This year marks the centenary of São Paulo’s 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art).Funding for this article was provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, of which the author is currently a fellow. During this watershed moment in Brazil’s intellectual and cultural production, self-declared Modernists exhibited their paintings, performed prose, and distributed their writings at São Paulo’s Theatro Municipal and elsewhere. One of its key protagonists was Mário de Andrade (1893-1945), often considered the “pope” of Brazilian modernism. At least in Brazil, Andrade is also synonymous with the institutionalization of ethnography in São Paulo, where he founded the Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore.For a broader consideration of Andrade’s work at the Departamento de Cultura, see “Mário de Andrade no Departamento de Cultura de São Paulo,” March 24, 2022.
Recognized foremost as a literary figure, Andrade is best known for his novelistic rhapsody Macunaíma (1928), of which a new English translation is scheduled for publication (Andrade 2023). This trickster tale of “a hero with no character” was based upon the Pemon culture hero of the same name (Sá 2004, 20). Macunaíma became an instant classic and influential in thinking about Brazil’s fable of “three races”—that is to say, the role of racial admixture between Euro-descended, Afro-descended, and indigenous populations in creating a “Brazilian race” (Maggie 2008, 38). As I show, Andrade’s wide-ranging interests in ethnology and the relationships between popular and elite culture and aesthetics—whether in poetry, samba, or other Afro-Brazilian practices—nourished his literary approach and made him one of the most original authors of his generation. However, even with recognition of his wide-ranging contributions across literature, music, and folklore studies, scholars seldom locate Andrade in relation to Brazilian anthropology, despite his interest in ethnography, its influence on his own literary production, and his critical contributions to the discipline in Brazil. This essay builds on recent scholarship (Campos 2016, Sandroni 2022) to bring necessary attention to Andrade’s manifold interactions with anthropology.
Andrade’s literary experimentation went hand in hand with his ethnographic travels documented in O turista aprendiz (The apprentice tourist) (Andrade  2015). Between 1927 and 1929, he spent roughly six months traveling in Brazil, first in the Amazon and then in the Northeast regions that, as Marta Amoroso has pointed out, represented for him “the essence of Brazilianness,” in contrast to São Paulo, so characterized by European immigration (Amoroso 2012, 178). During his travels and immediately prior to and after the publication of Macunaíma, Andrade “assembled notes, observations, descriptions, documents, photos, and musical transcriptions” (Sandroni 2022, 205). According to Luna Campos (2016, 108-109), it would be a mistake to consider Andrade’s ethnographic travels as part of a narrative of professionalization and institutionalization of Brazilian anthropology, rather than a more informal “ethnographic sensibility” (following George Stocking). However, undisciplined as he was, Andrade’s ethnographic approach bore fruit, all the more so in his later research into music, which would result in several important texts of “ethnomusicology”—well before the term was in use (Andrade 1937; 1983; 1991).
Andrade’s contributions to Brazilian anthropology extended beyond his ethnographic fieldwork and ethnomusicological writings. In the years between 1935 and 1938, Andrade served as director of São Paulo’s Departamento de Cultura (Department of Culture and Recreation). In this capacity, he founded and directed the Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore, a research institution dedicated to the budding fields of ethnography and folklore. In response to what he saw as the lamentable state of Brazilian ethnography (“A Etnografia brasileira vai mal”), Andrade urged on his contemporaries:
It is necessary that [ethnography] immediately takes up a practical orientation based on strictly scientific norms. We do not need theoreticians, who will come with time. We need young researchers who will compile with seriousness and thoroughness what this people conserves but quickly forgets, lost in invasive progress.Mário de Andrade, “A situação etnográfica no Brasil,” cited in Catálogo da Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore, Discoteca Oneyda Alvarenga, Centro Cultural São Paulo, 5.
The Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore sought to offer such “strictly scientific norms” from its beginning. Given this orientation, the Sociedade became a hotbed for Americanist research and home of the internationally recognized journal, the Revista do Arquivo Municipal.
From the founding of the Sociedade in 1935, Andrade collaborated closely with Dina Dreyfus (then Dina Lévi-Strauss). As she wrote in her inaugural lesson for the course in ethnography, “Brazil needs, above all, perseverant work in properly ethnographic studies. Whether in distant regions of the interior, in city neighborhoods, or smaller villages, an entire series of ethnographic research can and should be undertaken” (Lévi-Strauss 1935 in Valentini 2013, 187). Dina organized the curriculum on “Practical instruction for research in physical and cultural anthropology,” while Andrade served as the public face of the institution, organizing conferences, workshops, and supporting ongoing research on Brazil’s cultural heritage (Lévi-Strauss 1936). Beyond the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, and, to a lesser extent, the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi in Belém, the Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore was one of the only institutionalized structures for fieldwork Brazil in the 1930s.
As is well known, the Lévi-Strauss couple received funding and support from the Sociedade for their expedition to the Serra do Norte. They also received funding for smaller projects prior to their most famous expedition, resulting in precious documentation and video footage of the Bororo and Kadiweu; popular celebrations in the greater São Paulo area (e.g., Mozambique, Cavalhada, Congado in Mogi das Cruzes); and forró and cattle farming in Mato Grosso.The entirety of this footage can be seen at the Discoteca Oneyda Alvarenga in São Paulo. Some of it has been uploaded online and can be viewed here and here. Such research preceded the 1938 Missão de Pesquisas Folclóricas, or Mission of Folkloric Research, directed by Andrade, which documented music and folklore in Brazil’s Northeast (Andrade 1938).
At the Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore, as elsewhere, Andrade proved to be a dynamic leader and a jack of all trades. This can be seen in his work for the Serviço de Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (later IPHAN), where he worked to preserve Brazil’s architectural and cultural heritage (Nogueira 2005). Equally importantly, he served as an interlocutor for anthropological research conducted by Brazilian and international researchers alike, offering guidance, information, and research infrastructure when possible (Peixoto 2010).
Nonetheless, situating Andrade within the canon of the history of anthropology is a difficult task. His oeuvre is spread across different genres, and he left no clear disciples to carry on his work. The fact that his life was cut short at 51 years and that he did not teach at the university did not help to institutionalize his thought within the discipline, even if his contributions to allied fields such as folklore were well known. More than a definitive oeuvre, he left “suggestions, hypotheses… and paths to follow” for subsequent scholars (Fernandes 2015 , 106).
Furthermore, his relationship to professional ethnology was often irreverent, as exemplified by his most famous work, Macunaíma. Andrade’s approach was unruly: it incorporated aspects of ethnology and indigenous cosmology, and a long literary history and cultura popular—folk or working-class culture (Sá 2004; Lopez 1975; Proença 1987). In this sense, Andrade’s Macunaíma was closer than any other text to the modernist ethos of antropofagia. Also in 1928, Oswald de Andrade (unrelated to Mário) published the “Manifesto of anthropophagy,” using the practice of anthropophagy among the Tupi peoples as a metaphor for the appropriation and repurposing of foreign cultural influences so as to arrive at a properly Brazilian aesthetic cannibalism (Andrade  2017, 176). It was Mário de Andrade, however, who most fulfilled the call of cultural cannibalism.
Heavily indebted to Carib stories collected by Theodor Koch-Grünberg and later published between 1916 and 1924 as Vom Roraima zum Orinoco (2011), Andrade based his indigenous protagonist on the Pemon culture hero Makunaíma. As Lúcia Sá explains, Makunaíma, the most charismatic of the Pemon heros, was “the one who caused the Flood and created new human beings, the one who brought them fire, defined their territory and taught them how to live in a society” (Sá 2004, 20). Macunaíma’s most memorable scenes, however, are not the properly indigenous ones but those of the protagonist’s encounter with São Paulo. This is what he saw in the new metropolis:
What a world of beasts! What a mess of grunting ogres, demonic mauaris blaring juruparis hopping sacis and fiery boitatás snaking through alleyways down subterranean pits on cables up hillsides bored through by huge grottoes outta which poured crowds cheek by jowl of the whitest of white people, most certainly the sons and daughters of manioc! … The hero’s intellect was downright confounded. The women had chuckled as they taught him how that great big sagui-açu wasn’t a monkey at all, it was called an elevator and it was a machine… The pumas weren’t pumas, they were called Fords Hupmobiles Chevrolets Dodges Marmons and they were machines.Katrina Dodson leaves many terms untranslated, especially indigenous ones, to preserve Andrade’s poetic effect and respect for cultural specificity. Many have dense mythological meanings. Mauaris should be understood as the plural of Maué, an indigenous people of Brazil; juruparis, as the plural of the demon figure present in different South American mythologies; sacis, the plural of saci or saci-pererê, a trickster character; and boitatás, the plural of the cobra de fogo or fire snake. Finally, sagui-açu, or saguim, is a kind of marmoset.
Here Andrade offers a kind of reverse ethnography, provincializing his own city in its whiteness, strange customs, and drive for machine-oriented progress.
As the young Florestan Fernandes wrote, Andrade was preoccupied less with science than with the “problem of man in Brazil”; the fact that “thousands of Brazilians simply and reciprocally ignored each other” (Fernandes  2015, 106). Macunaíma, therefore, was his allegory for Brazil, characterized by its massive landmass, tropical climate, and cultural mixture between Afro-descended, indigenous, and European peoples.
As with any great work, critiques of Macunaíma abound. Originally criticized on formalist grounds, Macunaíma also became subject to two more damning allegations: first, that it was based upon plagiarism—something which Andrade readily admitted—and second, that the book contributed to conservative strains in Brazilian racial thinking. According to these longstanding notions advanced by elite scholars, scientists, and politicians and crystalized in nineteenth century Romantic historiography, the mixture of “the three races”—European, African, and indigenous—would result in the eventual whitening and unification of the Brazilian race; these ideas were predicated on indigenous bio-cultural extinction as well as strong anti-Black sentiment.This literature is extensive. For a recent articulation, see Miki, Frontiers of Citizenship, especially 112-134. While modernist works such as Andrade’s decentered the glorification of the European canon, they also replicated aspects of these ideologies, for example by identifying São Paulo’s modernity with its heavily Euro-descendant population (Weinstein 2015). Contemporary scholars have highlighted how this and other elements of Modernism fed twentieth century ideologies of “racial democracy,” according to which the presence of racial mixing served as proof of the absence of racial prejudice and was used to sustain subsequent denials of interpersonal and institutional racism.Such racial thinking, common in the 1930s and culminating during the 1960s during Brazil’s military dictatorship, is synonymous with Gilberto Freyre and his idea of Luso-Tropicalism, according to which the Portuguese were “humane” colonizers inclined toward racial mixture. For a recent view on the state of the field concerning the development and application of such Luso-Tropicalist ideology, see Anderson, Roque, and Santos, Luso-Tropicalism and Its Discontents. Both of these critiques are alive and well today, although for different reasons than they were previously.
Many, particularly in regions of Brazil other than São Paulo and among Afro-descendant or indigenous communities, have found that the Modernists offer little in terms of expressing their identity. As early as 1926, Gilberto Freyre, from Pernambuco, rejected the Paulista-centric nature of Modernism, positing Brazil’s Northeast as the core of national identity (Freyre 1955). Today, questions of indigenous cultural appropriation and erasure lie at the forefront of critics of the Modernist project—more so than concerns about Andrade’s plagiarism of Koch-Grünberg in the text itself.See, for example, “1922: modernismos em debate: Mesas 11 e 12, Artes indígenas: apropriação e apagamento,” Instituto Moreira Salles, August 30, 2021.
At the end of his life, Andrade considered himself an “amateur,” a product of the “the cultural conditions with which we lived” at the time of his studies (Andrade 1944). Although Brazil had law, engineering, and medical schools, it did not have a fully functioning university until 1934, let alone a program in anthropology. Humble as he was in the face of the increasing professionalization of social-scientific research in the 1940s, Andrade maintained his distance from the university, refusing to take part in examination committees on which his expertise would have been useful (Merkel 2022, 114). He would not live to see the founding of the Association for Brazilian Association of Anthropology (1955), a watershed in the professional of the discipline.
Andrade’s most recognizable achievements continue to be found in poetry and literature, especially Macunaíma. Nonetheless, whether as an advocate for ethnographic fieldwork or as a pioneer in ethnomusicology, Andrade’s influence lingers on. To reinsert him in the history of anthropology requires us to consider Mariza Corrêa’s call to consider relatively marginal figures, in her case women, whose contributions to institutions, public-facing projects, and the field more broadly were arguably more important than the written works they left behind (2003). Andrade’s attempts to incorporate indigenous cosmologies into national identity, his work encouraging fieldwork at the Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore, and his invaluable insights into popular and Afro-descended musical idioms blazed the trails for many to follow.
Amoroso, Marta. 2012. “Os sentidos da etnografia em Câmara Cascudo e Mário de Andrade.” Revista Do Instituto De Estudos Brasileiros, (54), 177-182.
Warwick Anderson, Ricardo Roque, Ricardo Ventura Santos, eds. (2019). Luso-Tropicalism and Its Discontents: The Making and Unmaking of Racial Exceptionalism. New York: Berghahn.
Andrade, Mário de. (1928) 2023. Macunaíma: The Hero with No Character. Translated by Katrina Dodson. Cambridge, MA: New Directions.
Andrade, Mário de. 1937. “O Samba Rural Paulista.” Revista do Arquivo Municipal 41: 37-116.
Andrade, Mário de. 1938. “Primeiros Filmes Etnográficos.” Cinemateca do Estado de São Paulo.
Andrade, Mário de. 1944. Letter to Roger Bastide, São Paulo, September 19, 1944, BST2.C1.01, Archive Roger Bastide, Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine, Caen.
Andrade, Mário de. (1976) 2015. O turista aprendiz. Brasília: Iphan.
Andrade, Mário de. 1983. Música de feitiçaria no Brasil. Belo Horizonte; Brasília: Itatiaia; INL.
Andrade, Mário de. 1991. Aspectos da música brasileira. Belo Horizonte: Vila Rica.
Andrade, Oswald de. (1928) 2017. “Manifesto of Anthropophagy.” Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, ed. Stephanie D’Alessandro and Luis Pérez-Omaras. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 176.
Campos, Luna. 2016. “Os usos da etnografia nas viagens de Mário de Andrade.” Ensaios, 9, 107-124.
Corrêa, Mariza. 2003. Antropólogas & Antropologia. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG.
Fernandes, Florestan. (1945) 2015. “Mário de Andrade e o folclore brasileiro.” in Revista do Arquivo Municipal, no. 206.
Freyre, Gilberto. Manifesto Regionalista de 1926. Rio de Janeiro: Ministério de Educação e Cultura, Serviço de Documentação.
Koch-Grünberg, Theodor. 2011. Vom Roraima zum Orinoco: Ergebnisse einer Reise in Nordbrasilien und Venezuela in den Jahren 1911-1913. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lévi-Strauss, Dina. 1936. Instruções práticas para pesquisas de antropologia física e cultural. São Paulo: Departamento de Cultura, 1936.
Lopez, Telê Ancona. 1975. Macunaíma: A margem e o texto. São Paulo: Hucitec.
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Miki, Yuko. 2018. Frontiers of Citizenship: A Black and Indigenous History of Postcolonial Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Weinstein, Barbara. 2015. The Color of Modernity São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press.
|↑1||Funding for this article was provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, of which the author is currently a fellow.|
|↑2||For a broader consideration of Andrade’s work at the Departamento de Cultura, see “Mário de Andrade no Departamento de Cultura de São Paulo,” March 24, 2022.|
|↑3||Mário de Andrade, “A situação etnográfica no Brasil,” cited in Catálogo da Sociedade de Etnografia e Folclore, Discoteca Oneyda Alvarenga, Centro Cultural São Paulo, 5.|
|↑4||The entirety of this footage can be seen at the Discoteca Oneyda Alvarenga in São Paulo. Some of it has been uploaded online and can be viewed here and here.|
|↑5||Katrina Dodson leaves many terms untranslated, especially indigenous ones, to preserve Andrade’s poetic effect and respect for cultural specificity. Many have dense mythological meanings. Mauaris should be understood as the plural of Maué, an indigenous people of Brazil; juruparis, as the plural of the demon figure present in different South American mythologies; sacis, the plural of saci or saci-pererê, a trickster character; and boitatás, the plural of the cobra de fogo or fire snake. Finally, sagui-açu, or saguim, is a kind of marmoset.|
|↑6||This literature is extensive. For a recent articulation, see Miki, Frontiers of Citizenship, especially 112-134.|
|↑7||Such racial thinking, common in the 1930s and culminating during the 1960s during Brazil’s military dictatorship, is synonymous with Gilberto Freyre and his idea of Luso-Tropicalism, according to which the Portuguese were “humane” colonizers inclined toward racial mixture. For a recent view on the state of the field concerning the development and application of such Luso-Tropicalist ideology, see Anderson, Roque, and Santos, Luso-Tropicalism and Its Discontents.|
|↑8||See, for example, “1922: modernismos em debate: Mesas 11 e 12, Artes indígenas: apropriação e apagamento,” Instituto Moreira Salles, August 30, 2021.|