The Adventures of a Capoeira in the Magical Realm of Cordel Literature

The Adventures of a Capoeira in the Magical Realm of Cordel Literature

By Lobisomem (Victor Alvim Itahim Garcia).

Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, I only had contact with cordel literature, whose birthplace is the Northeast region of Brazil, after I was 18. At that age, I started to learn capoeira, and as a consequence, my interest in everything linked to Brazilian popular culture increased. In books about folklore, in thrift stores, in libraries (especially the Edison Carneiro Museum in Rio de Janeiro) I discovered cordel and became a reader and buyer of cordel pamphlets.

Years later, I instinctively wrote down some stanzas in a notebook in homage to my teacher, Mestre Camisa, who was about to turn 50. I had no intention of publishing them but was encouraged by J. Victor and Gonçalo Ferreira da Silva (cordel poet, founder and president of the Brazilian Academy of Cordel Literature) to do so. With a launch party of my first cordel at the São Cristovão Fair, a stronghold of cordel and northeastern culture in Rio, I also received support from Mestre Azulāo, Marabá, Gilberto Teixeira, Erivaldo Ferreira, Miguel Bezerra, Duda Viana, Zé Duda and other local artists.

After venturing to write and publish this first pamphlet, what inspired me to continue and set out for the second cordel poem, were the stories of Besouro Mangangá. In these narratives I knew, I saw striking similarities with what I read in cordéis about Lampiāo and other cangaceiros (Brazilian bandits): a “closed” body, clashes with police officers, spectacular and mysterious escapes, justice against the cowardice of colonels (big landowners) over rural workers and others.

What is cordel literature?

Cordel is a popular genre of literature that originated in Northeast Brazil. It consists of small, handcrafted brochures, usually with a woodprint as cover. They tell stories in rhymes that thematise the life or episodes of famous people, such as politicians, saints or bandits (cangaçeiros). The term cordel comes from the strings that were used to display them on the markets in the Northeast
Lobisomem_cordel Besouro

So, I got excited and kept on writing and publishing. Manduca da Praia, legendary capoeira of Rio de Janeiro in former times, was one of the titles that followed in the same vein:

And soon after, I paid tribute, also with a cordel, to Nascimento Grande, a famous tough guy from Recife, in Pernambuco:

Writing about Madame Satã was already in my plans for some years and the partnership with Matthias and the Capoeira History project made me stop postponing this desire and make it come true in 2019. In my view, Madame Satā is from the same lineage of valour, bravery, audacity and rascality as Besouro, Manduca da Praia and Nascimento Grande. With the difference that he lived at a time closer to our present and that his stories, although legendary, were much more recorded and documented, including the 27 years that he spent in jail on account of them. And it seems that even after his death, he didn’t give up his bravery and still doesn’t allow any disrespect:

Watch the poet here reciting parts of his cordel Madame Satan on the occasion of the launch of the website

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *