Onça is the Portuguese word for jaguar – surely one of South America’s most beautiful animals.
I learned this word during carnival earlier this year. The sun was shining (by 9am it was already ridiculously hot) and there was a great atmosphere among the revellers as they followed the musicians down a very steep, narrow hill in Catete.
Suddenly, the band jumped up on the back of a truck, stopped playing and gestured to the rest of us to get down on the floor. The band leader said a few words to the crowd while people cheered intermittently and then a minute or two later the band re-started. Everyone who had been crouching on the floor jumped up and continued the celebrations – it was a very cool moment!
It ain’t the Sambodrome, but this is my kind of carnival…
The main line of the song the band played was “Amigo da Onça” (friend of the jaguar). Everyone else was singing along, but as usual, I was puzzled. I asked around to find out what this was all about. Who is the friend of the jaguar? What does it mean?
I later found out that the phrase Amigo da Onça has its roots in a joke:
Two hunters are chatting in their encampment at the end of the day. The first hunter turns to the other and asks:
— What would you do if you were in the jungle and a jaguar appeared in front of you?
— Well, I’d shoot it.
— But if you didn’t have a gun, then what?
— OK, well I’d kill it with my knife.
— If you didn’t have a knife?
— I’d grab a piece of wood.
— And if there weren’t any pieces of wood nearby?
— I’d climb up the nearest tree!
— What if there weren’t any trees?
— I’d make a run for it.
— What if you were paralysed with fear?
At this point the second hunter turns to the first and retorts
— Hey, are you my friend or the jaguar’s?
So Amigo da Onça is used to describe a treacherous ‘friend’. It is also the name of a cartoon character created by this man:
Here is the Amigo da Onça himself. As you can see, he is not the kind of friend anyone would want!
From its outset in 1941, Péricles’ creation was a huge hit, but the success did not go down well with the author himself. It is said that he was a tormented soul, and was particularly bothered by the fact that he became best known as “the creator of Amigo da Onça“. It is said that he quickly came to hate his creation and yet continued to draw the cartoons without a break for the following 17 years.
On New Year’s Eve 1961, he went into his apartment, opened the gas taps on his cooker and was found dead the next day. He had a left a sign on the door saying “Don’t strike matches”. Sadly appropriate that this misanthropic character ended up killing it’s own creator.
A sad but interesting story I thought. Hope that hasn’t depressed you too much. Here’s hoping you don’t have too many Amigos da Onça in your life!