Article available in: PT-BR
Last update: 27/03/2020
Macambira is present in the caatingas of Northeast Brazil, from Bahia to Piauí. The herbaceous plant from the Bromeliaceae family, which grows under trees or in clearings, has thin and superficial roots, leaves that can reach more than one metre long by twenty centimetres wide, hard thorns, and a rhizome that provides a forage of excellent quality.
Concerning colour, the macambira can be light green, dark green, grey green, violet or yellow, depending on the humidity of the air and soil, among other factors. In places that are more open and exposed to the sun, the ventral face of the leaves may appear violaceous or dark purple.
The simple vegetable with superficial roots grows in the most arid lands of the tropics, feeds on atmospheric air and has enough moisture to withstand the harsh droughts. Its fruit, yellow when ripe, exude an active and characteristic odour, resembling a cluster of small bananas, and its berries measure three to five centimetres in length and have a diameter ranging from ten to twenty millimetres.
Sertanejos (people of the semi-arid region) extract usable fibres from the limb of the leaves of the macambira. With precise blows of a machete, the spines are removed and then the leaves are joined in large bundles, which are macerated for several days. When the fermentable parts are softened, the leaves are removed from the maceration, pounded, squeezed, washed and placed in wooden platforms to dry in the sun. This whole process exudes a strong bad smell, having to be done well away from houses. If it is carried out on riverbanks, small fish die from the alcohol.
There is also another process for extracting the fibres from the macambira. It is an arduous method by which the leaf is dragged along the wire of an apparatus known as tiralino; then it is crushed and passed between the teeth of a metal comb, to remove all the soft part. Afterwards, the undiscovered fibres are washed, combed, and set to dry.
The leaves of the macambira are even used to cover houses, being tied in bundles and left to wilt for a week. At a later stage, the bundles are placed side by side, strongly tied with vines (or beaten with nails). Then, the sauces are arranged in overlapping layers, over the roof battens, which leaves the roofs looking great.
Another rather unpleasant operation is the extraction of pulp from the dilated base of the leaves (layers). The sertanejo cuts some leaves, at the point where they begin to widen, to reach the head of the macambira. Several heads are tied to each other, forming ties that the donkeys carry in their saddlebags, or the caboclos [half-Indian, half-black people] themselves carry on their shoulders when they do not have the animals. The trimming work is very hard: the thorns must be removed, the edges trimmed, and the skin removed, which consists of lifting the epidermis and trimming the strong cuticle with the point of a knife. Then the layers are pounded to separate the starch from the fibres.
The raw pulp is beaten, squeezed and washed in water several times to remove as much of the fortume as possible. This all causes people to injure their fingers due to the corrosive action of this substance. After decantation, the white pulp is wrapped in a cloth, passed through a rudimentary press to drain the rest of the water, and placed in the sun to dry.
Sertanejos make a bread loaf similar to that of corn with the pulp in a couscous pot. They usually add a little manioc flour to the dough to increase the alloy and decrease the bitterness. The pulp is also eaten in the form of a mush, with milk, or meat that comes from hunting of animals from the caatingas: Brazilian agouti, possum, armadillo, black tegu, wild deer, guinea pig and birds (dove, asa branca, quenquém and Juriti). The pulp can be stored for a year. In times of extreme poverty, the macambira helps sertanejos and herds to survive.
They say that in periods of prolonged drought, if only ingested with water and salt, the pulp causes swelling. For this reason, the expression “swollen from eating macambira” is often heard.
Macambira flour is composed mostly of starch (63.1%), a chemical similar to that of manioc flour, but with a much higher protein content, closer to corn and rice flour. It is still rich in calcium, fifteen times higher than milk, and three times as high as cheese, making it one of the most nutritious flours in the world. When it comes to herds, it is important to note that by eating one kilo of this food, animals can accumulate up to 248 grams of fat. Cowboys also reveal another advantage: the cattle that eat the flowers and the fruits of the macambira do not feel the need to go to the water source to drink water.
In turn, sertanejos feed their domestic animals, such as chickens and pigs with the bran of the macambira stem – a very nourishing part of the plant.
The caatingas have suffered many environmental aggressions over the centuries – deforestation, burning, replacement of native plant species – which causes serious problems for the fauna, the presence and quality of water, soil and climate balance, and causes droughts, desertification and environmental degradation.
In the Northeast sertão, that bromeliad makes it possible for humans and herds to stop succumbing to the chronic shortage of water. It is one of the few plants that can be used practically in its entirety. The macambira represents a lifeline for the drought areas and therefore needs to be researched and preserved.
Recife, 16 January 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.
BARBOSA, Maria Regina de V.; AGRA, Maria de Fátima; LIMA, Rita Baltazar de. Flora da Paraíba. Disponível em: <http://www.uefs.br/ppbio/cd/portugues/capitulo8.htm>. Acesso em: 7 nov. 2008.
BESSA, Manuel Negreiros. A macambira (bromélia forrageira). [Natal]: Empresa de Pesquisa Agropecuária do Rio Grande do Norte, 1982.
GUERRA, José Maria Gonçalves. A pesca no rio Mossoró e outros estudos. [Natal]: Assembléia Legislativa, Centro de Estudos e Debates Presidente
Café Filho; Mossoró: Fundação Guimarães Duque, Escola Superior de Agricultura, 1982. (Coleção mossoroense, v. 202).
MACAMBIRA. Pernambuco de A/Z. Disponível em: <http://www.pe-az.com.br/rural/macambira.htm>. Acesso em: 7 nov. 2008.
RECATINGAMENTO. Disponível em: <http://www.irpaa.org/br/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=98>. Acesso em: 8 nov. 2008.
how to quote this text
Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Macambira. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.