Elegant, joyful and quite the prankster. Yoyo goat wandered around the town square in 1922 when it was elected as councillor. Then, and now, he is a symbol of rebellion in favour of democracy.
People in Fortaleza, a mid-size coastal city in Brazil, were disillusioned by politicians and decided to change the situation by electing a goat. Goats are ordinarily not beach animals. Yoyo arrived in town with a family escaping the drought in the countryside. To survive, the family sold him to a leather factory near the beach. Luckily, the factory’s employees quickly embraced the animal and he earned the position of company mascot.
The goat wandered between the beach during the day and the town square at night, and he was baptized as Yoyo. Soon after, the authors of political satire pamphlets who gathered in the square joked that they would elect Yoyo as a politician. The joke became a reality when the council election came along.
100 Years Later!
Cut scene to 100 years forward, in downtown Fortaleza. A street carnival held on the 20th of May 2022 celebrates the arrival of a statue in Cinema São Luiz (the oldest movie theatre in the city). The statue of Yoyo, the goat. Once again, it would reign supreme among the people, celebrating the century-old election.
In 2022, the episode is being retold during the centennial celebration, and it is inspirational to see the importance of meaningful debates in changing politics and presenting an alternative for the future. Creating new futures is an important role for cultural and educational institutions and it is being successfully fulfilled with the Yoyo Goat Celebration.
The centennial of Yoyo’s election was an event organized by a network of museums, cultural centers and government institutions. This network of museums and cultural spaces summarized their festivities in a presentation of National Week of Museums, which happened during the celebrations. The idea was to do a cultural road show with the statue, retelling the story of the goat’s election and discussing parallels with today’s culture and politics.
The fight against false information occupied most of these discussions. “There are many differences between Yoyo’s protest vote and this year’s elections,” observed Raquel Caminha, director of Ceará Museum, the original home and starting point of Yoyo’s pilgrimage. “However, it is important to remember history and people in Fortaleza still feel connected to the sentiment of rebellion against politicians who do not represent them,” she continues.
This year, Brazil will elect a new president in November 2022. Unfortunately, misinformation continues to be a concerning trend even as the country prepares to go to the polls. In fact, the current office holder, Jair Bolsonaro, is under investigation for spreading misinformation about the Brazilian electronic ballot system.
A recent report highlighted by the Brazilian Electoral Supreme Justice Court pointed out that false information spreads 70% faster than real news. Additionally, a Brazilian study by Ideia and Vero Institutes shows that 8 among 10 Brazilians consider fake news as highly concerning for democracy.
These numbers represent an erosion of trust in politics, a fate worsened by the context of increasing polarization in Brazil. In 1922, distrust in politics created the rebellion which elected a goat! The election, while an experiment in political protest, still raises several questions regarding political representation and inclusivity, and it resurfaced as a central theme in a cultural exhibition during the centennial event.
Artist Sy Gomes filled one of the first stops of Yoyo’s cultural debates with a reminder about the electoral process — Black and transgender. Gomes reminded citizens in the exhibition that “Yoyo Won’t Vote,” and that socially vulnerable groups have never occupied a significant number of council seats. The significance of the exhibition was centered around the importance of representation in politics, and how important it was for the population to elect politicians who could bring forward themes which needed to be debated.
In the case of transgender politicians, there was never an elected transgender in Ceará. “Who would care to elect a transgender as a council member? Today, given the disbelief in current politicians, who would the town vote for? Would they still elect a goat or a transgender person?” asked the artist. Thereafter, a symbolic electoral ballot was placed in the Ceará Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) and votes were cast for almost a month. (From the 9th to the 20th of March 2022). The contestants were the statue of Yoyo and a fictitious transgender politician. The latter won with 379 votes against 142 for the goat.
Reflecting on the fictional election, the supervisor of the museum pointed out the importance of cultural spaces to discuss politics.”What is the power of museums?” Cecília Bedê, director of the museum, asked rhetorically. “It is important to open these spaces to actions which help view society critically, discuss the memories they keep and the stories they tell. We made history with this election,” she reckoned.
A Goat Walks Into A Library…
Another stop in the goat’s cultural journey was at Ceará State Library (BECE).for nearly two weeks, starting 6th of April 2022. In the library, the 1922 “rope literature” (Literatura de Cordel) was brought back to life. Pamphlets were printed and hanged on a rope the same way they did in the town square at Fortaleza 100 years ago. From the pamphlets, the children got to read about the many adventures of the goat and were reminded of the importance of distinguishing fact from fiction in politics.
In today’s politics, WhatsApp, TikTok and other social media platforms play a key role in democracy. Reliable information, debates and knowledge exchange are rare themes of content in such media. However, humor is a common theme and a way to get everyone’s attention, the same way as it was an important theme in pamphlet literature.
Yoyo goat is not the only animal to have ever been involved in politics. In 1988, for example, a monkey in Rio de Janeiro received 400,000 votes for a mayoral seat. It has also been documented that in three instances in ht e United States, dogs were elected as mayors. Yoyo is probably the one with the longest career. The image of this goat is always remembered in Ceará state when elections and politics are being discussed. Yoyo is used as a cautionary tale in politics.
The Street Carnival
During this party, a real mid-May carnival, the goat was saluted by the population with dance, laughter, music and artistic performances. One of the performances included a giant representation of the goat in Chita cloth, like a Brazilian version of the Chinese dragon. People gathered below the cloth, simulating the body of the goat and danced carnival while driving the giant goat through the city streets.
It was a Friday night, and stores and street vendors were starting to enjoy the beginning of the weekend. When they saw the giant goat, they danced and sang a chorus of “Fora Bolsonaro” (“Out with Bolsonaro”), a traditional shout Brazilians make to express their dismay with the current president. It felt very intense to be dancing with the population in the town square: workers, wanderers, artists, drivers and everyone who was there at the time.
Even though the story of the goat’s election is 100 years old, everyone in the town, including children, still seems to know a lot about it. The interpretation of the role of elections in a democracy is also a parallel drawn immediately by any local inhabitant when speaking about Yoyo.
*View this interactive timeline which documents Goat Yoyo’s museum tour during the centennial celebration.
Preserving History: The Goat Yoyo Museum
Riana Rocha, a teacher who lives in the beach town of Icapuí (and did the 3-hour journey to the capital for the carnival), sees the value of local culture and its relation to political history in the region. “I believe it is very important for us to know about our past, about characters such as goat Yoyo,” she reflects. “It is an era where misinformation and violence are involved in our democratic processes such as our elections, and we need to lighten up and think about how elections are important, how we can be engaged and build a better country for ourselves.”
A tourism teacher, Gerson Linhares, has a bold project for the future of Goat Yoyo’s story. He is building the Goat Yoyo Museum, a cultural space which has already gained support from the local government. Throughout the years, Linhares has collected artistic, historical and documentary works related to Yoyo. Many were made by the local women of Ceará, a town nationally known for the artisanship of women in weaving techniques inherited from indigenous nations.
After the centennial celebration, Yoyo’s story can be referenced as a way Brazilians can deal with electoral challenges such as false information and its negative consequences. The goat occupies a space where education, art, culture and humor are brought together, and people can learn from their past. Sadly, due to the upcoming elections, some content from the cultural institutions has been brought offline to abide by electoral court regulations which ask for content to not be publicized for it not to be confused with propaganda. This is an overzealous step that can further endanger open democratic dialogues.
This article is part of Open Heroines’ writing grants series, intended to elevate the voices of women and non-binary people in the open spaces.