Monday, January 23, 2012

Literatura De Cordel

If you come to visit us in Brazil, you’ll occasionally see a stand where the offerings look like this:

Literatura de Cordel (lit. “cord literature”) derives its name from the way the wares are often displayed, i.e. hung by a cord, usually with the aid of clothespins.

Such stands are less common in the southern part of the country, but are a feature in many of the fairs and markets of the northeast, principally in the States of Pernambuco, Paraiba and Ceará.

These little booklets are the last survivors of a form of popular literature with which an inhabitant of eighteenth-century Madrid, or nineteenth-century England, would have been quite familiar, but that you’d be hard-put to find elsewhere in the modern world. They contain stories and ballads and are generally produced in black-and-white, illustrated with woodcuts.

Down through the years, the content has taken-on a distinctly Brazilian flavor.

Many of the books deal with the folklore, legends and history of the northeast, subjects like Lampião and his band.

I've previously posted about him under the title The Bandit King. And, if you like, you can read that post by clicking on this link:

One of the classics of cord literature, The Arrival of Lampião in Hell, by José Pacheco, is much-prized by collectors.

And a satire on the Brazil’s most recent president, The Arrival of Lula in Hell has been enjoying a good deal of success in recent months.

As to the art, two of the more talented woodcutters are Adir Botelho and José Francisco Borges.

This is Botelho:

And this is a work from Borges, who has had expositions at both the Louvre and the Smithsonian:

Leighton - Monday


  1. I love the look of these Leighton, and it's reassuring to know they still exist and flourish in this digital, wireless, paperless world...

  2. I've never seen folk-art like this before that has survived to the 21st Century. Comic books, yes, but this seems to be a serious enterprise, or is there humor in them?

  3. No, Jeff.
    No humor.
    Very serious.
    Like antas.

  4. They look like they could be very sly to me. Some of these are really striking. Short folk tales. Borges' stuff seems to be very universal and could use "discovery."

  5. I have read similar descriptions of the distribution and sale of Tamil pulp writing -- cheap stock, displayed hanging from string, and so on. I discussed this with folks from South Africa, and we wondered if a similar model might work there.

  6. We don't see such things here, but I think if the stories were right, it would work. Unfortunately because of our political past, reading is not widespread, and readership in SA is not great. And of course for most people money is in short supply. Sigh.

  7. Well, the same has traditionally been true in India. One argument for such a distribution model is that that it would be cheap, and, hence, relatively accessible.

  8. As the price of smartphones comes down, I wonder if this sort of sales model will disappear. It will be even cheaper for people to read it on their phones.

    By the way, I saw a collection of similar pamphlet literature (complete with folk-art covers) from Nigeria. I believe the title of the collection was "Life Turns a Man Up and Down."