In Rio last week an aged Negro named Jacaranda decided to run for Congress. His program: legalization of Brazil's favorite gambling pastime, the jogo do bicho (animal game).
Originator of the jogo do bicho was one Baron Drummond, a bluff, bawdy, Brazilian-born Englishman, to whom Emperor Dom Pedro II gave a title and the concession to the Rio zoo. To popularize the zoo, the Baron encouraged visitors to guess the identity of an animal concealed behind a curtain, paid off to winners. In time the guessing game became a tremendously popular numbers game, with different numbers for 25 Brazilian beasts.
The gambling is as complicated as in Harlem's numbers racketand as illegal. On a recent Saturday, when the winning numbers, which still correspond to animals, were based on the national lottery's winning tickets, the amount gambled was a hot $500,000. When the nine and two came up, 500 scrupulously honest bicho bankers started paying off on the bear (92) to thousands of businessmen, taxi drivers and maids all over the country who had bet anything from half-a-cent to $250. In Pernambuco, where Russian sympathizers had played the bear, the winnings were heavy.
Through the years, the animals and their corresponding numbers have developed special meanings in Brazilian slang. Because a veado (deer) is Brazilian for pansy, the group number (24) for deer is never used in polite society.
When a youth reaches 24 he never admits it; he is always 23 or 25.