The tucum ring from northeastern Brazil is a simple black ring made from the fruit of the tucum palm tree, a plant difficult to cultivate due to its long, thin, sharp thorns. Handmade from the fruit’s hard shell that surrounds the seed, only 2-3 rings can be made from each piece of fruit. It typically takes more than an hour to cut and polish one ring.
The legend around the ring highlights a bishop who in a meeting with the leaders of the Tapirapé people, an autochthonous tribe in Brazil, was awed by their faith and resilience. He asked for their forgiveness for the way his people had treated their people. More important, he asked forgiveness for the church’s complicity in oppressing their people over the centuries.
The bishop removed his gold ring, the symbol of his liturgical office, and presented the ring to the leader of the community, saying something to the effect of “Though we cannot return all the gold we’ve plundered or restore all the lives we destroyed, we long to try to 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 the bishop’s gesture by removing his black tucum ring and giving it to the church leader as a symbol of their forgiveness and in celebration of their newfound solidarity.
From that moment onward, the bishop wore that tucum ring as the sign of his ecclesial office.
The symbolism of the black ring has changed over the years. In the 1800s the ring was a sign of marriage for the slaves and autochthonous people who could not afford to buy gold. It was also a symbol of friendship and of resistance to the established order—the freedom fighters. Today the black ring of tucum has come to symbolize the struggle for liberation, solidarity, reconciliation, and the celebration of friendship with those living in poverty. “It is a sign of alliance, of solidarity with the indigenous peoples and with the lives of the people. Anyone who wears this ring is saying they will accept the weight of this struggle, and also its consequences” (Dom Pedro Casaldáliga).
The tucum ring is a reminder that our friendships cannot remain insulated and isolated in the narrow space of a group of people who share a vocation, worship together, and live like one another. But that friendship, if alive and vibrant, is marked by gratitude and sustained in contagious and creative celebration.