The Cry

Story of the Tucum ring

25 March 2009

Listen to the audio of Esdrianne Cohen and Rich Nichols sharing the story or read the story below as told by Ben Miller.

Several years ago Lilia Marianno gave the WMF Brazil community simple black rings made from the fruit of a palm tree. With her gift, she shared a story.

She told of a bishop, who in a meeting with the leaders of the Tapirapé people, an indigenous tribe, was awed by their faith and resilience.  He asked for their forgiveness for the treatment of their people by his, and more importantly, for forgiveness for the church’s complicity in the oppression of their people over the centuries.

The bishop took off his gold ring, the symbol of his office, and presented it to the chief, saying “We cannot return all the gold we took, or restore all the lives we destroyed.  But we long to try and make things right.  Take this ring as a symbol of my desire for what the church will be – no longer taking, but giving.”  The Tapirapé chief accepted the ring, and reciprocated by removing his black tucum ring and giving it to the bishop as a symbol of their forgiveness and solidarity.

The ring, made from the fruit of the tucum palm tree is a difficult plant to cultivate due to its long, thin, sharp thorns.  The rings, made from the fruit’s hard shell that surrounds the seed, are made by hand – typically taking over an hour per ring.  The sawing, cleaning, and polishing are done by family members, creating opportunities for work for those who would not normally have it.

The symbolism of the black ring has changed over the years – in the 1800s the ring was a symbol of marriage for the slaves and natives, who could not afford to buy gold.  The ring was also a symbol of friendship, and of resistance to the established order – the freedom fighters.

In the words of the bishop, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga:  “… This ring is made from a palm tree in the Amazon.  It is a sign of alliance, of solidarity with the indigenous peoples and with the lives of the people (the least of these).  Anyone who wears this ring, normally, is saying they will accept the weight of this struggle, and also its consequences.  Will you accept the challenge of the ring?  Many, because of this commitment, were faithful until death …”

Today, the black ring of tucum has come to symbolize solidarity with the poor – a pledge to defend the Gospel on the path with the poverty-stricken – engagement with the poor and excluded of society – defending the poorest – aligning oneself against the rich and powerful and with the poor, marginalized, and forgotten – those who cast their lot with the poor of the earth – those who long for the freedom of Christ to reach into the lowest depths and most broken places, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for Him and the least of these.

Now, many of us in WMF wear these rings as a symbol of our solidarity with the poor. We hope to wear it well and this is the charge and prayer we offer when passing it on to others.

9 Responses to “Story of the Tucum ring”

  1. This is a great story. I am a REachGlobal missionary serving in Rio de Janeiro. One of the missions we are closely associated with is CENA in São Paulo. While we were there in January my friend and director, João Carlos gave my team mates and me this black ring. He said, “It means, I love poor people.” I thought he was just making it up! Well, my sister knows of our increasing interest in Compassion based ministries here in Rio so she passed your web site on to me. That story was the first thing that I read. I would like to know more about what you guys do in Rio.

    God Bless,

    Craig Weyandt

  2. cristina (tudose) chelariu says:

    such a beautiful story. thanks for sharing! my prayer is that we would all wear the black tucum rings on our hands as well as in our hearts!

  3. claire fleming says:

    have seen people wear this ring but only now know the story beind it. where can these rings be purchased? i would be proud to wear one and tell others the story behind it

  4. [...] WMF staff member receives one.) 3 Incense 4 Black rings from Brazil (Learn the story behind them here.) 5 Nose [...]

  5. Hey people!
    This is Lilia speaking, the same Lilia of Ben Miller’s story.
    I knew WMF at a missionary conference of missions that surve among the poor. It was 2001. I met Chris and Pheleena Heuertz there, some months afeter, I had the privilege to host the first couple of missionaries of WMF in my home during 2 months.
    I heard this ring’s history in 2004 from a Franciscan father, because the fathers that are from St Francis Order in Brazil use this ring oftenly. I also saw many catholic fathers in Latin America using to, I went to Ecuador and Argentina in my conferences of bible, and saw many people using.
    I believe if in your city you have contact with franciscan fathers they know how to help you. If not, in Rio, they use to sell in open market for tourist, is very common to find the black ring to buy.
    Is the same ring, but the people of open-market don’t know the history.
    In Brazil the Paulus and Paulinas Editors sells a video telling the whole history of Anel de Tucum, used by Liberation Theologs.
    In Youtube you can find something:

  6. Thanks for sharing

    If The ring was also a symbol of friendship, and sign of camaraderie, Anyone who wears this ring can keep his head held high.

  7. jerry says:

    One of my friends in London gave me this ring today as gift for my diaconate ordination. I had no idea about this ring and the value and symbolism. I now know its value, symbolism and meaning. I am deeply moved by this story of the ring. As I wear it, I wish to live up to the expectation mentioned in the story. Its hard but I will certainly try.
    Thanks Aldo Marcia for the ring and the story. May God bless the indigenous people of South America.

  8. We got these rings from COMIN, a gift for us as a partner. I wear the ring with pride and was able to give one to a colleague. Now we can spread this wonderful story among our churches! And can memebers of our churchpass this story on, to become more aware of this rin as a symbol! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Brad says:

    I received a ring when I participated on a Servant Team in Sierra Leone, and I loved wearing it, knowing the meaning behind it. Unfortunately, it broke. Does anyone know of a place where I could order a replacement online?

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