Romantic and heartbreaking, the story of Iracema guardian of Fortaleza

Despite their homonymy, the statue of Iracema doesn’t sit on Iracema beach but in Mucuripe, a beautiful stretch of white sand where fishermen every morning moor their jangadas, traditional fishing boats, after a night spent off the Atlantic shores. Here they sell their daily catch to early customers who rush off no later than 6 am to make sure they find enough choice, and from here we depart to trace the heartbreaking story of Iracema, guardian of Fortaleza.

story of Iracema

The statue of Iracema and Martim in Mucuripe beach telling a piece of the story of Iracema

Every morning I, too, used to go to Beira Mar and Mucuripe, for a walk along their shores, from where I could see Iracema peeping out the palms that divide the beach from the related promenade.

Who was Iracema?

Sooner or later, all tourists coming to Fortaleza see, photograph or get their photo taken with this imposing sculpture, but how many of them know the story behind it? How many know the story of Iracema, the meaning of its name, beyond being the beach where locals always play beach volley?

story of Iracema

A view of Iracema beach

Halfway between myth and reality, Iracema perfectly fits the metaphor of Fortaleza’s history. Through the indigenous contamination of Brazilian Portuguese language, the area’s old traditions and the following contact with the Portuguese colonizers, José de Alencar, possibly Ceara’s most popular writer, crafts a beautiful short novel that was released in 1865.

The heroine is a young indigenous girl, Iracema, a virgem dos lábios de mel, daughter of the shaman of the Tabajaras tribe. When a young “white warrior” named Martim Soares Moreno, who actually is thought by some to be a member of Pedro Coelho de Souza’s expedition, got lost in the forest near where her tribe lived, Iracema helped him and introduced him to her people, who welcomed him as a guest and friend.

story of Iracema

Another tribute to the “virgem dos lábios de mel”, a recent sculpture of Iracema Guardia, this time guarding Iracema beach.

When the Tabajaras tribe received the order by its chief to wage war to the Pitiguaras tribe, of which Martim was a close friend, he decided it was better for him to run away. In the meantime the two had fallen in love with each other and, to further complicate the situation, also Irapuã, the tribe’s chief, was in love with Iracema who could not get married anyway because shaman’s daughter and the only guardian of the secret of jurema, special potion obtained by a native plant and used during religious rituals that only Iracema knew how to make.

But the girl decided to go with Martim, they were followed by Irapuã, and everything ended in a battle between the two opposing tribes and the defeat of the Tabajaras.

Iracema stayed with the Pitiguaras and Martim, noticing, however, an increasing neglect from her husband, who started missing his native civilization and home country. Suffering from the continuous absence of Martim, Iracema started debilitating, refused to eat and managed to survive only to give Martim their son Moacir (literally “son of pain”) at his return from yet another battle he took part in, and ask him to bury her under a coconut tree she used to love.

story of Iracema

A different view of Iracema beach

Sad for Iracema’s death (a little too late, if you ask me), Martim went to his homeland, to come back to Brazil after only two years to help establish the Catholic religion and fight the Dutch. Between a battle and a conversion, Martim also visited the place where Iracema was buried letting himself be consumed by nostalgia.

It’s easy to identify the metaphors in this book, first among all being the Brazilian race (Moacir) born from the mixing of the European with the Indio.

story of Iracema

A view of Mucuripe beach and the jangadas just arrived on shore in the morning

There are many stories about Portuguese colonization of Brazil, probably as ruthless as Portuguese colonization of the coasts of the Indian Ocean in the quest for spices. This novel is such a mixing of history and myth that Martim is seen as one of the first Portuguese to land in the region of Fortaleza, and the story of Iracema a romantic and dramatic portrait of the city’s past.

As for me, I read this novel slowly, with the limits of my knowledge of Portuguese language, and wondering if Iracema would have had a happier life if she hadn’t met Martim at all.


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  1. Che belle fotografie, e posti che non abbiamo visto, per esempio quello scorcio della spiaggia di Iracema. La prossima volta

  2. Belle légende,très bien racontée. Les photos sont MAGNIFIQUES!!!

  3. I briefly visited Fortaleza but I didn’t see this statue. The Portuguese were historically known for the brutality that they used in colonizing Africa and Brazil. I like to hear the different perspectives that the various myths and folktales give.

    • Yeah, the Portuguese, along with the other European colonizers, were sadly known everywhere they landed for their brutality. I’m happy I found this novel, it’s a nice way to get to know the place, and Alencar is really one of the most acclaimed writers here, there are even a theatre and a square named after him, which will be my next stops!

  4. Really enjoying your Brazilian posts – and realizing I don’t know much about the country at all, outside Rio.

  5. Oh what beautiful beaches! And that’s a wonderful story. I love reading local literature (as you know, having seen A Traveler’s . The 2nd statue is my favorite. It seems as wind-tossed as the palm trees. Beautiful photos.

  6. Good question you pose about Iracema & I agree with you that Martim was a little late in showing his feelings for her. Interesting and beautiful photos.

  7. I have visited this statue there in Fortaleza. I very much enjoyed the beach as well as the historical sites and the people. And I would very much recommend anyone else who has not to make “Praia de Iracema” one of the list.

  8. I was reading about the city of Fortaleza and I stumbled upon your article; it certainly gives me a different perspective. Thanks for sharing the story!

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