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Jorge Amado's novel Captains of the Sands concerns children living in the streets of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and forming gangs that engaged in petty crime. From the opening of the book:

“Captains of the Sands,” the name by which a group of assaulting and thieving children who infest our city is known. These children who have dedicated themselves to a frightful career of crime at such an early age have no set abode or, at least, their abode has not been located. As has not been located either, the place where they hide the product of their attacks, which have become daily, calling for immediate action on the part of the juvenile judge or the chief of police.

This gang that lives off crime is made up, as far as is known, of more than 100 children of the most varied ages, from 8 to 16. Children whose parents neglect giving them even a few Christian feelings in their upbringing, are naturally given over to a life of crime in their young years. They are called the “Captains of the Sands” because the waterfront is their headquarters.

Were these "Captains of the Sands" based on a real historical phenomenon in the city? Did children really form gangs together in the streets of Salvador to form a miniature criminal underworld?

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Yes, the "Captains of the Sands" were based on a real historical phenomenon in the city. And the children really form gangs together.

At the beginning of the book, we have actual transcripts of news and letters from Salvador newspapers.

Zélia Gattai, Jorge Amado's wife, confirmed he slept with those children of Salvador:

A temática das crianças que vivem nas ruas continua bastante atual. Para escrever Capitães da Areia, Jorge Amado foi dormir no trapiche com os meninos. Isso ajuda a explicar a riqueza de detalhes, o olhar de dentro e a empatia que estão presentes na história.

AMADO, J. Capitães da areia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras. 2019. 275 p.

My free translation:

The issue of children living on the streets is still very current. To write Capitães da Areia, Jorge Amado went to sleep in the warehouse with the boys. This helps to explain the richness of details, the look from the inside and the empathy that are present in the story.

One of the characters, Volta-Seca, is indeed real, not fictional. He even wanted to kill Jorge Amado because he mentioned his name and lied about him.

So, not every aspect was actual facts, but, as you said, it was based on a real historical phenomenon.

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  • Thanks, great info! Just wondering, what's the source for your penultimate paragraph about the real Volta-Seca wanting to kill Jorge Amado?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 12 at 16:31
  • It seems it's from an interview he gave in 1937. Later, in 1973, he was interviewed by O Pasquim, where they asked him about the case, and he was still mad at Jorge Amado. You can find this last interview if you search "O deleite de Volta Seca".
    – sidney
    Jan 12 at 17:01

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