Territorialities of the Chegadinho


I will now focus on certain aspects regarding the spatial dynamics of the city that were revealed by statements of a group of chegadinho sellers when asked about how they create their routes. Selling the chegadinhos was a work opportunity for peasants in the metropolitan area of Fortaleza. They could only make a living in the city because the small chegadinhos factory that employed them – even if informally – provided them with lodging. For small producers, a joint offer combining housing and work was a way to acquire and keep their workforce selling products on the streets, even if they faced some inconstancy in the number of available vendors.


The interviewees that were born in the countryside and went to Fortaleza to sell chegadinhos arrived mainly in the 1970s; however, there are registers of arrivals up to the 1990s. Most of them lived in the rural areas of their hometowns and had some connection with agriculture. When there was need for more chegadinho vendors in the capital, some already-employed sellers sought to provide work for their relatives, returning to their villages for the purpose of inviting their brothers and cousins to join them.


Many of these sellers were not formally educated, and it was difficult for them to find jobs in formal markets. Some of them managed to preserve kitchen utensils that belonged to old pastry cooks after they passed away. Baking their own biscuits was a way for most of them to remain in business with greater autonomy. However, their work journeys expanded. A day usually began around four in the morning, when they started baking the biscuits to be sold in the afternoon. During their walking shifts, they roamed from three to seven hours in journeys that could reach twenty kilometers per day. To this day, the vendors can be very methodic in their craft, with some maintaining a daily routine and great regularity in the times they pass along certain points of their routes even if they do not carry a watch with them.


In general they take one day off per week, but many of them avoid doing so on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, days in which sales are higher. “Things are better on weekends; people are at home. Every street vendor has more success on holidays and weekends,” says one of them. These days are also quieter, with less automotive traffic, which occurs heavily along the avenues, especially on weekdays. Unlike researchers Andrea Medrado and Renata Souza (2017), who used an (auto)ethnography of listening, based on sound walks and diary notes, to produce a description of the space studied – the Complexo da Maré, in Rio de Janeiro – I followed a listening schedule from a fixed point, which was where I spotted the first seller considered in this research. From that spot, located half a block between an avenue and a side street, I kept a sound diary (Bauer 2000: 270-271), along with ten-minute field recordings every hour, for a week, before approaching the vendors. There was little street sale. The popsicle seller with his little bell was the chegadinho vendor’s biggest competitor on the side streets. The shrill sound of Makita circular saws in use in residential buildings, which was very common, was an even more serious sonic contender. There was no sale of products being advertised through loudspeakers mounted on the roofs of moving cars, as is often the case in outlying neighborhoods. It was during a season of presidential elections, and this type of equipment was being used for political propaganda purposes in the period. A few meters down a side street, after crossing an avenue, the ambient sounds were already much less intense or pronounced. Not surprisingly, during the interviews, chegadinho vendors mentioned that their main preference was residential areas. They avoided avenues, both due to the abundance of commercial businesses (residencies provide best sales) as well as the sonic competition they face against traffic engines.


They also share information about routes, as they eventually adapt itineraries according to their own experiences. But the decisive condition is: they go where sales figures are highest. Sound plays a fundamental role in achieving sales. Routes are marked acoustically: when they play, they are selling.


We just pass by here. Nobody plays here. […] If you start playing the triangle ... it's a sale, you see? (José, seller)


I didn't come here playing [the triangle]. I was almost hiding so that no one could see me, and I could bring chegadim to these two people [who live at the end of the route]. Got it? I don't like to leave them without their chegadinhos. (Paulo, seller)


Chegadinho vendors rejoice when they enter more vertical areas of the city’s architecture. The walls of apartment towers enhance the reverberation of the triangle’s sounds across the neighborhood, and residents of these buildings have developed their own strategies to buy the biscuits. They mainly rely on the doormen, who are given instructions to call out to the vendors as they are passing by. “In houses, it's a little package. In buildings, it's five, ten reals […] There were many houses before. Now they are taking them away and only building apartment buildings,” says one of the interviewed sellers.


Finally, where do chegadinho vendors walk in Fortaleza? Based on the analysis of data collected in field research, it is possible to conclude that itinerant vendors prefer to walk through neighborhoods with a greater concentration of families with higher spending power (Picture 4). This data was obtained in three different ways; two of them were based on verbal information from the vendors themselves. First, I asked the interviewees to list the neighborhoods they usually walk though as they sell biscuits. The second step involved a smaller group of three vendors who agreed to outline their routes of choice in detail (Picture 5). As said previously, these paths may be very stable, with only minor changes throughout months or years; streets that were abandoned at a certain moment may be retraced afterwards.


A third way to collect data was by engaging a group of collaborators who voluntarily registered the day, time, and place they witnessed a chegadinho vendor passing by. Throughout a year, the same period during which I conducted the interviews with the sellers, these collaborators helped to register 101 appearances. When the events were arranged on a map, they were termed listening points.


As these three groups of collected data are intersected, we notice that there are: 1) neighborhoods mentioned by sellers where there were no records of listening points, 2) neighborhoods with listening points not mentioned by sellers, and 3) neighborhoods mentioned by sellers where listening points were also registered. The last group is numerically superior to the others, and the listening points are very close to each other. Apart from that, these neighborhoods border one another; they form a greater contiguous area in which the most listening points are concentrated. Only eight listening points were located outside of this adjoining area, spread out across the city. Furthermore, neighborhoods cut by the three outlined routes were located within this contiguous area containing the highest occurrence of listening points. Thirty of these points even coincided with places where at least one of the three vendors who had their courses outlined would pass by (Picture 6).


Knowing that the routes taken begin in the west and head east, what unfolds from this data is that the urban itineraries of these nomadic sellers, guided by biscuit sales, serve to recreate the vector of displacement of the higher-income populations in the city territory throughout the twentieth century. Vendors circumvented the downtown areas, where surveillance on street vending is intensified; they restricted themselves to areas outside the city center.


It is also important to observe that the places where sellers lived during this study was another factor that influenced their journeys. It was common for them to have resided in housing projects, shantytowns, or occupied areas in peripheral Fortaleza or other towns of the metropolitan area. They used to live in places that were regulated by public policies, throughout the twentieth century, to house people of low income or places that were not regulated for use as residential areas at all. Therefore, the routes started from the living areas of sellers who were headed for the residential neighborhoods of their main clientele. Considering the information regarding inhabitant's average incomes, shown in Picture 4, it is possible to observe the tendency that their flows begin in areas of lower income and move toward areas of higher income. The movements that delineate the territories of chegadinho vendors in present-day Fortaleza reveal that old invisible line as well, the line of segregation that developed as the rich sought to distance themselves from the poor in areas of the city one century ago. These divisions are still manifest in the city's territory. Nevertheless, the sales of the chegadinho as an everyday sound event create paths of communion in a more secular sense.

Picture 5: Map of walking courses

Picture 6: Map of co-occurring walking courses and listening points

Picture 4: Map of walking courses, listening points, housing-working flows, and average income of population (Source: Income data from IBGE 2000)