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Literatura de Cordel collection, 1918-1995
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The term literatura de cordel, which translates from Portuguese to “literature on a string,” describes the tradition of selling printed poems in pamphlets that are pinned to strings in the open-air markets of Northeastern Brazil. One of the largest of its kind in the United States, the Literatura de Cordel Collection consists of 4500 - 5000 illustrated popular poems published as folhetos (pamphlets) between the years of 1918 and 1995. Arranged into four series titled Religious Stories, Pelejas, Love Stories and Profane Tales, the item level description of the collection highlights the names of publishers, illustrators, advertisers and authors of each pamphlet.
The term literatura de cordel, which translates from Portuguese to “literature on a string,” describes the tradition of selling printed poems in pamphlets that are pinned to strings in the open-air markets of Northeastern Brazil. However the term is a relatively recent way to refer to what were simply called folhetos (pamphlets) before the 1960’s and have existed in Brazil since the late 19th century. Traditional pamphlets cover topics as diverse as biblical reinterpretation, melodramatic love stories, musical and poetic duels, northeastern folk tales, political history, and journalistic reports of natural disasters such as floods, fires and droughts. Scholars such as Candace Slater, Mark J. Curran and Umberto Peregrino argue that, while the content and material form of these pamphlets resemble chapbook-like materials that were imported from Portugal in the mid 19th century, the practice of storytelling in the Northeast has its origins in songs that date back to the 1750’s. Singing poets, like the notorious family of Antonio Ugolino Nunes da Costa in Teixeira, Paraíba, participated in lively on-the-spot poetic duels called cantoria de repentista or cantoria de viola, where competitors worked to outwit one another both musically and verbally. Remnants of this tradition are most visible in written “Pelejas,” which are pamphlets that reproduce improvised poetic duels or maintain a poetic structure that includes multiple voices. The first printed Brazilian pamphlets appeared in the late 1800’s and were not widely spread until a period of accelerated production halfway through the 20th century. Small publishers like Francisco Rodrigues Lopes, who started Editora Guajarina in Belém, Pará in 1914, bought equipment and created businesses out of the production and distribution of poems and woodblock illustrations. José Bernardo da Silva, another successful editor, started Tipografia São Francisco as a small operation in Juazeiro do Norte in 1932, but as he purchased the rights to other small printers’ archives the company grew into a thriving business in the 1950’s. During the next several decades literatura de cordel began to appear in new contexts as well. Other kinds of institutions like the Casa das Crianças de Olinda in Olinda, Pernambuco commissioned poets and illustrators to make pamphlets, and state funded initiatives, like the Programa Nacional de Melhoramento da Cana-de-Açucar (National Program for Improving Sugar Cane) in Maceió, Alagoas, hired poets to write cordel with the purpose of educating people about new agricultural and industrial practices. Towards the 1980’s similar initiatives for public safety generated versions of cordel that teach people about AIDS, sexual health and substance abuse. During this time both international and local historians began to consider the tradition as a valuable part of popular Brazilian culture. The Universidade Federal da Paraíba, for instance, created a research group (Núcleo de Pesquisa e Documentação da Cultura Popular) that recorded traditional stories in cordel form. In the 1970’s documentary filmmakers made films like “O país de São Saruê” (Vladamir Carvalho 1971) and “Nordeste: cordel, repente, canção” (Tânia Quaresma 1975), which recorded the process of printing, singing, distributing and selling pamphlets.
9.8 linear ft. (25 document boxes)
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.