As a reminder of the peace agreement that ended the Farroupilha Revolution, a war fought by natives of Rio Grande do Sul against the Brazilian imperial government from 1835 to 1845, an obelisk was erected approximately three years ago, It stands in a park in the city of Porto Alegre, in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.Â
The tribute concerns a fact that occurred on Brazilian territory, but the monument has virtually the same shape as the first obelisks built in the world, circa 2,500 years b.C., in Egypt.
"They were a tribute to Ra, the Sun god," says historian Marcia Raquel de Brito Saraiva, a professor and researcher from Rio Grande do Sul who has been studying the subject for approximately five years.
In the first half of this year, Marcia concluded her master's thesis "Penduricalhos da Memória: usos e abusos dos obeliscos no Brasil – séculos 19, 20 e 21" ('Pendants of Memory: use and abuse of obelisks in Brazil – 19th, 20th and 21st centuries'), which surveys the obelisks that exist in Brazil and discusses their origins.
Obelisks are rectangular monuments with a triangular, pyramid-like peak, that were originally created in Egypt. According to Marcia's conclusions, the shape is still the same, or at least similar, to that of the first ones made in Ancient Egypt, but the meaning changed as time went by. The researcher detected the presence of 190 obelisks in Brazil.
However, the same monuments that were used in Ancient Egypt to celebrate a god are now used to pay tribute to celebrities, heroic feats, local revolutions, city mayors, emancipation of municipalities and even shipwrecks.
The aim of Marcia's thesis was to retrieve the story of these Brazilian obelisks. She eventually discovered that in many cases, the records of these monument's origins have been lost. Therefore, it is not possible to determine for certain if all of the people who decided to build an obelisk were familiar with their Egyptian roots and the meaning that they had in the age of the pharaohs.
In Ancient Egypt, according to Marcia, they were often used in the entrances of temples. "Usually, two obelisks were built, one facing the sunrise, and the other, the sunset," says the researcher. The shape was that of a sunray, as they were originally a tribute to the Sun god.
In the beginning, though, the Egyptians used to call them Teken. The Greek were the ones who dubbed the monuments obelisks, according to Marcia. Nowadays, the researcher continues, many Ancient Egyptian obelisks are on display in other countries, such as Italy, England, and France. They were taken from their country of origin to be exhibited.
Marcia started researching obelisks in 2002, while she was still a History graduate student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), in the city of Porto Alegre.
The thesis, which is part of a wider research on Egyptomania in Brazil, was conducted using two grants that the student received from the Institutional Program for Scientific Initiation Scholarships (Pibic) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).
The subject of Marcia's bachelor's degree conclusion work was also the obelisk. And she intends to continue researching the subject in a doctorate yet to be undertaken. Her master's thesis was also written while attending PUC-RS.
Marcia lives in Charqueadas, a city located near the capital of the state, where she teaches History to primary and secondary students at technical school Dimensão. The professional intends to keep on teaching and also doing research work.
Marcia claims that the reason that led her to research was her passion for Ancient Egypt. "When I started out, I was not quite sure about what obelisks were, but I knew about Ancient Egypt," she says.
Marcia Raquel de Brito Saraiva