The legend of King Sebastião, immortalised on full moon nights on Lençóis Island in Maranhão, comes to life in an exciting literary retelling. In this new release, “O Rei Sebastião”, the researcher and popular culture joker Francisco Bertulino Cruz takes us on a dive into the rich tapestry of interwoven myths that connect Portuguese, African and indigenous roots in the northeastern tradition. In a narrative with shades of magical realism, we meet Sebastião, a boy with a mysterious life since birth.
This young man, marked by his father’s silence, weaves a world of words, collecting expressions and vocabularies in a patchwork “mocó”. What makes this story even more captivating is the poetic way in which the author draws landscapes, thoughts and encounters, transporting us to the beaches of north- eastern Brazil. The sway of the hammock, the mango tree laden with ripe fruit, the efforts of the fishermen and the night-time song of the ocean waves become elements that enrich this narrative and reveal how ancestry lives on in the simplest of everyday experiences. It’s a tribute to the magic that weaves the webs of Northeastern folklore and the stories that connect us to the past and the imagination.
Can you tell us more about the legend of Dom Sebastião and how this mythical figure became part of Maranhão’s culture?
Dom Sebastião is the king of Portugal. He disappears in a battle in Morocco and appears as an enchanted man on the island of Lençóis, in Maranhão. There is no logical explanation for this event, but there are connections between peoples, the transmission of knowledge by our ancestors and the cultivation of spirituality. Maranhão is a tangle of myths, legends, charms… These forces, passed on through orality, games and the sounds of drums, strengthen the identity of our people and are perpetuated within us.
How did you come up with the idea of retelling this story in “King Sebastian” and what approach did you adopt in the narrative?
It arises without a predetermination, without an apparent reason, it just rekindles like a force in me, and this has to do with my direct connection with the culture of my state and the way I experience it in my routine. The approach is more intuitive, it wasn’t a conscious choice either. I let it flow, I like to work with fluidity, with the senses.
The book presents Sebastião as a character with a deep connection to words and language. How is this connection explored in the story?
Sebastião appears to us in the orality of the masters, in the wisdom of the people of the terreiros and in their spiritual forces. Through this contact, we come to understand history as a living event in memory, in music, in speech, in dance, in rites. It’s all very pulsating and intense. It’s collective language, it’s collective memory, it’s cosmology… our people are very knowledgeable.
Apart from the legend of Dom Sebastião, what other aspects of Maranhão culture are present in the book?
The book presents various meanings of culture, various references, for example, the month of June, the bullfight, African religiosity, popular Catholicism… it’s a lot.
How important is ancestry in Sebastião’s story and life?
Without ancestry, there is no history. Our blood comes from far away, the characteristics of our bodies, our hair, our colours, our names. Our relationship with nature, planting, harvesting, fishing… all of this is ancient, ancestral and rooted. Just like the myths, the enchantments, the forces of life.
The work seems to have elements of magical realism. How does this literary style contribute to the narrative?
I only learnt what magical realism was after writing the book. Today I realise that it’s this style that accompanies my writing. It was magical realism that chose me.
You’re a researcher and player in popular culture. How has your experience and knowledge in this field influenced your writing?
It was inevitable. I start writing and soon my reality intrudes on my writing. I live these cultural experiences in my state, not as a researcher, but as an insider. It belongs to me. It’s my place of belonging.
Literature has the power to transport readers to different places and cultures. How do you hope your book will impact readers outside Maranhão?
People who are curious about other cultures will certainly be interested in the book. The book is for those who like to cross borders.
Apart from “King Sebastian”, do you have any other literary projects in mind?
I have a novel ready for publication and I’m writing another one.
How do you see the importance of literature in the preservation and transmission of cultural and folkloric stories like that of Dom Sebastião?
Literature is a fantastic and necessary tool for the maintenance, preservation and dissemination of history, because literature seduces us, connects us and transforms our way of thinking. It’s through literature, for example, that people who can’t go to the island of the sheets will learn about it and its enchanted king.
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