Prior Dynamics of Social Spaces in the City


So far, the triangle has not received the same attention as other significant instruments in Brazilian popular music studies. However, the sound it produces is an inseparable part of a music genre that has become one of the main cultural expressions of Northeastern Brazil, of which Fortaleza is the most densely-populated Metropolitan area.[16] Such music was conceived during a great Northeastern migration. Its creators were bound for Rio de Janeiro to boost their careers. The displacement significantly affected the way the idea of their homeland was forged through music in the mid-twentieth century. But this is not the type of territory formation we are dealing with here. We are dealing here with the processes of territorialization that took place under the feet of the nomadic chegadinho vendors who played their triangles in Fortaleza during the beginning of the twenty-first century.


In order to achieve that, it is important to take note of a few aspects that have helped to shape this place and the urban life in this metropolis throughout the twentieth century. These factors have changed the inhabitants’ everyday lives and influenced the context of these workers’ craft in their present-day activities: 1) the change in Fortaleza's sonorities, 2) the migration from rural areas to the city, and 3) the relations between its population and street vendors, in general. By considering these factors, we can better understand the context of the investigated territorialities.


We will begin with looking at changes in the sonic dimensions of living in Fortaleza based on studies by historian Antonio Luiz Macêdo e Silva Filho. According to him, “to think historically also implies the necessary ability to assume the role of an attentive listener” (2006: 109). He affirms that segments of the population of Fortaleza under the impact of ongoing urbanization “have developed practices, gestures, and values in their everyday conflicts with new sonorities” (Silva Filho 2006: 108). The Ferreira Square, also known as the “heart of the city,” used to have a wind vane that moaned over a dug well in 1910. In the following decade, a bandstand was erected. Finally, at the turn of the year 1933 to 1934, the Coluna da Hora was inaugurated, a clock tower that marked the time for transients and inhabitants of the downtown area. In 1941, a Philips radio-electronic device that played recorded church music replaced the bells of the Nossa Senhora dos Remédios Church in the Benfica neighborhood. The habit of listening to the radio was established in the 1940s, and the apparatus was used recreationally as well as socially, as a means of social distinction.


The arrival of automobiles and electricity had an impact on city activities, which could then be extended into the night. City regulations were soon passed. The Code of Ordinances of the City of Fortaleza of 1932 had a chapter titled “On public peacefulness and calmness.” It imposed a fine on those who “screamed at night within central and urban areas after 10pm without any need or purpose” and also on those who used “sport exhaust systems in vehicles in central, urban, and suburban areas” (Silva Filho 2006: 123). Habits such as serenading and playing the piano in the living room became less common as time went by, whereas city dwellers were increasingly charmed by phonography. The writer João Jacques conveyed these impressions in one of his chronicles:


The city has many record stores whose sidewalks are full of dullards who help each other and gather in admirable crowds. […] They give in, passive and chloroformed in the ears, to the stream of hours, to the idleness of time! Behold, from today on, the visages and postures of these people who, as they listen to a song's notes and lyrics from afar, start to deaden their steps, to insensitively brake their legs until they are nailed to the floor, electro-magnetized by a vague idea or some feeling evoked in the presence of high-fidelity. Eyes are half-closed or fixed on a neutral point. The body softens, relaxes. The bitterest lips are sweetened by a sphinxlike, complacent, Madonna smile. No one else is there. (Jacques 1964: 113)[17]


When we speak of countryside to city migrations, there is a second aspect of sonic space we should consider: throughout the twentieth century, the characteristic drought of this region took on a social, rather than simply climatic, relevance. The phenomenon, a cyclical occurrence in the area, began to regularly expel people who could not make a living in the countryside by following the plantation model in agriculture and stockbreeding. Most of those who managed to survive[18] started to arrive in Fortaleza at the end of the nineteenth century. The coastal city, the political and administrative capital of the state of Ceará, was going through a process of urban remodeling that eventually inserted it, with its guiding plans and embellishment projects, within the belle époque context. The great drought of 1877, besides devastating the rural economy of the state, which was based on cotton harvesting, drastically affected urban life in Fortaleza: “The capital, whose population was around twenty thousand inhabitants, saw its population multiplied by six” (Costa 2004: 68). 


At first, city inhabitants were supportive of migrants, but the social problems associated with the climate phenomenon did not cease and, during the drought of 1915, the government locked up eight thousand people in a concentration camp built at the entrance of the city, keeping migrants away from the urbanized city center. During the drought of 1932 public policies resulted in two camps in Fortaleza (and others on the main roads of the state) as it sought to contain the arrival of the evacuees. From then on, a significant poor population settled in precarious living spaces on the outskirts of those places of confinement in the capital, framing new peripheries even following the dissolution of the camps. During the 1940s some of the surplus population was redirected toward an occupation of the Amazon as part of a federal government campaign that encouraged people to register as “Rubber Soldiers,” men who would work in the rainforest, extracting latex to serve the Allies in World War II. According to geographer Maria Clélia Lustosa Costa,


The crisis in agriculture in Ceará, the land concentration, and the great droughts of 1951 and 1958 provoked, amid an intense migratory process, an intercensal growth of 90.5%. The population of the capital grew from 270,169 in 1950 to 514,813 inhabitants in 1960. (Costa 2007: 75)[19]


The third and last process to be considered in order to analyze current territorializations of the chegadinho vendors in Fortaleza is that of the relationship between city dwellers and street vendors. In the 1930s the expression “street vendor” could be found even in gossip columns in local newspapers. Many vendors were responsible for the essential service of distributing basic products to the population in the neighborhoods. Bread, milk, vegetables, fruit, and fresh meat were among these goods. These workers' itineraries even influenced those looking for new homes: “People picked the street they would live longer on based on the frequency of action of these indispensable street vendors. ‘Is there any meat seller?’ – ‘What about vegetable sellers? Are there some? Are they good?’ – homeseekers would ask local residents, the eventual neighbors” (Campos 1996: 70).[20]


However, a different picture would eventually emerge with the advent of automotive transportation and of small markets in the neighborhoods. In 1948 the municipal slaughterhouse already owned “hygienically-equipped cars for the transportation of meat to markets and butcher shops in the city.”[21] Street vendors, especially those who sold food, were slowly cornered in by tougher city laws, a fact that may have contributed to a change in the population’s habits and to the marginalization of this type of commerce and the workers themselves. This took place in the period during which the city was facing an increasing number of migrants who were looking for a way to make a living, many of whom populated the city center, selling on the streets and sidewalks. This practice would be increasingly restrained from that moment until the present day.


Between 1940 and 1950, the mayors of Fortaleza prohibited street vending in the central roads and promoted the removal of traders in the area. At the same time, newspapers began to deem the activity as an urban problem. The way the city – or at least the government and the press – referred to street vending was undergoing a transformation. From the 1950s on, as the downtown area became established as the main site of conflicts between informal traders and law enforcement, high-income families began leaving neighborhoods west of the central nucleus, such as Jacarecanga and Benfica, to settle in new neighborhoods in the east, such as Aldeota and Fátima. They moved away from the impoverished periphery that had formed, since the beginning of the century, on the margins of concentration camps and the two main railroads that brought inlanders from the backcountry. The poor arrived on one side of town while the rich moved to the other; territorializations of the chegadinho sellers around 2010 would reflect these dynamics.