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Nov 01

Gentileza Gera Gentileza

When I was a kid growing up in Winchester, there was an eccentric fellow named Ron who would wander the streets pushing a pram full of bits of junk. He was a weird guy – he often seemed to mutter to himself through his unruly beard and as he passed he would often let out a massive burp. At first the burps made you jump, but as the years passed you’d be rather disappointed if he passed without one. Like I said, he was kind of strange, but he was also pretty friendly and he certainly added some character to the town. I realised how much affection people had for him when the tributes poured in on news of his death in 2006.

For almost 30 years, Rio also had an eccentric. The true name of Rio’s unconventional character was José Datrino, but he was better known as Profeta Gentileza (Prophet Kindness).

Profeta-Gentileza

Uh-huh, I think this guy fits the description of eccentric!

Born in 1917 in Cafelândia, São Paulo, Datrino was unusual even as a child. By the age of 13 he was having premonitions about having a “mission on Earth” – understandably his parents worried…

Profeta Gentileza

Apparently Datrino’s life developed fairly normally until a terrible tragedy. Just a few days before Christmas 1961, there was a fire at a sold out circus performance in Niterói which resulted in more than 500 deaths, the majority of which were children. A few days after this shocking tragedy, Datrino heard “Astral voices” telling him to abandon the material world and dedicate himself to spiritualism.

He travelled to the location of the fire in Niterói and planted a garden in the ashes. He stayed there for four years, comforting grief-stricken relatives and spreading a message of gentileza (kindness). It was at this time that he became known as Profeta Gentileza.

After four years, the Profeta took to walking the streets of Rio, carrying a board with his messages. He would also travel on trains and buses and the ferries that travelled between Rio and Niterói. On his travels he would hand out flowers and speak of the importance of kindness, love and respect for others. He also spoke out against the evils of greed and capitalism which he said “sells and destroys everything”.

Interestingly, he also put emphasis on the words people use everyday. He told people that instead of saying “obrigado” (I’m obliged) they should say “agredecido” (I’m grateful); instead of saying “por favor” (as a favour) they should say “por gentileza” (as a kindness).

Murals

As well as passing on his message to the people of Rio and Niterói, the Profeta also left a more permanent mark – 56 murals, painted on the wide pillars of a stretch of raised motorway/freeway.

Profeta Gentileza

Here you can see the Profeta Gentileza working on one of his famous murals.

 

Visually, his murals were pretty amazing – a large white background, striped with green and yellow and filled with very distinctive text.

gentileza gera gentileza

I’ll try a rough translation: “This is the Profeta Gentileza who creates kindness with love and peace for a better Brazil and a better world. My chilldren, don’t use problems. We use nature”. Note the extra Rs in the word AMORRR – he liked to roll the R, perhaps to add a little extra emphasis.

 

This was another way to pass on his message of peace and kindness and when you see one of these murals you start to understand how much work it must have been to create 56 of these things!

mural gentileza 07

 

Legacy

The profeta died in May 1996, aged 79. Sadly, his murals became worn with age and further messed up by graffiti – eventually they were entirely painted over in grey. After much criticism, a project called Rio com Gentileza, was started in 1999 to restore the murals. The work was completed in May 2000 and these awesome paintings can still be seen today. You can even find them on Google Maps! You can see all 56 murals here.

As well as the murals, there are many other signs of the Profeta that still remain today – probably the most noticeable are the t-shirts. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see someone sporting the classic Gentileza gera gentileza slogan. You also hear his influence in the language – many people still use his preferred “por gentileza” when making a request. Furthermore, there is at least one charity working to continue spreading the Profeta’s message.

gentileza gera gentileza tshirt

That t-shirt. Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours in Rio will probably have seen one of these somewhere.

 

For the sake of balance, I should mention that his Wikipedia entry includes a section where several people who met him or knew him said that he actually wasn’t a very nice guy, being moralistic and aggressive towards women wearing short skirts and make-up. Apparently he ranted a lot and sometimes the police had to be called to calm him down. But his overwhelming legacy must surely be his central messages which seem to have been quite positive and constructive.

If you’re interested, you can see the man himself in action and hear him speaking of his work and his message here.

Did you have any eccentric characters where you live?

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13 comments

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  1. Rachel

    Awesome post! Love it and sharing it!

    1. tomlemes

      Thanks Rachel! :) I do like a good eccentric – they make life more interesting don’t you think?

  2. The Gritty Poet

    Notice how he wears sandals instead of flip-flops. All wise men prefer them, look at Catholic monks, the Dalai Lama, me.
    Sandália gera Higiene Podóloga (disclaimer: not sure the term podóloga exists).The Gritty

    1. tomlemes

      Sandals – the footwear of choice for the connoisseur eccentric (or should that be eccentric connoisseur?) ;)

    2. tomlemes

      P.s. Maybe you could evolve into The Gritty Prophet one day? You could wander the streets spreading the word according to Gritty! I suspect there would be less anti-capitalist messages on your murals though! ;)

      1. The Gritty Poet

        Best prophet ever:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eI8o5C5l9J8&feature=related
        And yes: I would be a prophet that favors financial prosperity, and individual responsability on how to hande it -instead of blaming capitalism for personal mishaps and shallowness. After all why blame the Ferrari and the price tag attached to it if the owner who drives it happens to be despicable? It just makes no sense.

  3. Ana Fonseca

    Oooh, I have seen Gentileza many times during years and years when I was in a packed bus arriving in the morning from Niterói. He was under the pillars in the area of the bus station (a rodoviária de Santo Cristo), holding a paper “catavento”and waving “bye bye” to people in the buses and cars. I just found him eccentric. Then he was interviewed by Regina Casé on TV. Gentileza, just like the peanut guy in a suit were eccentric types I remember from my student time in Rio.

    1. tomlemes

      Hey Ana – you saw him? That’s so cool! It’s funny you mention it, I was also thinking of the peanut guy in the suit. I’ve been meaning to go and ask him some questions for the blog, but haven’t done it yet.

      One of my favourite ever eccentric types was a guy who was hanging out at a bus station somewhere up in Nicaragua. He walked very quickly among the busy crowds, very gently touching people on the head or shoulder as he walked past. Each person would look around to see what had touched them, but by then he was gone! It was so funny to watch him walking around so quickly, tapping everyone as he passed. I guess he had obsessive-compulsive disorder or something (he didn’t look like he was just playing a joke), so maybe it isn’t that funny, but it was funny at the time :)

  4. Alex

    Never heard of it, so thanks for shedding the light on this, erm, interesting guy! (Interesting, in this sense, is a nice way of saying weird.)

    1. tomlemes

      Ha ha, I think “weird” is definitely a fair label! Still, hopefully this will prepare you for the sheer number of tshirts you’ll see when you get here. How long is it now?

      1. Alex

        Well, I’m arriving in São Paulo on 5 de Janeiro, but probably wont set foot in Rio until maybe February for Carnaval, but if not for Carnaval then definitely by July!

  5. Shayna

    Our local interesting character is Jaime Figura – always walks around in a full-metal suit:

    http://www.overmundo.com.br/overblog/jaime-figura-o-basquiat-baiano

    The first few times I saw him, I thought he used all that get-up because he was seriously disfigured or something (phantom of the opera style!) Then my husband explained that he’s an artist.

    Apparently, kids like him, but he sure doesn’t like kids (check out his comments at the end of the article).

    1. tomlemes

      Ha ha! What a strange (and slightly grumpy) guy! :D

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