Wikipedia contributors take many paths to become editors and their motivations are as varied as their stories. For Messias Soares Cavalcante, it started in a mechanical workshop in São Paulo, Brazil, and it culminated with the largest collection of cachaça bottles in the world.
When Cavalcante was 16, he had an epiphany. He worked as an operator of lathe and planer and he wasn’t happy with his job. He was sitting in the workshop, looking at an older mechanic friend and mentor, when he had a premonition. “In 30 years I will be him,” Cavalcante said to himself. “I’ll be here in this or other workshop and I’ll be him.”
Seeing education as his best opportunity out of the life he led, he started taking night classes and he worked as an office boy in a bank, and later as lab tech to pay his way through school. After graduation he became a senior researcher in the field of biological deterioration of wood. Half a century later, Cavalcante has three degrees, including a PhD from the University of Portsmouth in England, and he is the author of several books, including two on cachaça, the sugar cane spirit popular in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.
Cavalcante began collecting cachaça bottles 25 years ago at local markets simply for amusement. Over time, his hobby evolved as he attended fairs and meetings to learn more about the spirit. Early on he found that the discovery of cachaça was heavily disputed and largely unknown, due to lack of physical documents and historical records. The incertitude over its discovery led Cavalcante to seek out books and articles, where he found many inconsistencies and obvious mistakes.
“No one knows when or where it was discovered,” said Cavalcante. “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.”
Cavalcante sought to rectify these inconsistencies by sharing his research. He set up a website to collect his findings and, at his son’s suggestion, he formed an FAQ section to answer the many questions readers asked of him. His research was so extensive and so in depth, he realized that he had enough information to publish a history on the topic. His first book, Cachaça: A Verdadeira História da Cachaça (The True History of Cachaça), attempted to dispel the many inconsistencies around cachaça’s origins. In his second book, Todos os Nomes da Cachaça (All the Names of Cachaça), Cavalcante covered the wide range of synonyms for the drink, including over 2,000 names that Brazilians use. Some names are lyrical, such as “refreshment of philosophy (refrigério da filosofia),” and “nectar of the gods (néctar dos deuses).” Others describe the physical effects of cachaça on its imbiber, such as “amnesia (amnésia)” and “burning throat (queima goela).” And still others — which we won’t print here — verge toward the indelicate.
Cavalcante holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest collection of cachaça bottles, with a current total of 15,446 bottles, and he hopes to be the leading expert on the subject. With over 25 years of collecting bottles of cachaça, one would imagine he has indulged in his fair share of the spirit. “Only on Saturdays,” he said when asked.
After using Wikipedia for many years as a reference tool, Cavalcante began editing the cachaça article in early December, 2011, 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 learning. “I know how difficult it is to get the right information, accurate information, and Wikipedia gives that to you,” he said. “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.”