the three marias

Brasao TresMarias MG

Coat of Arms of Três Marias, MG, Brazil

In many countries the stars of Orion’s Belt are called The Three Marias. In Minas Gerais, Brazil, there is a small city with the same name (Três Marias), and there are various explanations of how it came to be called that. The most intriguing is the story of three sisters named Maria. The other explanations are more plausible but not as interesting, and I used the tale as source material for Beyond Orion’s Belt. What follows is summarised from Portuguese Wikipedia.

Many years ago, a God-fearing farmer and his family lived on the banks of the São Francisco River. The family ran a guest house for travellers, and after their parents died, the three daughters, Maria Geralda, Maria das Dores and Maria Francisca continued the family business, which became known as the Três Marias.

The three Marias loved to dive and swim in the São Francisco River, and one day they went swimming as usual without realising that a flash flood was on the way. With the wild animals and birds silenced before the fury of nature, the floodwaters took everything in their path, sweeping away crops, trees and cattle.

When the waters reached them, the three Marias desperately swam for dry land, but Maria Geralda was left behind. Maria Francisca tried to save her but was carried away by the flood as well. Seeing her two sisters fighting for their lives, Maria das Dores attempted to bring them both to the shore, but all was in vain, and the relentless swirling flow carried the three Marias to the bottom of the river.

After the tragedy,  the locale became well-known, and the city had its name.

Although someone might have witnessed the terrible sequence of events and made notes, I suspect that the story is an invention. In any case, one thing to like about the tale is its extensibility. The tragic logic could be continued, resulting in the drownings of five, ten, a hundred, in fact any number of Marias.  It was fortunate that no others were at the scene.

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