The Daughters of Maria Senhorinha
In 2014, a British newspaper published an odd story: in southeastern Brazil there was a town inhabited only by women. According to the piece, the women who lived in this community, Noiva do Cordeiro, were young, beautiful and desperate to find husbands. The town and its women made headlines around the world. There was only one problem: it wasn’t entirely true. What happens to a remote town when a story goes viral? And what’s the real story of Noiva do Cordeiro?
You can read a Spanish transcript of the episode, it’s useful if you’re learning the language with this podcast.
Translation by Patrick Moseley
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Today we start with a news story.
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE TELEGRAPH)
[Journalist]: Welcome to Noiva do Cordeiro, a small village in south east Brazil, where all the residents are women…
[Daniel]: This video came out in 2014, from the British newspaper The Telegraph. It was entitled “Inside the Brazilian all-woman village desperate for men.”
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE TELEGRAPH)
[Journalist]: Now, some reports suggest that, because of this, they are suffering from broken hearts, and all they need is a man like myself to come in and improve their lives…
[Daniel]: He’s talking about this place in Brazil that is inhabited exclusively by women. All of them are young, all of them are beautiful and all of them are looking for a husband. The Telegraph had published an article about the town a few days earlier and the news had gone viral in England. Other newspapers like The Mirror and The Daily Mail had published the same story. But it didn’t just come out in England: it was also in newspapers all over the world. From Bolivia to India.
[Isabel Cadenas, producer]: And the same news continues to appear today. I saw it last in newspapers from Kenya and Poland. But it started with this barely two-minute video from The Telegraph.
[Daniel]: This is Isabel Cadenas.
[Isabel]: The journalist is a young, tall, pale Englishman walking among women working in the fields…
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE TELEGRAPH)
[Journalist]: Would I be a welcome addition here in the community? Keila, am I good husband material?
[Keila]: Com certeza… [Laughs]
[Journalist]: Yeah? Yeah?
[Isabel]: He’s asking her if he would be accepted in the community and, more importantly, if he would make a good husband. I was thrown by how condescending that man was being. And, at the time, I was fascinated by the story: was there really a place in Brazil where only women lived?
I started researching the story. I read everything I could find and I realized that all of the headlines were totally sexist: if there was a town of women, they definitely were desperate to get men.
[Daniel]: So Isabel bought a plane ticket and want to Brazil to learn more about this place.
[Flight Attendant]: Senhores passageiros, bem-vindos a Confins Belo Horizonte. Pedimos que permaneçam sentados…
[Isabel]: I decided to go to Brazil for two reasons. On one hand, if there really was a matriarchal society in Latin America, I had to see it. And on the other, I wanted to tell their real story, what was behind the sexist focus in all of those articles.
The first thing you need to know about Noiva do Cordeiro is that it’s part of a municipality called Belo Vale which is in the state of Minas Gerais, in Southeastern Brazil. To get there, I took two planes and then two buses. The last bus took me from Belo Horizonte, the state capital, to Belo Vale.
It’s a beautiful journey. There are waterfalls, little towns and orchards where they grow mandarins, or as they say there: mexericas, which is the local fruit.
I was excited, anxious, and most of all, very nervous to get there.
Since the bus didn’t go all the way to Noiva do Cordeiro, one of the women from the community who I had contacted on Facebook offered to pick me up in Belo Vale. From there, she would drive me to Noiva do Cordeiro…
[Isabel]: Flávia! Tchau!
Her name is Flávia.
[Isabel]: The first thing to surprise was that she didn’t come alone…
Qual é o seu nome?
[Isabel]: Dario. Dario.
She came with a man. An older man who introduced himself as Dario. He was her father-in-law.
The fact that there was a father-in-law implied that there was a husband: in other words, it implied that Flávia was a married woman.
I was shocked. But I tried to hide it. We got in the car to go to Noiva and I tried to concentrate on talking about other things. Like, the local product, for example, which is always a really good topic of conversation, in Spanish or in Portuguese…
Mandarina, clementina, tangerina…
[Dario and Flávia]: Tangerina.
[Isabel]: Mandarina em espanhol.
But really I spent the drive to Noiva thinking about how to change the questions I had prepared for Flávia. I had prepared them for a single woman.
Half an hour later, we got to the community. It was basically a hillside with a few dozen houses surrounded by mexerica, avocado and plantain trees. All of the houses were built around the main house, where Flávia and her father-in-law dropped me off…
Bom dia, Isabel.
[Dete]: Bom dia, sou Dete.
[Isabel]: Um prazer.
[Dete]: O prazer é todo meu.
[Isabel]: Qual o seu nome?
[Dete]: Dete. Você é Isabel?
[Isabel]: Right as I arrived a lot of people came up to greet me and ask about my trip, if I was hungry or tired or cold. That was when I learned that the main house I was in was called…
[Flávia]: Casa Mãe.
[Isabel]: “The Mother House.”
The mother house is a two-house complex with rooms for 80 people. And in the middle is the community kitchen, which is immense. There are eight wood-burning stoves. Next to it is a dining room with long tables and chairs to seat several hundred people. The dining room is also immense.
When a meal shift ends, people scramble to clean everything: to sweep, scrub and pick up.
I was surprised to see so many people together, each one with something to do. And when I say “people,” I mean: women and men, boys and girls, young and old.
Noiva do Cordeiro seemed like a totally normal town. There was no trace of that “majority of women” I had read about in the press. But I barely had time to think about that because right after dinner they took me to a room they use for presentations.
[Edinele]: E ai gente, saudades?
[Isabel]: It was Saturday and they were celebrating the “Sesta da viola” or “guitar Friday”— a celebration they have every week.
[Edinele]: É Isabel, verdade? Queria te agradecer por ter vindo de tão longe para estar aqui…
[Isabel]: The party started with Edinele, the presenter, welcoming me on behalf of the whole community and thanking me for coming such a long way. Little by little, dance groups, a choir and a duo lip-syncing to Micheal Jackson came onto the stage.
(SOUNDBITE CHOREOGRAPHY )
[Isabel]: And finally, the piece de resistance: Marcia and Maciel, a musical group that seems professional…
(SOUNDBITE SONG BY MARCIA AND MACIEL)
[Isabel]: And after them…
[Edinele]: Keila Gaga! [Applause]
[Isabel]: Keila Gaga: a blonde woman, dressed like Lady Gaga and her backup dancers all also dressed like Lady Gaga.
(SOUNDBITE SONG BY KEILA GAGA)
[Isabel]: The audience knew all the words. Some 300 people singing, dancing, cheering, shouting… All while they seemed to reach something akin to ecstasy, I couldn’t stop asking myself: Where am I? What is this place? And most of all: Where could this story about only women living here have come from?
Maybe the best way to answer that question is to stop here.
And go back a couple centuries…
To the beginning of the community.
In 1890, María Senhorinha left her husband and came here to live with her lover: Chico Fernandes.
An adulterous woman in rural Brazil in the 19th century. Imagine it.
When she had her first child, she was kicked out by the church. Her and the four generations to follow. And that wasn’t just a few people: Chico and María Senhorinha had nice children.
That was when the stigma started. To neighboring towns, she and her descendants formed a community where women were too free; in other words, adulteresses: in other words, of course, prostitutes.
That’s how it was until the 50s when Delina, one of María Senhorinha’s granddaughters, married Anisio Pereira, an evangelical pastor passing through the area. He was 43 and she was 16. They had 15 children.
And the pastor, who didn’t trust any established religion, created his own. A version of evangelicalism, there, in a deeply Catholic area. That caused the stigma to intensify.
Now, on top of being adulterers, they were evangelicals. And this new religion, before anything else had…
[Dora]: Muitas regras. A gente não podia cortar o cabelo, a gente não podia vestir curto…
[Isabel]: …a lot of rules. They couldn’t cut their hair. They had to wear long sleeves. They couldn’t wear makeup. This is Dora, a short, thin woman with short hair who works as a seamstress at the town’s factory.
[Dora]: Você não podia… tinha que orar muito, tirar muito tempo de oração, principalmente os homens. Não tinha como trabalhar o dia todo, entendeu? Então, ficou uma vida muito difícil.
[Isabel]: She says that people lived for the church: they had to pray so many times a day the men couldn’t work. But that wasn’t all. One of the most surprising things Dora told me was that the pastor even banned music.
[Dora]: Já tinha ouvido, de longe, na cidade ou algum lugar assim, mas estava proibida, você tinha que tirar aquilo da cabeça.
[Isabel]: Dora had heard the music in the distance, but since it was banned, she says, “she blocked it out of her mind.”
Until, in 1991, Nite, one of the pastor’s 15 children, began planning her wedding.
[Dora]: Seu casamento… Ela ia casar. Daí ela foi para Belo Horizonte, eu acho que na casa de um tio dela…
[Isabel]: Nite went to Belo Horizante and saw a wedding on TV in which the bride entered to music. And she told her father that she wanted to do that at her wedding.
[Dora]: Ai ela disse: não, eu quero música. E todo mundo dizia…
[Isabel]: He told her to not even discuss it…
Still the townspeople were so insistent that finally he gave in. But he wasn’t happy about it. They hired an acquaintance who had music equipment and a single cassette tape: “Sanfona lascada”, by Voninho. A real hit in the 80s.
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE SONG “SANFONA LASCADA”)
[Dora]: Quando fui para a festa, achamos aquilo bom, já que teve a música.
[Isabel]: They played that tape over and over all night.
[Dora]: E dancei muito.
[Isabel]: And they danced a lot.
[Dora]: Nem sabia o que era dançar, mas eu dancei. Aprendi a dançar, fiquei boa.
[Isabel]: Dora had never danced. She was 35 years old. But she learned. And she discovered that dancing was good. And that something that good couldn’t keep you from going to Heaven.
[Dora]: Não precisa de tanta coisa para ir pro céu.
[Isabel]: A lot of people in the community had already been questioning if they really had to live that way to go to Heaven for some time. Even the pastor’s own children were questioning it.
[Rosa]: Ele era um homem simples e muito inteligente.
[Isabel]: This is Rosa, one the pastor’s daughters.
[Rosa]: A única falha que ele teve, foi fanatizar com a religião. Só isso.
[Isabel]: She says that her father was very intelligent and that his only flaw was being a religious fanatic. By the time she was an adult, Rosa started having doubts…
[Rosa]: Sim, quando eu cheguei na idade adulta eu comecei a fazer meus questionamentos…
[Isabel]: She questioned the rules, the hypocrisy, and she started to share what she was thinking about her father’s religion with people in the community. First her sister and mother. And then the townspeople.
[Rosa]: No início achou que eu estava um pouco exagerada, outros já tinham pensado o mesmo…
[Isabel]: Some people thought Rosa was exaggerating, but others agreed with her.
And then, in 91, the same year as Nite’s wedding, they decided to meet with the pastor:
[Dora]: Ah, foi na casa dele. Bastantes membros da igreja e até os próprios filhos também.
[Isabel]: She got the whole family together along with a few neighbors, members of the church. Dora remembers it well.
[Dora]: Nós conversamos com ele, que não queríamos aquela igreja oprimida daquele jeito.
[Isabel]: They told him that they didn’t want that church that was oppressing them, that he saw a lot of defects in other churches but his also had some, and they were tired of living according to his will.
Surprisingly, the pastor agreed with them. So much so that little by little he also stopped going to his own church.
[Dora]: Pouca gente ficou na igreja, tanto que depois até ele parou de ir. Parou com aquilo e ficou quieto dentro da casa dele.
[Isabel]: If before the nearby town’s problem was that they weren’t Catholic, when they left the faith, the stigma got worse: without religion, they were, once again, too free, descendants of an adulteress. In other words, once again, prostitutes.
[Dora]: Foi muito difícil a nossa vida. Nossa vida não foi fácil.
[Isabel]: So the stigma continued: The women in the town who are between 20 and 35 years old had to deal with it in school. That’s how it was for Flávia, too, the woman who picked me up at the bus station.
[Flávia]: Era tanto absurdo, falavam muito absurdo, sempre no sentido de que nossas mães eram prostitutas.
[Isabel]: Flávia quit school because they called her “the daughter of a prostitute” or a daughter of “the pastor’s women.” The worst insults didn’t come from the children, but rather the teachers themselves:
[Flávia]: Era muito triste o que ouvíamos. E por incrível que pareça, os professores eram piores que os alunos.
[Isabel]: However, from what Dora told me, when they left the religion, they finally had time to think.
[Dora]: E as pessoas ainda não tinham parado pra pensar.
[Isabel]: What they started thinking about was how they wanted to live from that point on. It was a difficult decision: in the face of so many challenges, the people of Noiva do Cordeiro were very united, so what came next was rather natural. They wanted to live communally.
They started out with two sewing machines: one was Dora’s, the other was Rosa’s. They put them together and opened a factory. And that’s what they did with everything else: they collectivized the land, the work in the fields, but also daily tasks in the city, from childcare to preparing food. They even collectivized the church: they tore it down together.
And they built a bar in its place. It was where people would have fun. The owner of the bar, curiously, is another one of the pastor’s children.
And that’s not all. Not long ago they managed to open their own school, without help from the State: the teachers are young people from the town who go to college.
[Pedro]: Aqui a minha faculdade, quem paga é a comunidade. Todos se juntam e pagam a minha faculdade.
[Isabel]: This is Pedro speaking. He’s the biology teacher. He tells me that the community pays for his studies and in return he teaches classes.
[Pedro]: Eu não recebo, mas por vontade própria. E se a comunidade querer me pagar como professor eu nunca vou aceitar.
[Isabel]: And he says he doesn’t want to get any money for this job because it’s like teaching classes to his family, which, in fact, it is: Noiva do Cordeiro’s 300 residents are all in some way or another related to the community’s founder: María Senhorinha.
During my stay I spoke with a lot of people, went to all of the town events and many several hours of interviews in order to be able to describe the community.
But it’s no easy task, like Pedro says.
[Pedro]: É difícil de explicar a Noiva do Cordeiro. Ver a Noiva do Cordeiro em uma imagem, você não entende. Ouvir a Noiva do Cordeiro em um áudio, você não entende. Você só entende a Noiva do Cordeiro sentindo.
[Isabel]: Pedro say says that you can’t understand Noiva do Cordeiro through images or audio. You can only understand it by going there and experiencing it.
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break
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[Daniel]: Isabel says the best way for us to understand Noiva do Cordeiro might be through a story…
[Isabel]: And of all the stories they told me, I keep coming back to Erick’s.
[Erick Araujo]: Meu nome é Erick Araujo.
[Isabel]: Erick is 35 years old. He’s the community “hacker”: he records and edits videos and he’s installing the internet so the town can have wifi. And he is, most of all, very shy: Every time he saw me, he looked like he was scared of the mic. But one day, he came to see me in the kitchen and told me that if I wanted, he would tell me his story. “Off mic?” I asked. “However you want,” he said.
[Erick]: Por volta dos meus 18 anos comecei a perceber que era diferente dos outros rapazes.
[Isabel]: When he turned 18 Erick started to feel different from the rest of the kids in the community. He didn’t know what it was exactly until he went to Belo Horizonte and discovered the internet.
[Erick]: Chegando em Belo Horizonte conheci a internet.
[Isabel]: There, in the capital, everyone called him a word he didn’t understand: so he searched online and learned that he was gay.
[Erick]: E acabei descobrindo que eu era gay.
[Isabel]: For him it was a terrible discovery: he didn’t tell anyone for 2 years. He was really suffering.
[Erick]: Sofri muito, porque quando você ama muito as pessoas você espera a aprovação delas. E eu não tinha coragem de contar para ninguém, com medo da reprovação, até porque não existia nenhum outro gay na comunidade. [Cries]
[Isabel]: He was afraid the community wouldn’t accept him. Up until then, no one in Noiva do Cordeiro had come out. He didn’t dare tell anyone. Until one day, he told his best friend: Keila.
[Keila]: Olha quando… quando o Erick me disse que era gay, eu chorei. Mas eu não chorei porque ele era gay, eu chorei porque ele estava sofrendo.
[Isabel]: Keila cried: she hadn’t known what it meant to be gay either, but her friend was suffering so much it had to be something sad.
[Keila]: E depois com o tempo e que eu fui entender… que o sofrimento dele era por medo.
[Isabel]: Then she understood that, really, her friend was suffering because he was afraid and that if that fear went away, he would be happy.
And then, Keila and her sister Marcia had an idea:
[Erick]: Ai elas tiveram uma ideia de fazer um teatro…
[Isabel]: To put on a play to explain to the community that there were men who liked men. There were several characters: some were gay, some were prejudiced and at the end of the play, prejudice appeared, as another character. Erick played one of the play’s gay characters:
[Erick]: Estava muito nervoso, até então pouquíssimas pessoas da comunidade sabiam que eu era gay.
[Isabel]: And the play was a success.
[Erick]: Ah… Foi um momento de emoção, porque tinha muita gente chorando, muita gente comovida com o teatro.
[Isabel]: Erick remembers most of all the older people in the community: how they hugged him and told him they were moved by the play and how it had changed their views.
In the crowd there were also people like Pedro, the biology teacher. At the time he was 12 and he already knew he was different.
[Pedro]: Praticamente abriu as portas a todos os outros na comunidade…
[Isabel]: That’s why he feels so thankful to Erick: because he paved the way for them.
This story may seem like an anecdote, but for Erick, as it does for Pedro, it represents the essence of Noiva do Cordeiro:
[Pedro]: Aqui você pode ser quem você quiser. Aqui você deve ser quem você quiser. Que todos vão te ajudar.
[Isabel]: A struggle on the part of the entire community to make a single person happy.
[Pedro]: São 300 pessoas em prol da felicidade de apenas uma pessoa. É todo mundo. Estender a mão e falar: você não vai sozinho, vai estar todo mundo junto com você. Nao importa o que vai acontecer, não importa o que você vai enfrentar, a gente vai enfrentar juntos.
[Isabel]: 300 people supporting you. I don’t know you’ve ever felt that.
But once I understood how they lived, I had to tie up one loose end. I had to understand how “the famous story” came about and how it affected them in this communal life.
The famous news…
[Flávia]: Ah! dos casamentos… lembro…
[Isabel]: Flávia can remember the day of the news perfectly. It was the night of August 27th, 2014:
[Flávia]: Lembro que era de noite e o telefone tocou 24 horas por dia. Tocou muito. Insensavelmente.
[Isabel]: The phone—the only one in Noiva, from what Flávia told me—rang 24 hours straight and they got worried.
[Flávia]: Várias pessoas levantaram e atendiam o telefone e eles falavam uma língua que até hoje nao sei qual. [Risas]
[Isabel]: But they were speaking in completely unknown languages.
The next day, a journalist from São Paulo called them to tell them what was going on.
[Flávia]: Gente, vocês estão sabendo das matérias que estão saindo sobre vocês? Que matérias?
[Isabel]: There were more than 30,000 news stories about them all over the world.
[Flávia]: A primeira pergunta é que aqui não veio ninguém fazer nenhuma entrevista, até hoje não sabemos, não me pergunte…
[Isabel]: They never figured out where the story came from. Flávia told me that “no journalist came here” and that no one had asked their permission to use the community’s Facebook photos either.
And of course, I asked myself the same question: since I got there on Saturday, I had seen as many men as women. The news was from 2014. Was it possible for a community to change that much in barely three years? Because those men I had met had been born and raised in Noiva. Where were they when this news came out? Was it just a made-up story?
[Harry Wallop]: Yes, ok. My name is Harry Wallop. I’m a British feature writer.
[Isabel]: This is Harry Wallop, the journalist from The Telegraph who in that video in 2014 was walking through that town that apparently was only inhabited by single women.
The same day The Telegraph published the article, the editorial office called Harry. He hadn’t even read the paper, so he didn’t know anything about Noiva de Cordeiro. He didn’t know any Portuguese either.
[Harry]: They were obsessed at The Telegraph, in a rather wonderful way —that they were going to be beaten by The Daily Mail, their main competitor…
[Isabel]: But The Telegraph was so worried that The Daily Mail, their historic competitor, would beat them to it and send someone into the field, that in a matter of hours they put him on a plane to Brazil.
[Harry]: And It was when I was sitting on my plane across the Atlantic and I was reading the story carefully that I saw the quite gaping holes in the story
[Isabel]: By the time he was in the plane, Harry started to notice the holes in the story.
[Harry]: It just didn’t quite ring true, but it was certainly fun.
[Isabel]: Something wasn’t adding up. In the pictures of the town he had seen there were boys too. It seemed very odd that there would only be women. But for Harry it was, without a doubt, a very fun story.
When he arrived, his contact in Brazil confirmed his suspicion. The story had been “sexed up” as they say. In other words, they changed something in order to make it seem literally more sexy. Because, as we already know, there are men in Noiva.
Only when Harry arrived, they weren’t there.
[Harry]: My memory was 40 to 50 women, all working in the fields, and there was only one man I saw…
[Isabel]: Harry says he saw some 40 to 50 woman and just a few men in the three hours he spent in the community. A lot of men went to Belo Horizonte to work during the week and only came back from Friday to Saturdays. And, to be fair to him, it is true that Harry starts the video by saying:
[Harry]: All the residents are women. Well, nearly all, and certainly during the week.
[Isabel]: That all of the residents are woman, well, nearly all of them. And that’s how it is during the week.
I asked him why he hadn’t been more clear, why did he keep focusing on the story about women looking for men.
[Harry]: As in why did I tell the truth? And why did I not make it…? Well, ah… ah… Again, I’d flown across the Atlantic at a huge cost to The Daily Telegraph, it was their cost, and they were going to run the story anyway.
[Isabel]: Harry hesitates before answering, but he tells me The Telegraph had spent a lot of money to send him to Brazil and they were going to run the story anyway. And on top of that…
[Harry]: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” is one of the great catchphrases of Fleet Street.
[Isabel]: That is: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”.
[Harry]: And often editors, just, you know, we stretch resources, pages to fill. It’s a good story, don’t ruin a good story by… you know…
[Isabel]: And that a lot of times editors stretch the resources they have because they have pages to fill. So he decided to write it that way because it was more fun…
[Harry]: If it’s a fun story, and it’s not doing anyone any harm…
[Isabel]: And he wasn’t hurting anyone.
I wasn’t so sure that the story wasn’t hurting anyone. Harry’s video and the article had a very chauvinistic perspective and that’s also how the story was told by the most of the media across the world.
So, as soon as I could, I asked the women what I had wanted to ask them from the beginning: how had they felt about the world talking about them as a town of single women desperate to find a husband?
And the answer surprised me:
[Keila]: Acho que foi uma coisa assim, meio engraçada, uma coisa legal.
[Isabel]: This is Keila Fernandes speaking, better known Keila Gaga: the Lady Gaga impersonator To her, it was something funny, fun and surprising
[Keila]: Foi bom, muito bom.
[Isabel]: It was really good. And that was the same thing they all told me, from Rosa…
[Rosa]: Nêo achei que foi uma notícia desagradável, pelo contrário.
[Isabel]: …who says that for her it’s normal to say that single women are looking for husbands. And that it didn’t seem at all upsetting, but the opposite… to Vania, her daughter.
[Vania]: Não, eu não me senti mal. Foi uma notícia que não nos prejudicou em nada.
[Isabel]: She says they’d already been called so many things and they had already suffered so much, that the story didn’t do them any harm and what it did most of all was help them.
I couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t a trace of resentment or offense or concern. And I didn’t understand, most of all, what Vania said: that the news had helped them. Helped them how?
It seems like it helped them in a lot of ways.
[Flávia]: Teve muitos gringos, mais que brasileiros, porque as matérias saíram: nossa teve muito gringo.
[Isabel]: The first consequence of the new came very soon. Flávia tells me that single men started showing up looking for wives. They were mostly gringos, which is what they call foreigners in Brazil. They didn’t even call; they just showed up wearing backpacks.
[Flávia]: Até vem. É uma coisa que não parou. Continua, entendeu?
[Isabel]: And they still come. Not as many now, but at the time they came from all over the world. From places that Flávia didn’t know about.
And with the arrival of those single men, something else happened. The men in the community started to get scared.
[Flávia]: Eu já estava casada, até meu marido ficou com medo de aparecer um gringo…
[Isabel]: Scared that their wives would fall in love with those passionate men, as Flávia tells it.
[Flávia]: Mas não aconteceu isso não.
[Isabel]: But, no that’s clearly not what happened:
[Anderson Fernandes]: Sou Anderson Fernandes.
[Isabel]: Alguma coisa mais?
[Anderson]: [Laughs] Casado com a Flávia.
[Isabel]: This is Anderson, Flávia’s husband.
[Anderson]: Hoje eu vou embora para Belo Horizonte, porque trabalho amanhã e volto na sexta. Vinte e dois anos que eu faço isso.
[Isabel]: Você tem quantos anos agora?
[Isabel]: Anderson travels to Belo Horizonte every week for work. He’s been doing it for 22 years.
I interviewed him in his car, one Sunday, right before he left the city. Flávia was sitting in the back seat.
Vamos falar de amor.
[Anderson]: Está aqui [Laughs], no banco de atrás.
[Isabel]: Anderson is very shy but he told me about the fears he had when the gringos started coming. And he told me that he still has those fears today.
[Anderson]: Será que vai chegar um gringo rico e levar a minha Flávia? [Laughs]. Eu fico com medo, sim.
[Isabel]: Flávia and Anderson were already married when the news came out, but a lot of other people weren’t. And when the gringos came there was an explosion of weddings.
[Flávia]: Porque eu acho que os homens ficaram com medo de aparecer outros homens [Laughs] e casar…
[Isabel]: The ones who were dragging their feet, Flávia tells me, got married because they didn’t want to leave their women to the gringos.
Flávia says “get married” but in Noiva that doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in other places: few couples here have marriage certificates or have had marriage ceremonies. Here, people get together and when they don’t love each other anymore, they separate. Without papers.
Perhaps due to the informal way that they see relationships, this marriage issue is really no more than one anecdote in this whole story about “the news.”
And I think the story brought something more profound than marriages. All of these people who started coming —looking for a wife or, like me, to learn their story— it acted like a kind of mirror: it showed them their own reality.
Vania tells me that when the first journalist came to the town, people asked him what he was going to record since there wasn’t anything special about the town. And they kept asking the same thing to everyone else that came.
[Vania]: E ai, até então, ficou assim: o que eles vão falar de nós? Se a nossa vida é tão tranquila. Não tem nada de diferente.
[Isabel]: Up until then, the people in Noiva were convinced that everyone lived like that, in a community.
And that was the best part of the news: realizing their way of living was special, because they had built it together. Maybe that’s why in Noiva no one seems to have individual dreams, like Pedro says:
[Pedro]: Meu sonho individual, de certa forma ele se torna um sonho comunitário. Porque a minha vida é comunitária.
[Isabel]: Among their collective dreams are the things you would imagine: for the town to be more prosperous, for the bad weather not to harm their crops or for the factory to get more orders.
But there are others that are a little more unexpected: one I heard the most was for Keila Gaga and the duo, Marcia and Maciel, to become more and more famous. And they’re not doing bad.
In 2006, Keila and her backup dancers performed at the Olympic Torch reception in Belo Horizonte, in front of 30,000 people. Maybe this is the time to tell you that Keila and Marcia, the two musicians in the community, are also Anisio’s daughters: he was the pastor who banned music.
The last day I was there, I went with Keila and her team to a TV recording and there, finally, I understood.
I had gone to Brazil to save these women from the yoke of the male gaze and it turns out I had fallen into a trap.
It’s true that the women of Noiva Cordeiro didn’t send the fake story of being a community of women desperate to find husbands out into the world. But they didn’t say it wasn’t true either. And they still aren’t. Why?
I asked Marcia after the show…
Mas vocês nunca fizeram nada para desmentir isso?
[Marcia]: Não, não…
[Isabel]: Por quê?
[Erick]: As matérias que chegam, a gente faz…
[Marcia]: Não, porque eu acho que é muito importante.
[Isabel]: Que as pessoas venham para cá?
[Marcia]: Isso. Se nunca tivesse sido por isso você não tinham vindo.
[Isabel]: “If it hadn’t been for the news, we never would have met you,” they tell me, “and you wouldn’t have met us.” They never said it was a lie because they want us to keep coming.
Imagine your town has been the victim of a stigma for more than a century: first they called you adulteresses, then prostitutes, then they laughed at you because of your religion, then because you didn’t have a religion, and then they went back to calling you prostitutes again. Imagine one day, as if by magic, a stranger comes and says that the way you live is special.
And then another.
Imagine your town, which was maligned before, is now the most famous town in the region and cars pass by other towns to get to yours. Imagine all of a sudden, they start to notice that your life is different, that it’s special. And that, if you’ve managed to build this life after so many years of stigma, you can make it whatever you want: you can start a school, live off of what you produce, and sing in front of thousands of people. Imagine all of that happens because of a story in the news. And that story is false.
Would you say it was a lie?
[Daniel]: Isabel Cadenas Cañón is a writer an audio producer. She lives in Madrid.
This story was edited by Camila Segura and Silvia Viñas. Mixing and sound design are by Ryan Sweikert.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Andrés Aspiri, Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Moseley, Laura Pérez, Ana Prieto, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante in produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: radioambulante.org. Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.