The Domestic Hunter

The short story “O Caçador Doméstico" ("The Domestic Hunter”) — read here by Jeferson Tenório — narrates the decadence of a slaveowner whose family was “horrified of manumission.” Standing out among Lima Barreto’s final works, it was first published in the magazine Careta on April 23, 1921 and republished in Histórias e sonhos: Contos (Rio de Janeiro: Gráfica Editora Brasileira, 1951) and Contos completos de Lima Barreto (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2010).

Translated by Daniel Persia


Simões was the descendant of a well-known family from Rio de Janeiro, the Feitais, from whom the 13th of May snatched over a thousand slaves.

A real fortune, because slaves, in those days, despite abolitionist agitation, were a prized commodity. They were valued at a million réis a head, meaning the Feitais had lost some billion réis or more.

Their worth aside, they were merchandise that didn’t require much care. Their multiplication was left to the masters—before the Law of the Free Womb, and after.

The Feitais were famous for their robust cattle-fattening regimen, also given to the slaves, and for their slave-owning stubbornness. If not exquisitely cruel to their captives, they were, to be sure, horrified of emancipation.

They granted not a single letter of manumission, no matter the pretext.

It’s said even that old Feital, owning a lighter-skinned slave who displayed great aptitude for study, hired him some teachers and enrolled him in medical school. When the boy was close to graduating, old Feital cancelled his enrollment and brought him back to the farm, where he became the doctor. Feital never granted him his freedom, though he treated him as a free man—and had him treated as such by the rest.

Simões belonged to that category of people who had become impoverished from one hour to the next.

Thick-skulled, he didn’t know, at first, how to take advantage of his family connections—how to get a degree and good sinecures, such as being a deputy, a role for which he was a natural fit, given he had been born into a family of the slaveholding conservative party. He was cut from a delicate cloth, born to be a Republican of the highest Brazilian carat.

He became a bureaucrat and, as soon as his salary was sufficient, married a Magalhães Borromeu, from Santa Maria Madalena, whose family had also been ruined by abolition.

At the office, Simões no longer played dumb. He leveraged his familial ties and friendships for promotions, quickly surpassing the rest.
Upon becoming section chief, he remembered that he descended from a long line of farm workers and decided to move to the outskirts, where he would have some notion of the farmland on which he was born.

The remnants of the forest in those parts invoked nostalgic memories of his youth, on his aunt and uncle’s farms. He remembered hunting; he remembered the pack of hounds he would take to track the collared peccaries and pacas. And it occurred to him to start breeding dogs to hunt, as if he needed to.

Where he lived, there was only one kind of game: guinea pigs, in the grasslands. But Simões, descendent of the noble family of the Feitais of Pati and surrounding areas, could not submit himself to such third-rate ventures.

How would he employ his glorious pack?

His innate perversity immediately gave him an idea: he would hunt the chickens and other poultry from the neighborhood that, fortuitously, entered his yard.

Just seeing a chicken from any of his neighbors’ yards was enough to unleash the dogs, who swarmed the fowl, tearing it to shreds in no time.

The neighbors, accustomed to older, more placid residents, found it strange that this fool could be so malicious and deaf to the complaints of the poor people who lived around him.

Fed up with the domestic hunter of chickens and ducks, they resolved to put an end to his stunts.

It was determined: they would haunt the house. They hired a sly young lad to climb into the attic and drag around chains at night.

Simões recalled the slaves of his Feital relatives and felt remorse. One day, he was so frightened that he ran, terrified, into the yard, late at night, in his underwear, his speech slurred. His hounds didn’t recognize him and left him in the same state as the unwary neighborhood chickens: they tore him to shreds.

Such was the end of one of the last offspring of the powerful Feitais of Barra Mansa.

Ebook Espalhe Lima

As part of the Hearing Lima project, Companhia das Letras has made available a free e-book with a selection of short stories by Lima Barreto, organized by Lilia M. Schwarcz. The stories are part of the book Contos completos (Complete Stories) by Lima Barreto, published in 2010.