Time for another cool portuguese class with Professora Marcia. Today we went to one of our favourite cafés in town; Mondrian. We often go there to have their awesome omelet with pesto, mozzarella and spinach. On special occasions I take the kids there after school and treat them to a waffle with ice cream. On this occasion, however, we were not eating (unfortunately). We were going to make Carrancas.
What are Carrancas?
Carrancas (Pronounced kahanka) are sculptures depicting humans or animals made primarily from wood and were initially figureheads on boats navigating the San Francisco river in the 19th century. The decorated bows were supposed to bring luck, fend off storms and attract fish. These beliefs soon spread beyond the river dwellers and today the carrancas, in the form of masks, are sold as a form of folk art and marketed at fairs. They are still widely (seriously or not) used to ward off evil spirits.
Carranca can be translated into the english frown. Looking at them you understand why. They are supposed to look scary to scare off evil. Evil however comes in different forms. Currently we have evil enveloping Araraquara called Dengue.
Dengue – The evil spreading in Araraquara
Dengue, also called “break-bone” fever, is a viral disease found in the tropics. It is spread by a mosquito from dawn till dusk. There is no safe haven as it find you outdoors or indoors. These little buggers thrive in areas where there is standing water which we have no shortage of as it is the rainy season. They don’t need much; all they need is to find a puddle, an old tire, a fallen piece of bark from a palm tree or even a bottle with water in it to lay its heinous eggs and 5 days laters you have a babyboom of vi(r)al disease.
The evil in numbers
As of Feb 8, more than 4,500 cases of dengue have been reported in São Paulo state just Jan 1 to Feb 4. This is more than 5 times the number of cases reported last year in the same period. Here is the kicker; more than 2000 of these cases are reported in Araraquara, our sweet little, peaceful, innocent town. To give you some perspective; São Paulo state has 45 milj inhabitants of which only 250 thousand are “Araraquarenses“. So…0,5% of the state population is suffering 44% of the state’s dengue cases.
There is no viable vaccine and the only thing we can do is preventative measures. These are the measures we have taken and are still enforcing in our family;
- The garbage is collected 3 days a week; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In between I make sure nothing can collect water. I make sure the garbage bins have their tops on properly, bottles are places upside down etc.
- I keep an arsenal of bug repellent in a basket by the front door and we spray ourselves every time we leave the house. I also always carry a repellent in my purse for reinforcement.
- Occasionally we spray our bedrooms with a bug repellent that hits down anything that is already in there and repels any unwelcome newcomers.
- When we sit outside I use citronella candles in the lanterns.
Frowning on Dengue as a preventive measure
Yes, this is where the Carranca comes in as a preventive measure. One major water collector in these parts is the vegetational debris from the coconut tree. The bark pieces are large and bowl shaped and are perfect for the mosquito larvae. The city is working diligently at collecting them not letting them lie on the ground to collect water. These bark pieces are not only perfect for the mosquitos they are also perfect for the making of Carrancas or frowns. To my understanding this is still a semi-serious superstition. So, as was done by the river dwellers 200 years ago, the bark from palm trees is collected and used as the base for the mask. The mask is then given a horrible frowning face by painting and decorating it using mainly natural sources in terms of paint or tints, dried monkey ears (not the animal kind, the pods that grow on the monkey ear tree also known as the ear pod tree), leaves, dried berries etc etc. The mask is then put up in trees around the place that needs protecting to frown on all and any evil that tries to enter.