Capoeira é Dança, Part 2: Puxada de Rede

6 02 2008

Although I have never seen puxada de rede performed before, I was enchanted as soon as I started reading about it.  Perhaps it was the idea of theatre exalting the real, of the supernatural convening with the natural, or of beauty growing out of tragedy, but something about it hooked me (pun not intended).  I hope you feel the same!

Tradition and Necessity

A fisherman throwing out a net 

Puxada de Rede, like many traditional Afro-Brazilian dances, is marinated in legend and folklore. Unlike other dances such as maculelê, however, the “original” puxada de rede is still a true-to-form way of life today.

Named for fishermen’s “pulling of the net”, puxada de rede is a dance as well as a “folkloric theatrical play” evoking the lives of traditional fishermen in Brazil. More specifically, the dance/play is a tribute to both the sea and the fisherman’s work in Bahia, where both have figured and continue to figure tremendously into the region’s lifestyle. Fishing by puxada de rede (the method) is one of the most important means of sustenance in Bahia, and commonly seen along the Northeastern coast of Brazil, due to the large amounts of xaréu fish that migrate to the warmer waters there between October and April each year. (“Xaréu” is both a common dark meat fish and the name used for several species of fish in the Atlantic Ocean.) For this reason, puxada de rede is also sometimes known as “puxada de rede do xaréu” or “xaréu hake”.

The ritual of puxada de rede is a legacy with a line thrown back to the period of slavery in Brazil—or rather, the period right after slavery. According to one source, former slaves had difficulty finding jobs in the labour market, and so they made their living at sea; Bahia, apparently, was the first place to see this happen. Today, puxada de rede represents an ever more significantly renewable resource in Brazil, upon which thousands of families depend.

In the Hands of the Goddess

Performance of puxada de redeAfter reviewing a myriad of sources and videos, it appears that the puxada de rede can be performed with a choice of emphasis on one of three concepts: the death of a fisherman who went out to sea at night; acknowledging, entreating, and thanking Yemanjá, the Goddess of the Sea, while celebrating the aquatic windfall she has provided; or the actual process and ritual of puxada de rede itself. Elements of all three are found in the following popular legend, on which most performances of puxada de rede are based:

One night under the full moon, a fisherman went to fish at sea, in order to feed his family. He kissed his wife goodbye. She had a bad feeling about her husband going to fish at night. She warned him and told him of the dangers of fishing at night. Nevertheless, the fisherman left the house, despite his wife’s tears and children’s scared faces.

The fisherman went to sea and took with him the image of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of Sailors). He went with his fellow fishermen and God’s blessing. Hours before the fisherman was supposed to return, his wife waited for him on the beach. She had an odd vision. She saw the fishing boat return with the fishermen on board. They were very sad, and some of them were in tears. They then got off the ship. In panic, the woman realized that her husband was not there. The fishermen told her that he had fallen off deck into the darkness of the night. They could not find him in Yemanjá’s waters.

In the morning, when they pulled the net that was in the ocean, they noticed that they had caught much less fish than they expected, yet the net was heavier than usual. Once the net was on shore, they realized that the missing fisherman’s body was in the net. Everyone became very emotional and desperation took over those who were present.

They proceeded to hold funerary rituals for the fisherman. They carried his body on their shoulders because they could not afford a coffin. His companions and loved ones took his body to his eternal resting spot.


Gone Fishing

Performance of puxada de redeThe actual process of puxada de rede takes place every year in Bahia, flanked with music, rituals, poetry, festivities, and religion. It begins with fishers and their families preparing the xaréu nets, which crisscross rolls of strong, resistant wire with about a thousand metres of rope. Wearing short trousers or shorts and straw hats, groups of fishermen throw the net into the sea at the start of chanting, commanded by the “Master of the Sea”. (One source describes a “Master of Land” as well, who coordinates everything with the “Master of the Sea” and team generals.) The nets are then trawled out in large, heavy rafts that form a semi-circle in order to entrap the migrating, spawning fish. At this point, possibly fishermen go out in canoes and dive under the water to see how many fish have been caught.

Again at the Master’s signal, the bona fide puxada de rede begins—ritual, synchronized movement of bodies pulling the fish-laden net knot by knot out of the sea. The fishermen’s wives and families, meanwhile, sing and clap along the beach in order to fortify the spirits of those involved in the puxada de rede. Finally, the fish are secured, collected, and cleaned, followed by celebrations and thanks given for the catch.

Water Ballet

The dance/theatre version of all of the above transforms hardship, physical labour, and grief into a sublime ballet with the “resonance and poetic power of opera”. Work and joy are united through “force, power, and vitality” in body, along with music, ritual, and poetry in mind, all of which progresses in rhythm with the rolling, watery sphere of Yemanjá. As for the music, puxada de rede is executed to a slow atabaque beat. Song lyrics invoke Yemanjá for protection and abundance, as well as praise and thanks for the goddess. Both sad and joyous, the songs also convey the “natural beauty and daily struggles of the fisherman’s life”.

Puxada de rede is another traditional dance with acommpanying festivities in Brazil

With the development of technology in the fishing industry and otherwise, some say that the traditional puxada de rede has been reduced to a single, thin stripe of its former rainbow of tradition. Without ritual, songs, choreographed steps, nor the “charm and magic of the past”, puxada de rede may now occur on a much smaller scale than before, and also among fewer and smaller populations in Bahia. If this is true, then it makes the dance of puxada de rede all the more meaningful, as a both a tradition and the vivid memory of one.

Click here for a list of puxada de rede song lyrics

Click here to see other posts in  Capoeira é Dança

Sources: (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation)

Picture sources: