Upsurge in lynchings reveal another side to the Brazilian image of the “cordial man”


Note from BW of Brazil: The occurrence of lynchings (known as lichamentos in Portuguese), or violent popular retaliation by residents of a community reacting to a crime, actual or alleged, that lead to the beating and/or death of a victim have been reported throughout the country over the past few months. And while reports have highlighted these heinous acts since a teenager was found stripped naked, beaten and tied to a pole in Rio de Janeiro a few months ago, what is not being reported is that these lynchings, as we shall see, are by no means new or simply a current trend in the country. The interesting thing about this type of violence is the accompanying belief that Brazilians are “cordial” people. 

First I must say that analyzing the idea of Brazilians being cordial doesn’t deny the fact that they are some of friendliest people a foreigner visiting the country could ever meet. This is confirmed by the countless foreigners I’ve met over the years who have spent time in Brazil themselves. But what the term “cordial” often masks is another side of Brazilians that certainly doesn’t fit the description of the word. Also interesting is the fact that many Brazilians often deal with the issue in a similar manner as when accusations of racism come up. “Racism? No, Brazilians aren’t racists; that’s a thing of the United States.” One can hear this opinion anywhere throughout the country, in the media (as in the 2006 book Não somos racistas, meaning “we’re not racists”, by Globo TV journalism director Ali Kamel) or in any comments section on websites including this one. It’s always curious to hear these opinions in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Daniel Touro Linger touched this type of popular opinion in his 1995 book Dangerous Encounters: Meanings of Violence in a Brazilian City. Here are a few excerpts:

“The somewhat insistent claim that Brazilian social relations are especially peaceful – a claim most notably associated with (sociologist) Gilberto Freyre, but one that has the status of a popular myth – I therefore find surprising and unconvincing. This is not to deny that there is more than a grain of truth in the common Brazilian self-image of the homen cordial, the cordial man. This phrase, picked up from Ribeiro Couto and made famous by the historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, refers to a certain intimacy in face-to-face relations. Writes Buarque de Holanda:

“Sincerity in personal dealings, hospitality, generosity, virtues so highly praised by foreigners who visit us, represent, in effect, a definite feature of the Brazilian character, to the extent at least that the ancient influence of patterns of human sociability arising in the rural and patriarchal milieu remains active and fertile.” (Holanda 1982 [1936]: 106-7)

“Buarque was writing over half a century ago, but generosity, hospitality, and personal warmth remain, in my judgment, notable features of relationships with and among Brazilians. On the whole, the claim of cordiality does have certain behavioral correlates….The confusion between intimacy and peacefulness that seems to dog the discussion of Brazilian cordiality tends to obscure vast regions of experience familiar to all Brazilians, which are characterized by contentiousness, extreme violence and sometimes brutality. Euclides da Cunha’s phantasmagoria of carnage in the Bahian backlands is perhaps the most vivid literary representation of such violence…

“I remember listening more than once in a state of puzzlement to friends and acquaintances – some of the same people who on other occasions had related appalling tales of bloodshed – telling me proudly, ‘Here in São Luís (capital of northeastern state of Maranhão) things are peaceful; we don’t have all that fighting that you have over there in your country.’ All Americans know that the United States is extremely violent by most standards, but São Luís is not a city that could be called peaceful (1) except in relation to one of the world’s great murder capitals such as Washington, DC, or São Paulo (or the crime-ridden Metropolises of the American police dramas that parade across Brazilian TV screens). In short, the allegation of Brazilian pacifism is a comfortable half-truth stretched so thin as to resemble denial; it signals, I think, in part an underlying anxiety over the violence that everybody knows is epidemic.”


With recent incidents of lynchings taking place throughout the country, let’s first take a look at a few facts. In a study that analyzed the occurrence of lynchings throughout Brazil between the years 1990 and 2000, 714 people were victims of lynchings, 312 of which were fatal. Victims of these lynchings were almost all male and in most cases, young. In terms of race, it wasn’t possible to come to a sound conclusion on this factor as the ethnicity of the victims was recorded in only a fraction of cases: only 37 or 5.2% of the total. Of this 37, 75.6% were negro or mulato while 24.3% were white.

For most social scientists it is widely known that Afro-Brazilians (negros and mulatos) are more vulnerable to assault, threats, arrests and murder at the hands of the police and death squads that operate in the country, but as previously stated, with race not being recorded in about 95% of the cases studied, it is not possible to come to any definite conclusions. Along with the fact that the race of victims is most often not recorded, there are also no stats on the race of the “lynch mobs” or practitioners of popular justice. Looking at various photos found on the internet, both in cases in which persons were tied up and beaten and/or actually killed, one will note a strong presence of Afro-Brazilian victims although white victims are also common. On the other side, persons of dark skin can also be seen taking active roles in the lynchings.

This takes us to the most recent cases of popular justice. See the second part of this report on lynchings here

Youth is tied up with a cable after a theft in Minais Gerais

April 11, 2014

By Ney Rubens

11 de abril

The Military Police (MP) of Minas Gerais reported another case of a suspect immobilized and tied up by people after committing crimes. This time the event happened in Nova Lima, a city in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte. Previously, the Minas Gerais MP had recorded similar cases in the neighborhoods of Santo Antônio and Carlos Prates, in Belo Horizonte, where suspects were tied to poles after being immobilized.

The 17 year old was dominated and tied up with ribbons and power cords after having stolen copper wire from a business in the Jardim Canadá neighborhood

According to the police report, on Thursday afternoon, the 17 year old was overpowered and tied up with tape and power electric cords after having stolen copper wire from a company in the neighborhood of Jardim Canadá. The boy was released by the MP who arrived on the scene event and apprehended him. The people who tied him up were not identified.

The PM reported that at the police station, the teenager, who turns 18 on Friday, confessed that he had already stolen other products in the company and that he had about 40 arrests for similar crimes. A second teenager who also participated in the theft escaped.

In Minas Gerais, a youth suspected of theft is tied to the post and beaten with a cord

April 22, 2014

By Rayder Bragon

Acusado de furtos, jovem que foi amarrado e apanhou com fios de energia - 22 de abril, 2014

Accused of shoplifting, a young man was tied to a post in his underwear and whipped with electrical cords during the aggression; he reportedly told police he owes money to drug traffickers

A man accused of stealing was tied to a post in his underwear and flogged by residents who used electrical wires in the assault, which occurred in the city of Ipatinga (217 km from Belo Horizonte) last Thursday (17).

According to the Military Police, the 18-year was overwhelmed by residents of the Morro do Sossego in the Veneza neighborhood, who accused him of being the author of a series of thefts in the area. The man, who didn’t reveal his name, reportedly told the police that he owed a debt to drug dealers in the community.

With the arrival of police, that were triggered by an anonymous complaint, the boy was untied and taken to a hospital emergency room in town with several mark on his body from the whipping.

According to police, he was examined, medicated and then released.

According to the police report, the beating victim told the police he couldn’t identify the perpetrators and “even if I knew, I wouldn’t say.” The MP said that none of the perpetrators of the aggression were found.

In a video shown by a local television station, the boy appears tied to a pole with pieces of cloth and being whipped. Screaming while receiving aggressions, he repeated the order given by the aggressor. The victim screamed: “I’ll never steal on the morro (hill).”

Source: Terra, UOL, Menandro, Paulo Rogério Meira; Souza, Lídio de. “Vidas apagadas: vítimas de linchamentos ocorridos no Brasil (1990-2000).” Psicologia Política. São Paulo, n. 2(4), p. 249-266, 2002. Linger, Daniel Touro. Dangerous Encounters: Meanings of Violence in a Brazilian City. Stanford University Press, 1995.


1. Also consider the brutal be-headings that took place in a prison complex of this city a few months back. See the article here but beware of the graphic images.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. I think that what is happening with these thieves is that people are just sick of being robbed all the time. These are not “little princes” that are being cherry picked just because they are black. People have begun to take the law into their own hands and are trying to send a message to other would be robbers. I have seen MANY videos (usually in the interior of Brazil) of people applying street justice to criminals, and they are not all black. They are the dregs of a society that has no police protection, and in which the people have begun to get desperate.

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