Ilha Joana Bezerra – Neighborhoods

Continuing the series of posts where I write about different Recife neighborhoods, and in line with not only focusing on those that receive more attention, here’s Ilha Joana Bezerra.

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by Michael Wolff(Coque, by Michael Wolff)

The Ilha Joana Bezerra, which isn’t technically an island in and of itself, lies on the margins of the Capibaribe river and is between the neighborhoods of São José and Afogados (close-up map). It’s one of the least developed areas of the Pernambucan capital and within it is the most well-known favela in the city, Coque. [1] I’ve written a little about Coque before with the Coque Rexiste movement and as you can see there’s a strong association between the ‘island’ and this favela.

The three actual islands (Santo Antônio, Boa Vista and one named ‘Recife’) that exist in the capital were sold and bought several times in the 1600s. The part of the island of Santo Antônio that was eventually named after Dona Joana Bezerra, who came from an important colonial family of Portuguese-Gallician origin, was given the name of ‘island’ to perhaps increase its perceived importance. Despite its noble origin, the fact that it’s centrally-located and should otherwise be well-served by city services, it remains one of the poorest areas of the city. [2]

Ilha_Joana_Bezerra(Ilha Joana Bezerra in red)

Coque reportedly came about when plantation owners employed hired gunmen (called “capangas”) to inspect and insure commerce being brought through the port of Recife. These people started to reside in the area where coconut trees (coqueiros) were, and thus the name of the favela, Coque. The biggest problem the community faces and has always faced is the invisible barrier that Recife at large seems to place around Coque. A doctoral thesis (in PT, starting from page 255) partially focused on the favela says it best:

“Ninguém colabora porque a região é violenta, e a comunidade é violenta porque ninguém contribui com o desenvolvimento da localidade.”

“No one collaborates because the region is violent, and the community is violent because no one contributes with the development of the locale.”

It’s hard to change perception, especially after decades of descriptions like this one (PT) appearing in the local news. The end result is that the people from the community mostly have to help themselves. From this point of view, come initiatives like Coque Rexiste, Coque Vive, and Orquestra Criança Cidadã. To learn more, click these links and read at least several pages of the thesis I mentioned. I’ll leave you with a video by Coque Rexiste.

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