"Poets, Bandits, Saints and Miniskirts: Twilight of the Brazilian literatura de cordel"

-Paloma Martínez-Cruz

"Before, the cordel was the newspaper of the people. Now there are papers, television. People even found out about a man walking on the moon because of the cordel."

-Antônio Ribeira da Conceição ("Bule-Bule")


The Brazilian literatura de cordel is a form of folk poetry that has been an important literary and performative form to Brazil's impoverished Northeastern interior since the early nineteenth century. Sold in small booklets and chanted in medieval Portuguese verse form, this didactic tool and moralizing instrument has been a mainstay of sertanejo culture, drawing on the diverse images of itinerant saints and mini-skirt clad temptresses to illustrate the eternal battle between good and evil. For decades this tradition has been in decline, and no longer exists in the capacity in which it had functioned at its inception. This paper explores the significance of the cordel's evolving landscape, as it reveals crucial insights regarding the dialogue between folk writings and a forward-looking hemisphere. The present state of the cordel serves to comprehend the impact of poetry and performance in this Northeastern region as much as it promotes understanding the place of art and culture in any point on the globe in which oral and printed traditions are being steadily usurped by emerging alternatives.