Note: The following article from 1924 which I translated is about the tearing down of tenement housing in downtown Rio. It was said to take the homes of anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 people, who would go on to join the founding residents of Rio’s first favela. The demolition of Cabeça de Porco would also foreshadow the events a decade in the future, such as the Bota-Abaixo, as well as the city’s messy growth in the 20th century. The cartoon above shows a crying pig with a “barata” on it, referencing the then-mayor whose last name means cockroach.
The Pig’s Head
by Hermeto Lima
Revista da Semana, 1924 [PT]
Imbedded on Rua Barão de S. Felix, up against the Cajueiros quarry, until 1893 there were cortiços (tenement houses), the last of their kind, refuge of capoeiras (hooligan ex-slaves) and murderers of all nationalities. It was the “Pig’s Head”.
A gate or, rather, an immense arch gave access to a large pigpen. From day to day it was dangerous to enter; in the darkness of the night no one dared to do so.
Along the way, hundreds of cottages lined up; rooms that were contaminated, impossible to count their number, would be open coffins, piled up on top of each other and with people inside. Along with all this, were an infinity of buildings, thrown together, with pine board walls and tin sheet roofs. Big stones on them, to keep them there and prevent the wind from carrying them off.
In front of these buildings, a non-paved street. Impossible to cross it from end to end, with such obstacles therein. Here were the tubs of laundry women; there were slings of clothes; a multitude of bamboo everywhere, with enormous twines, where shirts of all kinds and tendrils flutter. Hungry chickens cackle for a grain of corn; stray dogs full of leprosy fight for a crust; trapped enchained parrots scream and, with their paws or their beaks, seek to tear off the parasites that devour their skin; little birds of all species, beset, sprinkle themselves in the mud of their old cages; silent cats, spy frightenly through the cracks between piles of coffins and garbage cans of all kinds. A monkey with skirts, property of an Italian, a mouth-organ player, in an eternal sway, squeaks, showing its teeth. The man with a bear, makes him dance to the sound of a tambourine, whose primitive color no one even knows. A black sorcerer, from Benguela (south of Luanda), with a snake coiled around his neck, jumps and sings to the sound of a maraca.
It’s ten o’clock. The “Pig’s Head” is in its full swing. At first glance, it seems that only women work there, because a swarm of them, of all colors and nationalities – predominantly Italian, Spanish and Portuguese – is seen in a deafening “fervet opus”.
Some wash, others iron, still others in improvised kitchens, stir pots, placed on bricks and not falling only by a whim of the laws of balance.
Almost all of them sing more or less obscene songs. Some babble with the others or scold their children, who whimper there close-by.
The men, very few, work in the shoe repair shops, of which there are ten. From time to time, from one of those dens, emerges a mulatto with a pair of trousers, a belt, and a jersey, known among the hooligans, stretching and opening his huge mouth. Having just woke up.
On one side of the street is a barber shop. The owner, a giant black man who is said to be a deserter from the navy, shaves the customer’s face while telling a group about his exploits.
In front of the barber shop, a cellar draws the attention of those who go to the “Pig’s Head”. An old black man is seated at the door, which he closes as soon as someone enters or leaves. And his work must be painful, because it is a constant come-and-go of people who seem endless.
That’s where “monte” (game of luck) is played.
Naked children of all ages are everywhere; some roll around, crawling through the mud on the street; others, with their bare chest, whimper, confusing the mucus of the nostrils with the saliva and the tears they shed.
Girls, ages 12 and 13, wearing rags, carry other children in their arms or pull them along by the arm, so that they walk fast.
Boys aged 12 to 14, in groups, plan robberies, practice immoralities or tell tales, in a language capable of making a monk blush.
A den of famous criminals, when one fights there, there is no police that dare to haul him away from there.
Armed robberies or assaults are planned right there, in the open, without fear of denunciation.
Suddenly, a ghastly commotion.
There are two black women who wrestle because one wants to take the lover of another, or because she invaded the tub of the other one.
And people join in; and sides are formed, to see which of the two is the bravest. Screams, voices, trills of whistles that reach the street and the ears of the police. But they shrug and says,
“Well, it’s in the Pig’s Head.”
At other times, it is not women who fight. It is men, and then the story takes another shape. There is a hideous shooting, which, once it is over, it is not uncommon to find 2 or 3 corpses lying on the ground.
And then the news runs: – It was “Caboclo” that killed “Barba de bode”. The others had nothing to do with the fight. They were passing by at the time of the shooting.
And thus was life in the “Pig’s Head”, where about two thousand people lived.
In the monarchical regime, it was said that several authorities tried more than once to do away with this tenement, but soon higher orders appeared that neutralized that intention.
In vain, the press complained against that Babylon without assurances and without hygiene and whose property was of many, each one even more prestigious in the political world.
The Republic was made. On December 20, 1892, Mayor Dr. Candido Barata Ribeiro was appointed. One of his first acts was to do away with the “Pig’s Head” however possible.
At 8 o’clock on the morning of January 26, 1893, an infantry force of the police, commanded by Captain Marcellino and another of cavalry, were marching to Rua João Ricardo. A crowd of firefighters and about 300 workers from the Inspectorate of Public Works, the Chief of Police, Dr. Bernardino Fereira da Silva, the Mayor, Dr. Barata Ribeiro, Dr. Corrêa Dutra, second auxiliary delegate, and other authorities followed.
No one knew what that apparatus meant.
Having arriving in front of the “Pig’s Head”, it was like the barbarians entering Rome.
The infamous tenement was invaded and 300 workers with pickaxes in hand began their destructive work. When the dust from the walls was too much, the Fire Department would come to the rescue to complete the task.
The threats of the troublemakers and the lamentations of the women were worthless. Within a few hours, the “Pig’s Head” that had lasted for 53 years was reduced to a heap of debris.
Only then could one see well the many alleys, the nooks, the stores, and the corridors in which it was subdivided.
After a few months, its owners filed a lawsuit claiming compensation for damages and lost profits.
The action was evaluated at five thousand contos that the City had to pay, without a word nor a peep.
That was how much the “Pig’s Head” cost.
But it came down.
(about 30 years after it came down)