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April/May 2009
 
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Sambaqui: A Novel of Pre-History, by Stella Carr Ribeiro (1987)

BRAZILIAN examples of prehistoric sf are few. This Sambaqui: A novel of Pre-History (published in Brazil in 1975 as O Homem do Sambaqui) is one of them—and probably the very first one. The book had a 1987 U.S. edition from Avon; it's of the few Brazilian sf novels ever translated to English (by Claudia van de Heuvel).

"Sambaqui" is a native Brazilian word for fossil shell-formations that indicates the occupation of a particular coastal spot by a prehistoric people who inhabited Brazil before the arrival of the Indians, and used by these first dwellers of Brazil as burial grounds.

Stella [Maria Whitacker] Carr [Ribeiro] studied with prominent paleontologist Paulo Duarte in the late sixties. By then she was already a published poet, author of Matéria do Abismo (Matter of the Abyss; 1966), a book of sf poetry. In this novel we see a mix of paleoethnological speculation with a poet's willingness for language experimentation, as she conveys the cultural distance of the long-lost man of the Sambaqui by replacing well-known nouns with hyphenized words and clauses. The poet is also there in the way the Sambaqui people innocently gaze at their world.

A bit plotless, the novel has roughly two parts: a presentation of the Sambaqui people and their culture and physical world; and a dramatic account of their cultural and warring clashes with the first Indians. As fit for a female writer looking back in time and trying to see women's role in those societies, much of the struggle is set around the stealing of women—in that solving the riddle of the disappearance of the Sambaqui man: as a people, they would have been bred out of history.

—Roberto de Sousa Causo

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