Cowboys in Brazil’s Interior
“We dress like cowboys in these parts,” said Cuiabanno Lima, explaining his clothes as he was eating a big steak in Goiânia, the capital of the state of Goiás. “I can’t just walk in here wearing shorts and flip-flops. Sorry, but this isn’t Rio.” Mr. Lima, 40, is an acclaimed Brazilian rodeo announcer and thus his cowboy appearance is central to his profession.
The growth of cowboy culture in Goiás reflects major shifts in Brazil in recent decades. While Brazil’s economy is still stuck in a long slump, agribusiness has remained largely resilient during the crisis. Goiás in central Brazil is part of Brazil’s farming heartland. The expansion of a rodeo circuit in Brazil, with hundreds of flashy competitions held across the vast interior each year, points to the importance of ranching as a pillar of the economy.
Buoyed by rising global demand for food, Brazil has evolved into an agricultural powerhouse, emerging as a top exporter of soybeans, corn, sugar, and coffee. Additionally, Brazil now ranks among the world’s largest beef producers, with a cattle herd that has grown more than 30 percent since 1990 to an estimated 215 million head today. That means Brazil now has more cows than people.
While unknown to many residents of coastal cities in Brazil, Cuiabanno Lima has won fame in the farming interior as a rodeo announcer with an ostentatious style that might shock some counterparts in the United States. At a rodeo in Goiânia on a recent Friday night, scantily clad female dancers warmed up the arena before Mr. Lima burst onto the scene around midnight, his arrival heralded by fireworks, a nightclub smoke machine, cannons discharging confetti into the air, and a dance involving a good deal of strutting by Lima himself.
After singing Brazil’s national anthem, he led competitors in a lengthy prayer before getting on with the event. He often cracks jokes, exudes pride in Brazil’s ranching culture, and bursts into song while describing the technical aspects of the cowpokes competing for prize money.
“I love the United States and recognize how much we owe to the rodeo scene up there, but the folks in Brazil expect a little more from their rodeo announcers,” he explained. “What am I, essentially? A storyteller.”
Mr. Lima got into radio announcing after studying three subjects: law, journalism and how to be a clown. He said it was during his time at clown school in Rio, when he was trying to find a way into show business, “that I learned the valuable lesson of laughing at my own failures.”
A self-described “bastard son of a rancher,” Mr. Lima was raised by his mother, a shopkeeper, in Barretos, a city in São Paulo state that has long been an epicenter of the Brazilian rodeo scene. Mr. Lima travels extensively throughout the year to various farming regions, but still lives in Barretos with his wife and son.
In a country where animal-rights activists have grown more vocal in recent years, not everyone appreciates Mr. Lima’s exaltation of Brazil’s agribusiness prowess. “Cuiabanno is nothing more than an amusing court jester in a rodeo scene dominated by wealthy ranchers and corporate sponsors,” said Leandro Ferro, president of “I Hate Rodeo,” a nonprofit group in São Paulo seeking to raise awareness about claims of animal cruelty at Brazil’s rodeos.
Mr. Lima chafes at such criticism, contending that his critics are unrealistic about the significance of agriculture and ranching in contemporary society. “Not everyone can go organic, eating leaves in expensive pretty packages,” he said. “The world needs animal protein, and Brazil supplies it.”
Mr. Lima has recently become a voice for the socially conservative positions in a country shifting to the right. He calls himself a staunch Roman Catholic who also frequents an evangelical church. “Don’t get me started on the Amazon,” Mr. Lima said. While environmentalists are highly critical of the expansion of Brazil’s ranching frontier that has illegally destroyed large tracts of the rain forest, Lima contends, “I’ve flown over the Amazon in a small plane, and all I saw for hours was trees. Trust me, we can deforest a lot more if we have to.”
As for rodeos, Mr. Lima said he was pleased that they were growing into a big business with corporate backers. He noted with pride that Brazilian “caubóis” had grown so skilled in some competitions, like professional bull riding, that they ranked among the top money earners in the United States.
Despite championing such feats, along with his own rising prominence, Mr. Lima contends that elites in cities like São Paulo and Rio opt to ignore the signs around them that Brazil’s ranching culture, with its conservative values, is gaining prominence. In Brazilian politics, for instance, a powerful bloc representing large landowners and large-scale agricultural interests exerts considerable sway in Congress. “We produce the country’s wealth and increasingly the culture that people consume, but the interior of Brazil remains neglected,” Mr. Lima said.
[Research for this article comes from The New York Times.]