As the forest lands are converted to cacao, the plantation owners take over small plots from the poor farmers. The owners work closely with lawyers to oust the small holders. One old man explains to a newcomer how the Silveiras had done this to his son, Joaquim, and eventually killed him after he threatened them with retaliation.
An attorney comes along with a colonel, and they work a ‘ouster,’ and take away the cacao that folks have planted . . . Colonel Horacio and Lawyer Ruy worked an ouster; they took the cacao we had planted—claimed the land belonged to the colonel and that Joaquim had no right. Colonel Horacio came with his cutthroats and a bunch of certified records. They drove us off the land and even kept the cacao that was drying and about ready for market.
One important aspect of the novel is the heavy price for this way of life. Amado not only shows how the Brazilian cacao growers enrich the plantation owners but how cacao pollutes everyone involved. Laboring in the fields or in cacao processing, selling, negotiating deals—they all take their toll on everyone involved. Cacao becomes the metaphor for society, perhaps even the entire universe.
The workers in the groves had the cacao slime on their feet, and it became a thick rind that no water could wash away. And all of them—workers, jagunços, colonels, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and exporters—they all had that slime clinging to their souls, inside them, deep in their hearts, and no amount of education, culture, or refinement of feeling could cleanse them of it. For cacao was money, cacao was power, cacao was the whole of life.
Horacio Silveira works incessantly to enrich himself and gain power over his Badaró rivals. He believes the lawyer, Cabral, is helping him in these shady dealings. Unbeknownst to him, Cabral has been having an affair with Silveira’s wife; he finds out only after their death. He reflects bitterly on the high cost of converting the land to cacao production.
[T]his was the best land in the world for the planting of cacao, a land fertilized with human blood.