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What's not to like?; ​strong, masculine, they drink, smoke, and even dance. They may remind you of the American Cowboy. Instead of rustling cattle they wrestle 500 pound wooden rafts up and over crashing waves to harvest shark, eel, stingray and more. Like the West the wilds of Brazil are finally being tamed but not without a price. 

​                          Coastal Brazil's    

  northeast culture  



The raft men of Brazil

Abolitionists and The Sea Dragon

“No more slaves will embark from our port” 

​this historic phrase, spoken by jangadeiros,

ignited the popular revolt in 1881.

           Local fishermen,balked at using their rafts to transfer slaves .

     ​Even when threatened with military intervention,

by the Emperor, the fishermen held fast to their

conviction that slavery was unjust. Soon after, 

 Francisco Nascimento,  known as Dragão do Mar‘

(Dragon of the Seas’), sailed to Rio de Janeiro

     to convince Emperor Dom Pedro II to put an end to slavery. Although

        unsuccessful in his demand to see the emperor he was given a hero’s

               welcome by the people of the capital. Four years later slavery was



Raft fishermen have always lived here. African slaves emulated the native Indians who used rafts and as did the portuguese when they arrived from the Madeira and Azores Islands. 

But, today many raft fishermen or jangadeiro are putting down their nets and trying their luck luring tourists with jangada rides.

At five dollars a ride catching tourists can be far more profitable that fish.

Considered Brazil's poorest of the poor they nevertheless posses a rich and storied history.


















Portuguese landed on the coast of north-east Brazil. 

Trading for African slaves begins. Slaves brought their beliefs in African deities that would prove a powerful force in shaping Brazil's national character.


Brazilian Independence from Portugal.


Fishermen block the unloading of slaves in Fortaleza and Aracati. The first of the two strikes was led by Jose Napoleao the second by Dragon of the Sea's who soon sails to Rio to plead his case against slavery with the Emperor. Although unsuccessful  in his attempt  he nevertheless gained international fame.

Ceare, in the northeast becomes the first state to abolish slavery

Slavery abolished in Brazil.

Four men sail 1,500 miles on a wooden raft made of six logs and a single sail. Their successful journey gained the same right for fishermen as other workers in Brazil. Time Magazine called it, "a journey that wrought a political miracle"

Orson Welles begins filming Four Men on a Raft but finds many obstacles in his way. Undaunted he manages to complete most of the film.

Four raft men took the same sea journey to protest the threat ​to jangadeiros by land speculation and environmentally destructive fishing techniques. For 76 days the crew battled rough sea to reach Rio.The voyage drew national media attention but little sympathy from government officials. One governor declared that jangadeiros were nothing more than museum displays. Despite the indifference the jangadeiros have kept up the pressure to assure their cultural survival.












The “Alligator” and Mr. Welles.

In 1941 four jangadeiros led by “Jacaré” (the Alligator) risked their lives to insist that President Vargas provide their people with the same social benefits enjoyed by other workers. They sailed their tiny raft from Fortaleza to Rio, an incredible 1650 miles - to make their appeal in person. TIME called it “a Homeric voyage that wought a political miracle”

​"For 61 days they sailed, without the aid of a compass, stopping along the way for food and water. They were told it could not be done. That a jangada made of six tree trunks could not sail that far safely.​",

....but they did. As they entered Guanabara Bay in Rio they were hailed as national hero's. Vargas received the four fishermen still wet from the sea and promised the jangadeiros the benefits they sought.


The voyage was first reported in Time magazine where the great film director Orson Welles first read about it while in Brazil. Moved by the jangadeiros courage he began shooting a film about Brazil's social struggle instead of the 'feel good"  film the US government had sent him there to make.This action was not well received by the State Department or the Brazilian government and he was never allowed to finish the film.

Forty year later, the surviving footage was released in a haunting documentary called “It’s All True”.

"I believe that what the jangada means to the northeastern coast of Brazil is what the Rabelo means for the river Douro in the north of Portugal and the Sampan to China and Malaysia,” ​Carlos D'alge.​


A raft to the world

Although other fishing vessels have been introduced to the region, it is the jangada that is most characteristic of Brazil’s Northeastern coast. It is a symbol of a people whose courage are legendary. Since first described in the accounts of the earliest travelers to the New World, jangadas have been the source of literary curiosity. The grace of this simple craft sailing into the wind on a tropical sea, or drying on a sunny beach lined with coconut palms, has been immortalized in both song and poetry. In fact, one of the best known narrative poems of the western world, The Odyssey, tells us that Ulysses escaped from the Island of Oligia in a jangada.Yet the jangada is even older than Ulysses’ adventure. Both the Greeks and the Romans used the jangada as did the Germanic and Gaulish tribes for military purposes.​


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