Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/Messias Soares Cavalcante
Messias Soares Cavalcante
As a 16 year-old auto-mechanic in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Messias Soares Cavalcante found himself gazing at his reflection in the mirror, frustrated. He glanced at his 45 year-old friend and said to himself, “In 30 years I will be him, I’ll be here in this shop and I’ll be him.” His friend had spent his whole life working as a mechanic and knew of nothing beyond São Paulo. Cavalcante wanted to do something more with his life.
He decided that going to school was the “only way out of that life,” so he applied for a job as Laboratory Technician at the Instituto De Pesquisas Tecnologicas (Technological Research Institute or IPT) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and took classes at night. From his humble beginnings repairing cars, he went on to earn his Bachelors of Science degree in Biology from IPT as well as a Masters of Science and a PhD from the University of Portsmouth in England. In his career, he specialized in the biological deterioration of wood before he retired and turned his focus on his passion for cachaça, the cane alcohol popular in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.
Cavalcante began collecting cachaça bottles 25 years ago at local markets for pure amusement. From there, his hobby evolved as he attended fairs and meetings to learn about the spirit. In those meetings the discovery of cachaca was heavily disputed and largely unknown, due to lack of physical documents and historical records. The heated dispute over the discovery of cachaca led Cavalcante to seek out literature, books and articles on the subject, where he found there were many inconsistencies and mistakes in much of the literature.
“No one knows when or where it was discovered. Brazilians say that it was discovered here in Brazil but there are people from other countries, mainly from South America, that claim it was discovered in their respective countries,” said Cavalcante.
Cavalcante sought to rectify these inconsistencies by conducting his own personal research. He set up a website to publish his findings and by the suggestion of his son, formed an FAQ section to answer the many questions people had. His research was so extensive and so in depth that upon the completion of his FAQ section, he realized that he had enough information for a book. Cavalcante’s first book on Cachaca: A Verdadeira História da Cachaça (The True History of Cachaça), quells the many inconsistencies and untruths of Cachaca. In his second book Cavalcante covers the wide range of synonyms for Cachaca in Todos os Nomes da Cachaça (All the Names of Cachaça). Cavalcante also holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest collection of cachaca bottles with a total of 15,446 bottles. His goal is to become the world’s leading expert on the subject.
After using Wikipedia for many years as a reference tool, Cavalcante began editing the Cachaca article earlier this year, adding detail to what was then a much shorter article. "When I looked at the article about cachaça in Wikipedia, it was okay but it was very small article, little information," he said. "So as I knew something about that, I intended to collaborate to improve the article and so that’s why I started to be a collaborator of Wikipedia."
Cavalcante acknowledges a debt to "the knowledge of many people” that he has gleaned from Wikipedia and he's happy to give back so others can benefit from his knowledge. “I know how difficult it is to get the right information, accurate information, and Wikipedia gives that to you,” said Cavalcante. "Wikipedia is a way to get information quickly. You go to Wikipedia and say exactly what you need and so you go for what is very, very important."