Corto Maltese has appeared for more than four decades as the embodiment of the free man, adventurous traveler and libertarian. The world is his « prattie », as the biographers of Hugo Pratt like to say. It is often difficult to dissociate the sailor with the soles of the wind from his author. It is indeed the story of Hugo Pratt, his real and fantasized universe that will make Corto Maltese and Brazil meet.
It is in the album « under the sign of Capricorn » that Corto will meet the mysteries of the terreiros of Bahia, places of Afro-Brazilian cults, where the orixas will invite themselves in men’s homes. He will also discover the sertao and its harsh inhabitants, whose physique is as dry and gnarled as the trees of the caatinga, the white forest of the Indians, which they cross daily to graze their sparse livestock.
« Rendez-vous in Bahia »: an African continuity
It is in Salvador, black Rome, refuge of the African gods in exile that Corto’s Brazilian adventure begins. There is an obvious narrative in « Rendezvous in Bahia ». As Jean Jacques Mandel, anthropologist and great reporter specializing in African diasporas (Geo hors-série » le monde extraordinaire de Corto Maltese, 2002) explains, Bahia is the refuge of African gods in exile. This Black America is a true Africa. « Invisible, rebuilt identically, myth after myth, over nearly 5 centuries » (ibidem). The wandering of the African gods challenges Hugo Pratt, whose adolescence was forever marked by Abyssinia. This mystical wandering of Hugo’s also undoubtedly comes to him from his Jewish mother, whose ancestors came from the Juderia of Toledo and who had a pronounced taste for esotericism. This encounter with Bahia seemed obvious. The white costumes of African origin of the « mothers of the saints », like his heroine « golden mouth » called the author of Corto, as the magnet attracts metal. The words of Golden Mouth « I was waiting for you, I dreamt of you last night », did not come out of the imagination of the traveling cartoonist but from the mouth of this mother of saints that Hugo Pratt will really meet and that he will immortalize through his character of Golden Mouth. The Bahianese, the Brazilian women, will remind him of his Abyssinian loves. From his meeting with the Dos Santos sisters, followers of the terreiros of Bahia, a son will be born, to celebrate this union as much physical as spiritual.
Hugo Pratt seems to have a taste for rites and ceremonies. He will be attracted by Freemasonry…and military uniforms, perhaps reminiscent of the fascist youth…he, the libertarian traveler, like his hero Corto. The traditional African costumes worn by the followers of Candomblé during ceremonies appear as uniforms of resistance against the established order: that of the whites who brought their ancestors in chains to their feet, torn from their African land and who continue to maintain an iniquitous order.
The sertao, libertarian land
In the booklet « Samba in fixed shot », Corto Maltese meets the cangaceiros of the Sertao. Bandits of the great road, very present in Northeastern mythology, they are perceived in an ambiguous way, halfway between the robins of the Brazilian woods and the henchmen of the great latifundiary owners, always ready to make the punch for the « colonels ». We find the « moral neutrality » of Corto Maltese, and perhaps that of Hugo Pratt. The latter knows well, given his past in the fascist black shirts, that hell sometimes suffers from good intentions and that good people can be swept away in the whirlwind of a history that is beyond them. But the libertarian sailor, if he doesn’t judge, always takes the side of the weakest and the forgotten. It is precisely against the colonels and their unjust order that Golden Mouth will raise large sums of money.