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 By Kithi 

Raso da Catarina Cowboys

Rui Rezende

Photo of Rui Rezende's photo exposed at Shopping da Bahia

May 26, 2019

The photo expresses the race to find the tree in the middle of the caatinga. This is the toil of everyone who needs to release the animals to look for food: this is how it is in the backlands.

Rui Rezende reveals, in the photo book Vaqueiros do Raso da Catarina, the daily work of part of this caatinga people in the Northeast of Brazil. The text by Cícero Félix, a journalist invited by the photographer to participate in the project, dialogues with the images in full harmony. The result is a work of ethnographic character meticulously worked.


The exact composition of the images, with the memory of the words of the cattle herders, masterfully translates the universe of Raso da Catarina cowboys: a geographical space, with unique environmental characteristics in the world, and with a traditional culture that has existed since the time of colonization of the area in the 17th century. Transformed into an ecological station, it lives with the confrontation of environmental preservation, permanence and survival of species and culture.

Taking care of cattle is the cowboy's job, but being a cowboy in the hinterland is more than a profession. It's destiny. For them, "lida" is a sacred ritual that is part of their blood. It is a symbiotic relationship with animals, with the caatinga, with water and with the Divine.

"Since he was born, the cowboy is a boy. With five years old, he holds a cow, calf, horse on a horse, throws the rope, faces the animal. It is inspired by the blood, full of peace that runs in a line without deviation, he is a cowboy of nature! " So says the text by Cícero Felix.

"There is no valuable asset more valuable for life than water. Amen".


Text and image taken from the book Vaqueiros do Raso da Catarina

Rui Rezende's Arrival in the Region

Rui Rezende arrived in Raso da Catarina, four years ago, in order to take some pictures of the region for a client. Arriving at the site, he came across a cowboy camp with thirty-three people. Rui was immediately fascinated, but the cowboys' reaction was cautious; they thought that Rui was an inspector of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio).

Listen to Rui telling the story in the video below.

Photo of the works exhibited at Shopping da Bahia

Rui met several cowboys along the way while doing the hired work. He took pictures and talked about the desire to accompany them in an onslaught by the caatinga. He took the phone number of some of them and promised to return shortly to show the printed photos, the result of his onslaught. The feedback to the community has always followed the photographer's projects.

But, a plane crash put him in custody and treatment for a year. It was necessary to recover the health of the body to continue photographing.


With his physical disposition recovered, Rui returns to the sertão, meets the cowboys and in the conversation he decided to make the book. Since then, there have been eleven total immersion visits in the daily life of cattle herders. Rui wore leather clothes, rode callus, ate the same food and drank the same water. They were together sharing life.

From the first moment until the completion of the book, four years passed.


To see details of this onslaught see the video on YouTube. Just click on the photo below.


Photo taken from video footage

Cowboys and the historical importance of Rui Rezende's records

Rui Rezende's research and photographic records together with the invited partner, journalist Cícero Félix, uniquely captures the handling of cattle in Raso da Catarina and everything that makes up this scenario, from fragments of the environment to oral language. A detailed work of recording the memory of a tradition whose destiny is uncertain. See below some passages from the book.

"There is no sadness in the faces suffered and streaked with scrawls of time. It seems that the brutality of hands as hard as stone shells laughs at everything and forgets to be rough".


photo of the book


The material culture and the usefulness of each item used by cowboys in dealing with cattle is identified in the form of a glossary.

photo of the book

"Fear? From what? Protection from all sides, from the corners and corners of the soul. Our faith of protection doesn't fit in this Raso, but it fills Catarina's heart. Each ribbon is a grace, a color inside us, with joy of laughter from the mouth of life "


Photo from the book (two-page encounter)

The name Catarina, given to the place, is a tribute to a woman, a farmer, who lived there and fought until the stage of madness and death to overcome the drought. The cowboys believe that Catarina's spirit helps them find the lost tree in the middle of the caatinga. The name Raso is due to the low vegetation and the predominantly flat relief.

Catarina's Raso Ecological Station

Raso da Catarina is an Ecological Station that covers an area of ​​99,772 hectares and is located between the municipalities of Canudos, Rodelas, Jeremoabo, Glória, Macururé, Paulo Afonso and Santa Brígida.

Estação Ecológica is an area reserved for integral environmental protection, whose objective is the protection of nature and the conduct of scientific research.

With temperatures reaching 40ºC during the day and 15ºC at night and rivers that disappear completely during the dry season, except for the Vaza-Barris river that resists more bravely and forms the Cocorobó weir, drought is commonplace in the Raso da Catarina.

The caatinga is the local biome and the vegetation is composed, among other species, of mandacarus, xique-xiques, crowns of friar, various types of bromeliads, licuri palms and trees such as pereiro, jurema, juazeiro, o umbuzeiro, the jatobá ...

The caatinga is an exclusively Brazilian biome. Raso da Catarina is unique in the world.


Photo from Rui Rezende's book

Scientific studies point to a wide variety of native plants with medicinal and economic value that are threatened with extinction, according to the Management Plan: Ecological Station Raso da Catarina, from the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources.


Click on the photo to access the management plan.

In addition to the plants, the south of Raso da Catarina is the place where the Lear's Macaw, an endangered bird, unique to the Bahian caatinga, breeds. The sandstone walls of Serra Branca and Toca Velha, in the municipalities of Canudos and Jeremoabo, are the cradles of the species. In search of food, coconut from the licuri palm, they fly up to 60 km. It is common to see them returning to the walls in flocks coming from various directions.


Area 5 - Catarina's Raso

Source:  Management plan: Raso da Catarina Ecological Station,  Maria Luiza Nogueira Paes,   Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources


Photo from Rui Rezende's book

Historically, as in every Brazilian area, the Raso da Catarina region was populated by Indians. They still live remnant around the Raso da Catarina Ecological Station. The Pankararé are closer, they live in the north of the reserve, in the buffer zone, a transition area between the environmental reserve space and other locations. A little further away are the Tuxá in Rodelas, the Kaimbé in Euclides da Cunha and the Kiriri in Mirandela, near Ribeira do Pombal.


In the colonialist expansion of the seventeenth century, the Portuguese left for the sertão in search of land to raise cattle. They quickly organized farms with labor from enslaved Indians, African slaves, fugitives ... The farms in the Bahian hinterland, with no exact limit of compliance, without a fence and without the need to prove possession, belonged to the Garcia D'Ávilas da Casa da Torre and leaves to Antônio de Guedes Brito from Casa da Ponte

In the following century the area was abandoned by its owners who preferred to live close to the coast. From then on, the land was appropriated in different ways, until the republic arrived and the colonels appeared demanding their properties. Cattle continued to be raised "on the loose", they were marked and there were agreements between local landowners that were adapted to this form of management.


The "fund of pasture", a name given to the way of raising free cattle, is still a practice adopted in Raso da Catarina. Small farms do not have enough pasture and water for cattle and traditional communities, remnants of this secular practice, have this form of culture as their economic survival.


In the Management Plan: Raso Catarina Ecological Station of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, 2008, it is stated on page 96 that "among the municipalities of the Ecological Station (Esec), Santa Brígida, Jeremoabo, Macururé and Canudos have the lowest indexes of the average human development range for Brazil, with the first two having indexes below those of Tanzania ".

In 2000, Tanzania, in Africa, was considered one of the countries with the worst Human Development Indexes (HDI) in the world, with 0.467.


Source:  United Nations Development Program - UNDP

The HDI is a measure designed by the United Nations (UN) with the intention of assessing the economic development and quality of life of a given population. The criterion used is health - long and healthy life, income - standard of living based on purchasing power and education - access to knowledge.

Cowboys are part of this population.

The difficult crossroads between environmental preservation and traditional culture

Among the activities in conflict with the premises of the Ecological Station is the extensive grazing of cattle, then the activity of the cowboys, a traditional culture of the Northeast.

Raso da Catarina is the only biome of its kind in the world, in addition to having animals in its area with risk of extinction that must be preserved. Cowboys bring with them an ancestral culture, cattle are the source of their survival and they were in this space long before it was demarcated and became an area of ​​environmental preservation.

"This is something that has been going on for centuries. Regret it, it belongs to my great-grandfather! And if you play too much from behind ... You could see that it took a long time to catch the runaway bug, it was not as crowded as it was. before. Hence the cowboy began to understand and learn the nature of the caatinga. From running away, the cattle started to be released. " Speech about the cowboys exposed in Rui Rezende's book.

Combining the two activities is a constant challenge for everyone who is immersed in the process. Research and public policies to strengthen dialogue and manage activities in the area are still insufficient.

To better understand the local reality from the point of view of environmentalists, the drivers and mediators of the dialogues in the region, we have Osmar Barreto Borges, Substitute Chief of the Raso Catarina Ecological Stations Unit of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). Below are the questions and answers from the contact.

Briefly answering your questions:


Kithi - How is the dialogue with these traditional communities carried out?

Osmar B Borges - The relationship with cowboys and family farmers around the conservation unit is open and direct. Three members of the unit's Advisory Council represent the communities of ranchers, in addition to a chair for the Rural Union and two for indigenous communities. ESEC has already participated in meetings with cowboys in rural communities.

K - Is there an environmental education action being carried out with the cowboys?

OBB - Specifically for cowboys, no.

K - Are the cowboys the owners of the cattle, or are they workers?

OBB - Generally, they own the flocks.

K - What is the cowboys' survival situation and how does Esec collaborate for a change in professional activity?

OBB - The socioeconomic profile of the families of ranchers, as well as the size of the herds grazing at ESEC is still not well known. We are trying to hire a comprehensive study to obtain this information. The cowboys continue to release the cattle inside the ESEC. Herds are released in the conservation unit at a certain time of the year and collected at other times, depending on the rainfall regime. It is not allowed to build corrals and water, the practice of hunting or the deforestation of the caatinga. Unfortunately, we have no financial, structural or personnel strength to stimulate change in productive activities, but we are looking for partnerships with other entities that can contribute in this regard, without many effective actions to date.

K - Is there investment and actions to transform these cowboys, experts in the field, into Esec employees, for example?

OBB - No, there is no legal provision for this. But some cowboys have already been hired as brigadiers to fight and prevent forest fires at ESEC. It is a temporary six-month contract that is renewed annually during the fires.

K - How does the inspection work with cowboys?

OBB - The relationship is respectful, but environmental offenses are not tolerated. The construction of corrals and water, the practice of burning, the practice of hunting and the deforestation of the caatinga are not allowed.

To buy the book "Vaqueiros o Raso da Catarina", photos or other books by the photographer access the link below or speak directly with the producer Iana Rezende on WhatsApp +55 71 9 8880 2299

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