‘‘Quem foi que inventou o Brasil?’’ Who invented Brazil? This musical
question begins Lamartine Babo’s 1933 marcha ‘‘História do Brasil.’’∞
The next line o√ers an answer that toys with history and those who
believe in it: ‘‘Foi seu Cabral! Foi seu Cabral!’’ It was Mr. Cabral, or
Pedro Alvares Cabral, the errant navigator who in 1500 initiated Por-
tuguese exploration and settlement of the territory that soon became
known as Brazil. When Babo wrote these lines, Cabral was certainly
understood to be the discoverer of Brazil, but discovery is not the same
as invention. The next line raises further historical doubts: ‘‘On the 21st
of April, two months after Carnival.’’ This suggests that Brazil’s tradi-
tion of pre-Lenten revelry somehow antedated the arrival of Cabral
and the Portuguese. What is the meaning of the deliberate anachro-
nism? Was Babo making fun of textbook history by dismantling its
catechism and reassembling it in nonsensical fashion? Was he suggest-
ing that between discovery and invention lies a complex process of
mythmaking and occasional misinformation? Or was he merely sug-
gesting, in fine Brazilian fashion, that a naively forthright question
deserves a dubious answer?
‘‘História do Brasil’’ is, at first blush, a trifle, a carnival ditty with a
simple melody and exuberantly inane lyrics, the kind of tune that Babo
cranked out by the dozens throughout the 1930s. This was among his
more successful e√orts, and the original recording by the vocalist Almi-
rante became a hit of the 1934 carnival season. By its nature, however,
Carnival was a season of festivity, not critical inquiry, and it is likely that
the revelers who followed Almirante’s open car through the streets,
throwing confetti and joining him in song, happily accepted the good-
humored incongruities of ‘‘História do Brasil’’ without prolonged re-
flection as to their meaning. But the tune’s initial question echoes
across the decades with a deeper resonance. Who, after all, did invent
Brazil? As interesting, why did Babo want to know? He was by no means
alone in this concern. Inquiry into the nature and meaning of Bra-
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