Pau de Arara

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Pau de Arara [ˈpaʊ d͡ʒi aˈɾaɾɐ] is a Portuguese term that literally translates to "macaw's perch". The term originates from the habit of tying birds to a pole for sale, where they also hang for transportation. By analogy, the term has gained two distinct meanings: it can refer to an irregular flat bed truck used to transport migrant workers and to a torture device developed during the Brazilian military dictatorship.

Flat bed truck[edit]

Pau de Arara as a term referring to flat bed truck transportation.

Pau de Arara is a designation given in the Northeast Brazil to a flat bed truck adapted for passenger transportation. The truck's bed is equipped with narrow wooden benches and a canvas canopy. The term refers to long metal rails extending lengthwise under the canopy where passengers would hang on to when standing.

This form of public transportation is still found in rural areas, but no longer available for interstate travel. In past decades, it was widely used by migrant workers fleeing periodic drought conditions in their home region. In the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, their most frequent destination, Pau de Arara also became a derogatory slang term referring to them. There are frequent references to the Pau de Arara in Brazilian literature and popular song, used as a symbol for the plight of the Nordestino (Northeastern) migrant.

Torture technique[edit]

Students mimicking a Pau de Arara during a protest in Brasília in 2012.

Pau de Arara can also refer to a physical torture technique designed to cause severe joint and muscle pain, as well as headaches and psychological trauma. The technique consists of a tube, bar, or pole placed over the victim's biceps and behind the knees while tying both the victim's ankles and wrists together. The entire assembly is suspended between two metal platforms forming what looks like a bird's perch.

This technique is believed to originate from Portuguese slave traders, which used Pau de Arara as a form of punishment for disobedient slaves. Its use has been more recently widespread by the agents of the political police of the Brazilian military dictatorship against political dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s and is still believed to be in use by Brazilian police forces,[1] although outlawed.[2] The device was often used as a restraint for a combination of other torture techniques, such as water boarding, extraction of nails from the toes and fingers, branding, electric shocks, and sexual torture. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has cited his support for the technique, saying "the pau-de-arara works. I support torture. You know that."[3]


  1. ^ Caldeira, Teresa P.R. (2000). City of Walls. Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 109. ISBN 0-520-22143-5.
  2. ^ "LEI Nº 9.455, DE 7 DE ABRIL DE 1997" [LAW No. 9,455, OF APRIL 7, 1997]. Palácio do Planalto: Presidência da República (in Portuguese). Government of Brazil. 1997-04-07. Archived from the original on 2010-11-24. Retrieved 23 January 2017. Define os crimes de tortura e dá outras providências. [Defines the crimes of torture and makes other provisions.]
  3. ^ Fishman, Andrew (2018-10-28). "Jair Bolsonaro Is Elected President of Brazil. Read His Extremist, Far-Right Positions in His Own Words". The Intercept. Retrieved 2018-10-29.