The Modern Tribes of Brazil

The participants in the ritual stand around a huge grassy field with nets on opposite ends. Some of them have drums, setting a fast beat for the others to chant to, others are shirtless, their banners painted across their chests. The singers cry their tunes preparing the audience for the biweekly ritual. Their voices are by no means pleasing, they are a loud, low bellow filled with semi-discernible words. The singing gets louder as the warriors emerge from underneath the viewers seats; instead of headdresses and skirts, these warriors wear brightly colored clothes and spiked neon shoes. The song gets even louder, the bass drum pervading the entire arena. Four flags the size of hot tubs are waved back and forth by the most devout of viewers. My head starts spinning, but it's not just my head, it's my entire body, the arena itself has joined in the dance as the bodies of thousands of spectators bounce up and down on its metal legs. The soccer stadium is only half full but it is vibrant with life.

The game began at 10pm, late by American standards, and the stadium was nothing like the multi-billion dollar mega-mall/stadiums we have back home. Tickets are sold at one price, an entry fee of 45 Reais(~$11.84) and the seats are more bleachers than anything else, made out of a mix of cheap cement laid atop a skeleton of metal struts. On one side of the stadium sits the enemy(yes, they are already considered the enemy even though I have only a very tenuous connection to the home team), their numbers lay in the low 100 range with a single flag resting across the stadium's balcony. On my side is the home team, Curitiba, green and white. I am there with my host brother, Daniel, a fan so devout that the background of his phone is a silhouette of the Curitiba mascot: a strange leprechaun-human hybrid that no one would otherwise want to see every time they turned on their phone (actually, I just spoke to my host brother and he said it was a Vovo—literal translation—grandpa).

The stadium looks like something out of an ancient battleground: the two warring sides stand opposite each other as their most powerful warriors duke it out on the field that rests between them. The tribes are both fully energized but the enemy is seriously outnumbered. An oscillating wave of green and white t-shirts carry four massive flags and even louder voices as everyone, everyone, sings the songs of the home team. The crowd is mostly male, but soccer games hold no prejudice over age or race. Behind me, a child no older than five stands next to his father. His pupils are fully dilated as he takes his first steps into the cult that is Brazilian soccer. He chants with the adults around him and even begins to take part in the process that no sports game would be complete without, shouting at the refs. The people act like puppets; their heads tied to the ball as they all strain their necks in tune to glimpse the far side of the field. Their mouths follow the same path, opening in unison to give the other team a piece of their mind whenever something, anything, happens. And when the ref makes a call, no matter for or against, they all begin to shout all sorts of things you would not want to say to your grandmother(although there were a few grandmothers in the audience). In front of me, a quartet of guys awkwardly join in the tribal dance. The one on the right oscillates vertically in and out of a puddle of what is at best spilled beer and at worst…I don't want to imagine. Even I can't stop myself from getting pulled into the admirable madness.

When the ball is in scoring range my breath stops and my heart races a little faster as my head follows the players towards the goal. Everyone waits anxiously to see whether the ball will end up in the net or on the sidelines. When they score, I can't help but throw my hands in the air with the rest of the fans. Even though Curitiba did not win(they tied), the singing continued throughout the entire game: a 90 minute concert of bass drums and drunken revelry. But what surprised me more than anything and what seems to be consistent no matter the team, stadium or city where a game is played were the riot police.

During the game, they are posted along the perimeter of the field, after, they stand at the ready along the inside wall, and before, you have to get a pat down by a burly Brazilian security guard just to enter the stadium. But what can you expect, mix alcohol(which they are no longer allowed to serve inside the stadium), testosterone, thousands of men and a competition and you have a recipe for potential disaster. My host brother went to a game where fans fought fans from their own team starting a soccer civil war, another Brazilian I talked to vowed never to return to the stadium because at the last game she went to the field was overrun by the fans and the riot police had to use rubber bullets to hold them back. It is common for people to get in fights during, before and after games. There have even been cases of people losing lives. These games are not a game, they are serious business that people devout their heart, soul, time and money into; they are a way of life. Brazilian soccer is tribal, creating factions that have the potential to separate friends and cities and banding people together who otherwise would have never become affiliated. These observations come solely from my first experience with Brazilian Soccer and it's craziness. I am a newbie and my indoctrination is just beginning

The stadium and its stripes
The stadium and its stripes