We discovered, at a glance, why almost everyone in Belém, capital of Pará, and Soure, the main city on the Ilha do Marajó, avoided the afternoon trip across the mouth of the Amazon.
In the first moments of the journey, protected by the proximity of the mainland, the ferry is still stable. When it enters the vast river, it is at the mercy of a raging wind.
Scales without mercy. Muddy waves that punish the bow, make passengers lose their balance and the courage to get back up. Or they condemn us to nausea that spreads like an epidemic.
Four and a half hours later, Soure appears, in the distance. The captain points the boat to the coast of Marajo and saves us from the storm.
Once the docking maneuver is finished, the crowd flocks to the exit door and eagerly disembarks. We let ourselves be carried away by the current, available for occasional conversations with curious passengers: “'So a visit to Marajó is it? 'You will love it. This ferry here is hopeless, no. I suffer this every time I go to see my Papão (Paysandu Sport Club) play there in Belém.
Looks like the mayor came on it yesterday. He was so frightened that he went to beg the commander to return to Bethlehem. Do you know what he replied? “Sô Prefeito, if I try to get this boat back now, we'll all go to the bottom,” a gray-haired Marajoense tells us.
The Buffaloes Barring the Way to Soure
The mob disappears into dozens of cars and vans. Or, like us, on the old colorful buses that connect the harbor to Soure, the island's capital. An hour of road robbed to the jungle later, we only need to cross by snail (ferry) to reach our destination. Three buffaloes bar the bus.
"Xuuu, ugly monsters, shouts, through the window, one of several student friends eager to see herself at home." "Dust!! There are already too many animals on this island!" adds another, with indignant humour.
Animals were one of the reasons why we had followed in the footsteps of the first Portuguese explorers and traveled to the northernmost reaches of Brazil. We soon noticed its fascinating predominance.
Father António Vieira: the Big Father that the Indigenous People Respected
Francisco Xavier de Mendonça Furtado – a brother of the Marquês de Pombal and governor general of the State of Grão-Pará and Maranhão, from 1751 to 1759 – was the founder of the city that would welcome us, Soure. It was the capital of the largest river island of the world, which natives and residents boast of being the size of Switzerland.
Padre António Vieira had already been around a century before, the Portuguese called the Ilha Grande de Joanes place, due to the contact they had had with the Juioana Indians.
These, like the other Neengaiba tribes (name given to the group of indigenous nations), began by accepting the peace offer. However, they realized the deception and began to attack them. The then governor, D. Pedro de Melo, and Father António Vieira made an effort to resolve the conflict. And your effort had an effect.
A group of Indians ended up visiting the Jesuit at Colégio da Companhia. There, they informed him that they would reconcile with the Portuguese, only and only because they trusted in “Payassu – O Padre Grande”, as they treated Vieira with affection.
At that time, almost only the indigenous inhabited Marajó. Populating it with settlers sounded like a chimerical project. The only areas devoid of vegetation were swamps irrigated by monsoon weather, which, from January to June, continues to soak it. And to water it, from time to time, in the less rainy months.
For other newcomers, these conditions turned out to be perfect.
The Unexpected Colonization by Shipwrecked Asian Buffaloes
It is said on the island that, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, a French boat sailed from the India or Indochina. Its final destination was French Guiana, but it sank in the endless mouth of the Amazon.
There, during the rainy season, the Mar Dulce – as Vicente Pinzón, the first European to climb it, called it, the Amazon can dump up to 300.000 cubic meters of water per second into the Atlantic Ocean (20% of all fresh water in the Earth). Depending on the tides, it can also cause powerful flows and currents.
But if the vessel did not resist, the carabao water buffaloes it carried did better. They swam to the safety of the island's coastline. They settled in its marshes and swamps and multiplied. Later, some farmers imported different species and crossed them.
Today, those bovines number almost 700.000, divided by carabaos, jafarabadis, murrah and mediterraneans, each species with its characteristic horns. The human population, that one, is around 250.000 inhabitants. On certain days, in some places, it seems to have disappeared from the map.
Buffalos throughout the city of Soure. Buffalo on Restaurant Menus
It's Sunday. We get up early and leave the Hotel Soure to explore the homonymous city around. Around noon, the accumulated fatigue of recent travels numbs us. We return to base and indulge in a rejuvenating sleep. When we left, later in the afternoon, we found the streets given over to buffaloes.
Like black ghosts and quadrupeds, the animals wander to the taste of ripe fruits dropped by the mango forest that shelters the city from the equatorial sun. There is no one to lead or pester them. There is no one, period.
We are on the holy day of rest. Soure en masse moved to the beaches of Marajó. We call a moto-taxi and join this bathing pilgrimage.
we return to the city in time for dinner in a downtown restaurant. It is in the establishment's menu that we begin to understand the island's true dependence on buffaloes.
The meat on the barbecue is from buffalo, there is buffalo cheese and buffalo dulce de leche to accompany the dessert. We could choose between pudding or sericaia, both made with buffalo milk.
In the room's decoration, we also find pictures of buffaloes, embalmed heads and handicraft items made with animal hides. The thing would not stop there.
New work week begins. Life returns to the streets of Soure. The city and Marajó in general seem calm as few places in the Brazil. They quickly rescue us from illusion. “'Ye be careful with these chambers. There are a lot of crooks on this island,” says Araújo, the manager of the hotel we stayed at.
We suspect that it dramatizes but we end up walking down the street of the prison and we are convinced. The cells are in direct contact with the outside. They allow criminals to stick their arms out and mess with passersby. They are also overflowing.
The Unusual Military Police Mounted in Buffalo de Marajó
The squadron and its rogues will not be the causes. But the Military Police of Pará is probably the only one in the world that patrols a buffalo island. For more than 20 years, it has had at its service a Bufalaria composed of 10 specimens.
This is something that Corporal Cláudio Vitelli explains naturally: “we realized that the population used the animals for various activities and we remembered that they could also help us. We have cases that force us to traverse flooded or muddy terrains that only the buffalo can withstand.””
We haven't found out whether the agents use them to solve these crimes, but, irony of ironies, from time to time, the police force in Soure catches buffalo thieves.
The next day, we watched the barracks dawn, the morning training of the cadets and the preparation of the animals for new patrols that, among other tasks, include endless brushing and the polishing of their horns.
We accompany the police exit onto the streets, mounted on the scale buffaloes who begin another slow and heavy round there.
Buffaloes have other uses, however. Some more, others less eccentric than this one.
The Preponderance of Buffaloes in the Festivities and Farmer Tourism of Marajó
During the month we lived on Marajó Island, we participated in an eccentric Açaí Festival that included a crazy and dusty buffalo race.
Virtually all farms in Marajó create wealth in the form of buffalo herds. For its livestock value but not only. For a few decades now, the island has developed its tourist facet.
Many farms took the opportunity to profit from the rural hospitality of visitors. Almost all organize buffalo or horse rides. At Fazenda do Carmo Camará, we had the opportunity to confirm the monotony of a tour. At a pace, too slow, even uncomfortable.
But not all buffaloes on the island are tame. Many survive in the wild in swamps infested with anacondas and alligators or even close to villages and farms. They preserve their territorial and defensive instincts intact.
We saw them dart out of a pond to chase an approaching thirsty Cebua cow. According to what they tell us, they even attack farmers and their workers, especially when traveling on horseback.
As soon as we return from the tour, a caboclo employee gives us a message from Seu Cadique and Dona Circe, the owners. “They said to target you that we are going to kill now even a buffalo that 'was giving you too much trouble.
If you want to watch, just come with me.”