To Be Brave
“They say that anyone will turn brave and fearless if he can eat the raw heart of a jaguar. Yes, but the person must kill the jaguar himself, must kill it by hand, with a knife! (130)” Joao Guimaraes Rosa’s novel The Devil To Pay In The Backlands, originally titled Grande Sertão: Veredas, deals heavily with the narrator, Riobaldo, trying to discern if the Devil exists or not through his story. Riobaldo is a jagunco leader in the backlands of Brazil, and another theme that comes along with the idea of the devil, is how to become brave, be brave, and display bravery, mostly related to combat. Riobaldo recalls a story he heard about killing a jaguar with a knife, and eating its heart, to be a sure way to become fearless and brave. Eating the heart is a form of witchcraft, an idea the novel also plays around with, to make one brave. But, it is also excessive, because facing a jaguar with nothing but a knife, and killing it, is brave. Though the novel ties in wonderful supernatural ideas, characters in the novel show real bravery with the act of confronting an enemy head on through close combat with a knife.
Killing a jaguar and eating its heart is not the only sort of witchcraft that is supposed to make someone brave. In this story, Riobaldo becomes enlisted in Hermógenes’s band of jaguncos, and Riobaldo hates him from the start. After Hermógenes betrays and kills the head jagunco chief, Jaco Ramiro, many jaguncos, including Riobaldo, go after his band of traitors, and Riobaldo seeks to out due Hermógenes. Riobaldo hears from Lacrau, a jagunco who left Hermógenes’s band, that Hermógenes did make a pact with the devil (333). When Riobaldo discovers this, he is convinced that he too must make a pact with the devil or confront the devil at a crossroad, so he can overcome Hermógenes when they encounter. However, when Riobaldo goes to the crossroads, Veredas Mortas, and calls out the devil he does not appear, which confirms to Riobaldo that the devil does not exist (342-345). Riobaldo going to confront the devil, expecting to fight or make a deal, was the equivalent of killing a jaguar. It gave Riobaldo greater confidence and authority, despite not actually making the pact. Because before his journey to Veredas Mortas, he claims that, “I am not naturally brave” (36), and states to Ze Bebelo, a jagunco leader, “I am nobody” (288), however, after the crossroads, he is recognized as great, given gifts meant only for chiefs and eventually takes over as head chief (350, 354-356). Going out to face the devil head on gave him the courage and confidence to become the chief jagunco.