Pilled books supporting a Laptop. A water tank serving as a refreshing summer pool. Hang a few lamps on a hanger and you have yourself a chandelier. Is a motor pipe missing? Just use a Prigles box instead!

Could such random things have something in common? Could they even belong to the same category? Ask a brazilian person and you’ll have your answer right there: these are all gambiarras.

In many regions of Brazil, gambiarra is a metaphorical word used to describe the improvised use of objects in order to solve a problem by alternative means[1]. This “alternative engeneering” takes place when, for lack of an ideal option or rightful material, one takes something cheap and within easy reach to, urgently or not, replace or put together an equipment.

At first, the word gambiarra had a very specific context of use. It could either mean a light extension or, regarding theaters and performative arts, a set of lamps mounted in the spotlight to ensure front lighting of the scene. Its etimology is obscure and no consensus can be reached about its origins. One explanation, however, traces its roots back to the italian word “gamba”[2], which means leg or support, along with the augmentative suffix “arra”.

Within the scope of its electrical meaning, the most famous form of gambiarra in Brazil would be the clandestine electrical connection designed to steal electricity. Nevertheless, given the political and socio-economic situation of the country, where the State itself, historically built on corruption, makes use of gambiarras instead of investing in public services[3], the word spread out and generalized.




Author: Helena Vieira Cardoso

Image source: Street Lamp, Sound Amplifier