A message from the babassu oil coconut breakers!
We’re the babassu coconut breakers, and we want to introduce ourselves to you. We’re a traditional community and our movement is present in four Brazilian states: Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins and Piauí. In the whole country , however, we’re 400,000 women, 400,000 warriors. Our struggle started long ago, when we faced farmers who wanted to block our work, which was, and still is, our way of survival, livelihood and land preservation.
We’ve won many battles and today we’re proud of our achievements. When has a black woman, poor and uneducated, ever been able to make herself respected by men? We started by first convincing our own husbands of our right to work and the importance of working. Call us re-inventors of history! They wanted us to stay home, but no way! Other men, not our husbands but armed farmers, accompanied by their hired guns, wanted us out of lands that were public lands in the first place. Again we prevailed, but not without tears and grief for the loss of some of our female colleagues, who we shall never forget and for whom we gather the strength to move on.
When we see our children playing freely around the field, swimming in rivers of clean water, tending to vegetable gardens, we know we’re on the right track. Living in the countryside in a sustainable way is a reason of great pride. But more than this, we know our way of life is an ally of a planet in need of recovery because it’s been suffering from pollution, prolonged droughts and climate change. The babassu – always she – is our region’s plant that best cleans the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Look at y’all learning from the nut breakers!
So, kid, do not think we’re frozen in time: extractivism is our way of life, yes sir, but we’re also tuned in and ready to evolve and keep learning always. Illiteracy is becoming a thing of the past and many of us have a teacher’s diploma. Nowadays, as we break the coconut, our cell phones hang from the palm trees and we negotiate our products over the internet!
Don’t know what babassu is used for, girl? It has more than one use! Its oil is widely used in various industries, especially in the hygiene and cosmetics ones. We also extract its oil for cooking, its shell for charcoal, and its flour is a very nutritious food! No small feat, huh?
That’s why we don’t give up the native babassu, just as God made it. We also want free access to the babassu without the aggressions that still persist, without closed fences or gates between nature and our skills – a precious legacy from our mothers and grandmothers whom we are very proud of. That’s why we so cherish our identity: we’re coconut breakers, we’re well-groomed and we cut a fine figure; we’re also mothers, grandmothers and community leaders (all mixed together!) and we want to make sure that we can live freely, dance to forró, to African drums, to bumba meu boi and so many other dances… and oh, to also drink a little cachaça from time to time. Why not? We are children of God, too!
Our hope is to have our rights guaranteed so that our sons and daughters can choose the path of their lives, even if they choose to become coconut breakers. Without the proper incentives, many of our youth venture out to live in large cities or work in monoculture labor – such as sugar cane – and many of them return home in a coffin. It’s an endless suffering, as you can imagine, but we’re fighting to put an end to this once and for all.
We feel that our movement is a learning channel between city and countryside. Believe me, this relationship can be good. We’re even “enCHANTers”, we’ll be cutting a CD, and I do want to see you dance to our tune! Get ready for it!
Our songs are made up during the daily toil of coconut breaking, which is both hard work and beautiful to see – because it’s collective, united and joyful. It is this joy that we want to bring you, together with our message for the continuing struggle for land rights and the right to the life we choose to live. Come visit us, it’ll be a pleasure to get to know you.