Brazil’s Tabajaras Indians Owe Mangoré a Musical Debt of Gratitude

    Indios Tabajaras

    Indios Tabajaras Brazilian Turíbio Santos’ recording of guitar music by Agustín Barrios (1885-1944) in Turíbio Santos Interpreta Agustín Barrios has a glaring oversight on the jacket of the CD recorded at Manaus. The title makes no reference to Nitsuga Mangoré – the artistic name and Indian persona that the Paraguayan-born classical guitarist and virtuoso adopted during his celebrated tour of Brazil from 1929 to 1931.

    It was during Barrios’ previous visit to Brazil from 1918 to 1919 that Henrique Coelho Netto (1864-1934), a famous writer, journalist, politician, and one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, wrote a famous essay extolling the virtuosity of the Paraguayan guitarist and claiming that Barrios had redeemed the guitar from the low-esteem in which it was held.

    During his visit to Rio de Janeiro, which was experiencing a commercial boom brought on by the end of the Great War (1914-18) in Europe, Barrios met many legendary musicians, such as guitarist and composer João Pernambuco (1883-1947) and distinguished guitarist Quincas Laranjeiras (1873-1935), whose photograph with Barrios appears on the inside of Santos’ CD, but with the names of the Brazilian musicians surprisingly mixed up. There was a time in Brazil when the name Mangoré had meaning.

    During his subsequent Brazilian tour starting in 1929, Barrios continued to be advertised as “The King of the Guitar,” played his classical guitar at major concert halls in Porto Alegre, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, and underwent a major metamorphosis. The rising influence of getting in touch with the indigenous roots of the Americas took hold of him.

    Billing himself as Nitsuga Mangoré in 1930, he left an indelible memory of a well-muscled man with a stern face playing classical music and his own compositions for the classical guitar while dressed semi-naked as an Indian chief on a stage decorated with large potted plants, palm fronds, bushes, at sold-out performances in such big cities, and minor town surrounding them, as Salvador da Bahia, Aracaju, Maceió, Recife, Natal, Fortaleza, Sao Luiz do Maranhão, Belém, and Manaus.

    The detailed recreation of this journey awaits the interest of Brazilian academics and ethno-musicologists. The travels of Mangoré took place at the start of the Brazilian reign of Getúlio Vargas (1882-1952) who was provisional president (1930-34), elected president (1934-37), and dictator of the pseudo-fascist Estado Novo, New State (1937-45).

    Barrios as Mangoré signed many autographs for awed Brazilians on a photograph that showed his bare-chested torso, necklace of feathers, and feathered crown. The fact that he spoke Guaraní, the other official language of Paraguay, made Brazilians believe that they had witnessed the unheard of story of an Indian who had magically emerged from the jungles of Paraguay to share the stage of classical performers.

    The fact was that Barrios was neither culturally or genetically a full-blooded Indian. Nonetheless, Mangoré awoke the imagination of mostly white audiences who were astounded to see how far in the classical music world an Indian could go. The illusion worked.

    For Frederick Knight Sheppard, a renowned luthier from Green Bay, Wisconsin, who has dedicated part of his life to study Mangoré’s guitars, the economic success of Mangoré’s Brazilian odyssey can be glimpsed at the Cabildo Museum in Asunción, Paraguay, that displays, amidst the largest public collection in the world of Mangoré’s personal items, a gold pocket watch and a Sanfeliu guitar engraved with the initials “ABM” that Barrios purchased during his final memorable Brazilian tour.

    Mangoré’s last Brazilian journey was made with Glória Silva (1903?-1965?), an enigmatic black woman native of Rio Grande do Sul and his life companion from 1929 until his death, and his brother, Francisco Martín Barrios, a classical guitarist, dramatist, and poet who left Brazil in 1931 and who committed suicide eight years later.

    Mangoré also performed with local artists and poets at private receptions for members of the cultured Brazilian elite of the times which no Brazilian author or researcher has punctiliously studied. At least two original compositions by Mangoré were clearly influenced by the ethos of the time: “Maxixe” and “Choro da Saudade”. Many years later after Mangoré had left the shores of Brazil, Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), a distinguished Brazilian composer and ethno-musicologist, referred to Mangoré as “the unsurpassable.”

    Mangoré ceased performing with his Indian attire in 1934, but the name stuck with him until the end of his days. After traveling to other countries and with his health in decline, Mangoré lived out his last years as a guitar instructor at a public music school in El Salvador, Central America.

    According to Richard Stover, his first English-language biographer, Mangoré’s music was neglected for years until the 1970s when it began to receive greater recognition from world-class classical guitar performers such as John Williams, David Russell, Berta Rojas, and Barbosa Lima.

    The Indios Tabajaras were the first duo of Brazilian guitarists to achieve unparalleled international fame and economic success as recording artists playing classical guitar music, popular Latin American guitar melodies, while dressed with the regalia of Indian chieftains.

    The duo of Natalício and Antenor Lima shrouded their cultural and genetic origins, but claimed that they were Indians from Brazil’s northern state of Ceará where they lived until the mid-1930s. It is likely that in their youth they experienced the guitar magic of Mangoré when he performed at their state in his own full Indian regalia.

    After moving to Rio in the mid-1930s, the Lima brothers began to perform and to improve their musicianship. RCA signed them up in the 1940s and the Tabajaras Indians became one of the greatest Brazilian musical exports. During their travels to other American countries, they billed themselves as Los Indios Tabajaras. It would be interesting to know whether Copacabana’s Ladeira dos Tabajaras has anything to do with them.

    By the late 1950s, the Tabajaras Indians began to reach the big time with the international hit, “Maria Elena.” In the early 1960s, they continued to make international appearances dressed with Indian costumes, and became the darlings of American TV national shows. They continued recording and performing until the 1980s. Examples of their music are now posted on youtube.com.

    The Tabajaras Indians never credited Mangoré for the novel idea of a Latin American guitarist who would perform on the stage classical music wearing an Indian costume. I believe that the Lima brothers owed him a debt of gratitude.

    Turíbio Santos’ homage to the music of Barrios should have made reference to Mangoré – a name which the Tabajaras Indians intentionally shushed despite the fact that without Brazil, there wouldn’t have been a Mangoré.

    Edgardo Quintanilla is an immigration lawyer in Sherman Oaks, California. He can be reached at (866) 986-1295, or eqlaw@pacbell.net. He is writing a novel on an obscure topic of Latin American history.

    © 2008

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