours of the sights of Pelotas.

Profa. Gallindo and Stephen Basdeo (me)

In Pelotas one will find the remains of Brazil’s colonial and imperial past; most of the public buildings situated in the middle of the town date from the nineteenth century.

Mercado Centro in Pelotas; the heart of town’s cultural and social life (Taken by Stephen Basdeo)

This is true of most of Rio Grande do Sul’s larger cities. Yet the state, and Brazil as a whole, in fact, obviously have a much longer history. This history is contained in the myths and legends of the indigenous people. I knew a lot about the history of Rio de Janeiro in the nineteenth century, and the life of the country’s emperor Dom Pedro II, but little about the south.

Stephen Basdeo (me) next to the statue of a gaúcho just outside the city of Jaguarão on the border of Uruguay

To remedy my lack of knowledge, Dani very kindly gifted me a book titiled Contos Populares do Sul (2015) by Caio Ritter, Cléo Busatto, and Luana von Linsingen, which she bought at the Feito de Letras bookshop (or ‘livraria’ in Portuguese).

Stephen Basdeo (me) at the harbour in the city of Rio Grande.

It is a collection of short tales and myths relating the region’s history and I thought that here I might translate one of these called ‘As Lagrimas de Obirici’ (‘Obirici’s tears’) by Caio Ritter.

I present the translation below, although all credit must be given to Ritter. Of his own life and career he tells us that

“When I was a child, I lived in a house with few books. However, my mother was a great storyteller. On dark nights, especially on those which had no light at all, she used to like, with a voice which carried suspense, to tell tales of terror and dread. And though I was frightened, I loved hearing legends such as that of the headless mule, of vampires, of nuns who drowned and afterwards returned to torment the lives of the living, and of the Indians who lived in the woods. These tales had a profound impact on my character as a person and a reader. I believe it was these moments [with my mother] which drew me to books and that made me believe, one day, that I could write such histories as my mother used to tell me. For this reason, I contributed to this book project [Contas Populares do Sul], replete with the legends of the south, and it gives me much joy to do so. I am a professor, a doctor of literature, and a writer. I write stories for children and adolescents and, when I can, in put in these a little of the enchantment that the legends always effected in me.”[1]

Without further ado, let us read Ritter’s adaptation of an indigenous legend: Obirici’s Tears.[2]

Obirici’s Tears

A long time ago, when Rio Grande do Sul was inhabited only by the indigenous peoples, in an area of land which today is located in the neighbourhood of Passo da Areia, in Porto Alegre, there lived a tribe of the Tapimirim. People say that the indigenous lived very tranquilly, planting, hunting and, occasionally, going to war with enemy tribes. It was the time of heroes; of strong, courageous, and worthy warriors. Such was Itiberê: a fearless youth and owner of a smile full of all the beauty of the forest.

A depiction of two people from the Camacan Mongoyo tribe from Brazil from the early 19th century (from Debret’s Viagem). (Photos of the legendary Tupamirim tribe are hard to obtain but these given an example of how the Tupamirim may have looked)

In this tribe of brave and valiant men there existed also many beautiful young women, and the bravest of these was chosen to marry the chief warrior. Obirici was one of these beautiful tribeswomen: long and dark hair running down her back and bearing a necklace of stones. Yet Obirici was not bothered about procuring the eye of the warrior chief because her heart beat strongly for a man called Itiberê. She liked to watch him at archery practice; to listen to him singing hymns to Tupã; she waited to catch a glimpse of him returning from the hunt, all dirty and smeared with blood bearing the prized kill over his shoulders. Itiberê was her love, thought Obirici, and it didn’t matter if he was not the chief.

However, while Obirici might have had the courage to face the dangers of the forest, she didn’t have the same valour when it came to revealing her feelings to Itiberê. She simply admired him from a distance. How strong he was! How handsome he was! Such strong arms and lithe legs—he always knew the right moment to throw the lance in the water and catch the biggest fishes! Itiberê was the man to be loved, thought Obirici. But her timidity wouldn’t let her get near the great warrior nor tell him any of the beautiful words that remained guarded in her heart.

One day, however, according to the will of Tupã, the warrior chief became sick and passed away. It was a moment of much pain for all but, after some time, the village elders met to choose, from among the greatest warriors, the new chief. And what luck—the new chief was Obirici’s crush: Itiberê! To begin with Obirici was very happy with the choice until she remembered the customs of her tribe and she began to be afraid.

An indigenous residence (from Debret’s Viagem)

There was much excitement among the village girls with the choice of the new chief—who would be chosen to marry Itiberê? Who among these would be able to enchant the heart of the new chief? The girls all painted their bodies with bright paint and wore colourful decorations; feathers adorned their legs and their heads and they pierced their ears and wore beautiful earrings. Their bodies were scented with the most aromatic scents of the forest.

Obirici saw these preparations and became sad. After all, her heart had always belonged to Itiberê—always! Alone in her hut, she lamented the fact that she never had told the youth that she loved him. After today she would not be his beloved wife! However, she thought that now was the time. If she did not reveal her love, she could lose him. And this she did not want and so she would reveal to him that, since childhood, she felt like she had loved him.

‘Enough of loving him in secret!’ Obirici told herself and she went outside. Afar, she saw Itiberê talking with another beautiful girl named Irani. Would she be too late? Irani was laughing and smiling, her beautiful black hair glistening under the light of the moon.


On another day, before even the sun had risen, Obirici sought out Itiberê and lost no time in confessing her love for him. She spoke quickly, almost mad at the thought that she would miss telling him something important. Her heart was beating with the rhythm of a thousand drums.

‘It’s not only now, great chief, but since my youth that my heart has belonged to you. When I see you I’m speechless and my eyes can see nothing else—only you! If I say some word, it is “Itiberê.” If to heaven I lift my eyes, there in the clouds do I see your face’.

The warrior listened in silence and played with his hair. He smiled. For a brief moment Obirici believed that he would take her in his arms and whisper sweet words, loving words, to her. But what she heard was very different.

‘Beautiful Obirici, your words are beautiful, but another girl already declared her love for me!’

Obirici’s eyes filled with tears. How could this be? She—and only she—loved Itiberê! She loved him with a strength so great that lived only to see him and nothing else! Her feelings were spilling out through her tears.

The forests of Brazil (from Debret’s Viagem)

‘Doubt not, Itiberê, my love for you is greater than all! My happiness is connected with your happiness. My heart was never for another; it only ever beat for you!’

‘I know, Obirici, and I can feel your love. But the law is the law. You know it. If Irani so wishes to marry me, so it will be’.

Yet there was the rule, Obirici knew, which declared that if another youth declared her love for the chief, and neither of these desisted from the marriage, the choice would be made by means of a contest. And Irani did not relinquish her claim; she said that she, too, had loved Itiberê more than Obirici and she had been the first to reveal her desire to be united with Itiberê.

The council of elders decided, then, that there would be an archery contest to decide the dispute between Obirici and Irani. The youths would have one week only to train and prepare themselves. Seven suns and seven moons hence the marriage of Itiberê would be decided.

Thus it was done. On the day set aside, the tribe met in the centre of the village to watch the contest. Itiberê observed the participants: both were beautiful, however, Obirici was different—would she be his true love? Would she be afraid of losing the contest? The chief warrior trembled at these thoughts.

Each one of the contestants would draw just three arrows—only three. She who shot closest to the mark which Itiberê made on the trunk of a tree would be his wife. The first shaft flew from Obirici’s rival and hit a few centimetres from the mark. After Obirici drew hers. However, although it was a great shot seen by everyone, including Itiberê, Obirici was very nervous and her arm faltered. Her shot was wide of the mark. Irani smiled; she had begun winning earlier than Obirici had hoped.

‘Ah’, cried the whole tribe.

Poor Obirici! Yet two shots still remained.

One after the other were drawn. Irani’s always seemed to hit the mark, those of Obirici did not. With eyes full of tears and pain in her chest, her defeat was confirmed. The young girl lowered her head, dropped her bow to the floor, and shut herself up in her hut. With her defeat she had lost the greatest love of her life; Itiberê would never, ever be hers.

Obirici was in pain; she suffered and she cried. She could do nothing more. She could not eat or drink and neither did she sleep. She did nothing more but lament her sad condition.

She cried so much. All the tears that were in her body fell from her eyes as a result of her pain and suffering. Then she cried even more. And when she had no more tears left in her, she cried inwardly to herself. She was transforming. The whole of her body was becoming a tear; she fell apart. This was her metamorphosis. Drop by drop, each piece of her body became water. The water ran outside the door of her hut and became a little stream, running between the sand and the stones, crossing the centre of the village, and passed by the tree marked by the arrows and disappearing into the forest, taking with it the memory of Obirici’s suffering.

To this stream, made entirely out of Obirici’s tears, the name of Ibicuiretã was given by the Tapimirim: the stream of Obirici’s own sadness. Its waters, over many years, crossed the Passo da Areia. As it ran through the forest, the cry of Obirici’s unrequited love for Itiberê could be heard.


[1] Caio Ritter, ‘Caio Ritter’ in Contos Populares do Sul, ed. by Elaine Maritza da Silveira (S. Paulo: Editora Scipione, 2015), p. 39.

[2] Caio Ritter, ‘As Lagrimas de Obirici’, in Silveira, pp. 14–19.