Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A response to Eduardo Galeano's Days and Nights of Love and War

Youlendree Appasamy

“…that the computer program that alarms the banker who alerts the ambassador who dines with the general who summons the president who intimidates the minister who threatens the director general who humiliates the manager who yells at the boss who insults the employee who scorns the worker who mistreats his wife who bears the child who kicks the dog.” (Galeano, 1983:30)

Days and Nights of Love and War traverses the span of Latin America to produce stories of the multitude, by way of Galeano’s charting of his own life. The topic of this assignment is to unpack what it means to be exploited by ‘the system’ or ‘the machine’, especially if one is a woman, or a child. I group these two broad categories of people together – as patriarchal attitudes and actions, and economic circumstances have positioned them as the most vulnerable to epistemic violence enacted on the multitude in Latin America. As the abovementioned quote demonstrates – there is a chain of violence, fear, intimidation and exploitation that the system inculcates in its (often unwilling) participants.

On reading any text, I go in wondering about the feminist ideals of the author/s in question. Where are the female voices? Who are the female voices? Are female narratives being conveyed in a particular way? Galeano (1983) conveys the physicality of women in a particular way that belies his anti-oppression stance, or so I thought, on reading through passages such as Introduction to Theology. On doing research into Maria Padilha (otherwise known as Pomba Gira), I realised that Galeano was showing the complexities of religion, sexuality and the position of women (in this case prostitutes in Latin America) through the idea of Maria Padilha,  who is goddess of much more than sexuality. She was outcast from her society for her sexual prowess, her power and fame (which is said to come from magic from the Middle East and Democratic Republic of Congo) (Ali, 2013:1). Her marginalisation to the lowly position in a society living to the tune of ‘the machine’, of the “deified whore” (Galeano, 1983: 39), is one Galeano (1983) openly challenges when saying “Each ceremony was a ritual of dignity: “They thought I was a bitch? I’m a goddess!”” (Galeano, 1983: 39).

And of Courage, which is a vignette of Galeano (1983) “drinking all night with a whore friend” (Galeano, 1983: 46), also struck me as a way which Galeano (1983) makes a comment on the exploitation of women by ‘the system’. Sex-workers are in the business of pleasure – giving pleasure to others, usually men, and in this situation, the sex-worker never looks into the eyes of her clients “because if I [the sex-worker] look at them I go blind […]” (Galeano, 1983: 46). Similarly, Galeano (1983)  makes clear that if one dares to think for oneself, or tries to operate outside state parameters in a military dictatorship, will be punished - "[S]He who doesn't torture will be tortured. The machine accepts neither innocents nor witnesses" (Galeano, 1983: 144). Working with closed eyes shows how this sex-worker navigates both her profession, and also speaks to the wider community – one must navigate one’s life without looking too closely, or at all, at the system which punishes innocents and witnesses.

Women in the book seem subsidiaries of Galeano’s love – he makes mention many times to women he had romantic and/or sexual relationships with, or gives vignettes of stories of enigmatic, illusive women. Women filled with mystery and magic. Placing women in this position can be seen as being patriarchal – as women fall into the Madonna/whore binary. Certainly, some characters and dialogues in the book show exceedingly patriarchal values – these are often words uttered by others that Galeano (1983) reproduces uncritically, such as those by don Cecilio in Chronicle of Grant Tierra.

When Galeano (1983) describes small stories about his children’s lives, the reader gets a sense of the sadness Galeano (1983) feels for children, misfortunate in this particular time in Latin America.

“One writes, in reality, for the people whose luck or misfortune one identifies with-the hungry, the sleepless, the rebels, and the wretched of this earth […]” (Galeano, 1983: 183)

Children became a vital and trodden on cog in the system too: “Children are interrogated as to the whereabouts of their parents: the parents are strung up and given electric shocks so they will reveal the location of their children” (Galeano, 1983: 15). Children, rendered poor and destitute when orphaned by the violence of the system become tools of (repressive) politics – Frei, Allende’s political rival says that “poor children will have shoes” (Galeano, 1983: 63) under his rule. Allende challenged why there were poor children to begin with and sought to eradicate it, until the “machinery of fear” (Galeano, 1983: 63) assassinated him. Galeano also blames the high rate of child mortality as a function of military, capitalistic rule – “Out of every hundred children born alive in Guatemala or Chile, eight die, […] This is violence is without bullets” (Galeano, 1983: 97). When Florencia, Galeano daughter, is upset by her best friend, he “would have liked God to exist and not be deaf” (Galeano, 1983: 120) so that he could spare her from the injustices and brutality of the system which dehumanises individuals daily.

There is also a delicate, yet strong bond between women and children and men. Although all endure, primarily silently, the violence of the entire system, there is nurturing bond. “[…] When the female pigeon touches beaks with the male, she doesn't do it to kiss, but to feed him the milk that springs from her crop,” (Galeano, 1983: 48). Similarly, there are occasions throughout the book where care, kindness and love and given – usually from women to children, and to men.


Ali, C. 2013. Maria Padilha. House of Quimbanda. Retrieved on 3 May 3015.
Galeano, E. 1983. Days and Nights of Love and War. New York: Monthly Review Press.