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Literatura de Cordel collection, 1970-1995
LSC 1420  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Related Material

  • Title: Literatura de Cordel collection
    Collection number: LSC 1420
    Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 9.8 linear ft. (25 document boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1970-1995
    Abstract: 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.
    Language of Materials: Materials are in Portuguese.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Restrictions on Access

    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.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Literatura de Cordel (Collection 1420). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Initial donation by Dr. L. Lauerhass in 1985; approximately 300 pamphlets acquired annually since.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Rebecca Lippman in 2012-2013 in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), with assistance from Jillian Cuellar.

    Biography/History

    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.
    Even though traditional folhetos evolved to include new topics and audiences towards the end of the 20th century, other forms of popular entertainment like television and radio received more attention and the production of these poems began to decline. After José Bernardo da Silva’s death, for example, Tipografia São Francisco fell to financial woes in the 1970’s and was sold to the State of Ceará in 1982 as Lira Nordestina, which continued to preserve and display cordel but stopped producing pamphlets in large quantities. As more traditional venues for producing literatura de cordel began to disappear, new urban audiences and authors such as Apolônio Alves dos Santos, Franklin Maxado Nordestino and Gonçalo Ferreira da Silva in the southeastern states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro took on the tasks of producing, consuming and preserving cordel. New institutional spaces, like the Academia Brasileira de Literatura de Cordel (est. 1982) and the Arquivo-Museu de Literatura Brasileira (est. 1972) at Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa in Rio de Janeiro, actively collected cordel and began to generate histories and archives for the tradition.
    Despite the decline in the production of physical pamphlets in the latter half of the 20th century, the form and traditional content of cordel are still thriving aspects of contemporary Brazilian literature, film, television and music. Since the late 1800’s, when authors and scholars such as José de Alencar and Sílvio Romero took an active interest in preserving and reproducing the stories of the northeast, the narratives of these pamphlets have influenced Brazilian literary and national consciousnesses in multi-media contexts. Authors like João Guimarães Rosa, Jorge Amado, João Cabral de Melo Neto and playwright Ariano Suassuna make direct reference to narratives of literatura de cordel, while others, like Antônio Callado, Jorge de Lima, Ferreira Gullar and Clarice Lispector show less explicit reference to the tradition in their literary works. Popular musicians called upon the earlier storytelling tradition of cantoria de viola as inspiration for recorded albums like Ednardo’s 1973 “O romance do pavao misterioso,” the title track of which became the theme song for Dias Gomes’ 1976 novela (Brazilian soap opera) “Saramandaia.” Iconic films from the Cinema Novo movement like Glauber Rocha’s “Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol” (1964) or “O dragão da maldade contra o santo guerreiro” (1969), and Paulo Gil Soares' “Proezas de Satanás na Vila de Leva e Traz” (1967) relied on a mythology of the northeast that is often propagated by folhetos that tell the stories of heroic Brazilian rural bandits and religious figures like Lampião, Antônio Silvino, Padre Cícero and Frei Damião.
    In recent years many of Ariano Suassuna’s plays explicitly inspired by cordel, including “Auto da Compadecida” (1957), “A chegada de Lampião ao inferno (1966) and “A historia de Romeu e Julieta” (1996) have been successfully adapted for television shows or feature length films. In 2011 the television company Globo released a novela called “Cordel Encantado” which is centered on northeastern traditions and stories. Contemporary musicians like the multi-genre rock band Cordel do Fogo Encantado frequently cite cordel as lyric and musical inspiration. Furthermore, scholars in fields as diverse as media studies, ethnomusicology, communications, literature, history and cultural studies continue to explore the many the influences of literatura de cordel in 19th and 20th century Brazilian culture.
    Works Referenced
    Curran, Mark J. A Literatura de Cordel. Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife: 1973.
    _____. História do Brasil em Cordel. Editora Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo: 1998.
    _____. Retrato do Brasil em Cordel. Ateliê Editorial. Cotia, São Paulo: 2011.
    Melo, Rosilene Alves de. Arcanos do verso: trajetórias da Literatura de Cordel. 7 Letras. Rio de Janeiro: 2010.
    Peregrino, Umberto. Literatura de Cordel em Discussão. Presença. Rio de Janeiro: 1984.
    Slater, Candace. Stories on a String: the Brazilian Literatura de Cordel. University of California Press, Berkeley: 1983.

    Scope and Content

    Each of these pamphlets consists of 18, 16, 32 or 64 pages of 6 or 7 line stanzas printed on fourfold pages of newspaper weight paper that are often sold uncut. Typically 16 x 11 or 18 x 13 cm in size, many of the items are covered with pastel colored papers that frequently have a reprinted photo or woodblock engraving on the recto. The verso may include a photo of the author with his or her contact information along with advertisements for local and international companies.
    Not only do these poems tell traditional myths and stories of legendary cultural figures, dramatic love stories and socio-political history in poetic verse, but the physical objects also carry information about the process of writing, funding and publishing literatura de cordel. This collection was described at the item level to allow for increased discoverability and accessibility of information such as the titles and authors of each pamphlet. The covers have inventive hand-carved woodblock engravings and there are also items that include advertisements for both local and corporate businesses like Elma Chips, Itaytera Coffee and Coca Cola. Where possible item descriptions include the signed initials of the engravers and highlight which pamphlets display advertisements. Frequently authors write their names into the final stanzas of their poetry with an acrostic. Sometimes these are the only part of the pamphlets that identify the original author as the rights to these stories have changed hands multiple times. In some cases the authors and publishers also mark their own legal history by citing the laws that allow them to purchase and sell other people’s work. Wherever possible the item level descriptions highlight these acrostics and legal notes. Descriptions also include the names of individual and professional printers who produced the physical pamphlets. Frequently the author is also the publisher, but often relationships develop between engravers and authors like José Costa Leite and J. Barros and larger publishers like Casa das Crianças de Olinda.
    This collection represents the only collection of literatura de cordel in California and at 4500+ items it is among the largest currently held in the United States. It is also the largest collection in the country that is described in such detail at the item level. Researchers can search within the finding aid by using keywords such as “advertisements” or “acrostic.” They can also use the initials of illustrators, the acrostic signatures or names of certain authors, publishers and geographic locations to find specific items. Illustrators represented in this collection include José Costa Leite (JCL), José Estênio da Silva Diniz (Stênio), Joel Francisco Borges (JOEL), João Antônio de Barros (J.B., J. Barros, Jotabarros), José Francisco Borges (J.BORGES), Marcelo Soares (MS), Erivaldo Ferreira da Silva (ERIVALDO) and Abraão Bezerra Batista (ABB) among many others. Some of the oldest pamphlets in the collection include a series printed by Editora Guajarina in Belém, Pará which was founded in 1914. The vast majority of dated pamphlets were published after 1950, but the collection contains several that were printed in the early 1900s, among which are “A história de Julio Abel e Esmeraldina” by Francisco das Chagas Batista and “A morte do General Pinheiro Machado, A confissão do assassino” by José Soares. Several of the well known stories of cordel like “O Romance do pavão misterioso” or tales about figures like Padre Cícero and Lampião exist in multiple variations throughout the collection, with iterations that span most of the 20th century.
    The items in box 1 of this collection have individual catalog records. They can be found by searching the UCLA Library online catalog. Use the keywords “Chapbooks Brazilian Specimens.”

    Organization and Arrangement

    The topical content of each pamphlet varies considerably and, as scholars like Candace Slater and Mark J. Curran have pointed out, an exhaustive number of organizational systems have been developed to organize collections of literatura de cordel. Based on the contents of this particular collection and a variation of systems described by both scholars, these pamphlets have been arranged into four series that provide the user with an immediate and simple means of accessing material based on general subject matter in the first three series of Religious Stories, Love Stories and Profane Tales – and a fourth, genre series – Pelejas.
    • Series 1: Religious Stories, 1918-1995
    • Series 2: Love Stories, 1918-1995
    • Series 3: Profane Tales, 1918-1995
    • Series 4: Pelejas, 1918-1995
    The collection was partially sorted into these four series prior to processing. There is no arrangement scheme within each series. Each description transcribes the language exactly as printed, despite grammatical errors. Descriptions also include the initials that mark illustrations, but the full names of illustrators are not provided unless they appear on the item. In order to identify illustrators through their signatures or authors through their acrostics, please consult the glossary in Franklin, Jeová. Xilogravura popular na literatura de cordel. L.G.E. Editora, Brasília: 2007.
    Item level descriptions include the following information as it appears on each physical pamphlet:
    • Title: As it appears on cover page
    • Author: As it appears on cover page (Full Name when printed elsewhere)
    • Editor: Included when both an individual editor and publishing company are both listed
    • Illustrator: Signature or initials as they appear on the cover or elsewhere
    • Publisher: Name of individual publisher or printing company
    • Place: Location of Publisher (sometimes the location of the Author)
    • Other: Edition; Acrostic incorporated into the final stanza of the poem
    • Date: Most recent date as printed on pamphlet or an estimation based on knowledge about author, publisher or content. "1900s" and "after 1950" are descriptions used to differentiate between older and newer pamphlets when there are no visible dates or indicators on the items.

    Related Material

    Websites
    Books
    Campos, Alda Maria Siquiera. Literatura de Cordel e difusão de inovações. Editora Massangana. Recife: 1998.
    Curran, Mark J. A Literatura de Cordel. Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife: 1973.
    _____. História do Brasil em Cordel. Editora Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo: 1998.
    _____. Retrato do Brasil em Cordel. Ateliê Editorial. Cotia, São Paulo: 2011. Franklin, Jeová. Xilogravura popular na literatura de cordel. L.G.E. Editora, Brasília: 2007.
    Galvão, Ana Maria de. Cordel: leitores e ouvintes. A. Autêntica. Belo Horizonte: 2001.
    Haurélio, Marco. Antologia de Cordel brasileiro. Global Editora, São Paulo: 2012.
    Henrique, Klecius. José Dumont: do cordel às telas. Imprensa Oficial. São Paulo: 2005.
    Matos, Cláudia Neiva de Matos. A poesia popular na República das Letras: Sílvio Romero Folclorista. Editora UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro: 1994.
    McCann, Bryan. Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music and the Making of Modern Brazil. Duke University Press. 2004.
    Melo, Rosilene Alves de. Arcanos do verso: trajetórias da Literatura de Cordel. 7 Letras. Rio de Janeiro: 2010.
    Nobre, Francisco Silva. Dicionário brasileiro de Literatura de Cordel. Academia Brasileira de Literatura de Cordel, Rio de Janeiro: 2005.
    Peregrino, Umberto. Literatura de Cordel em Discussão. Presença. Rio de Janeiro: 1984.
    Santos, Olga de Jesus and Marilena Vianna. O negro na Literatura de Cordel. Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, Rio de Janeiro: 1989.
    Slater, Candace. Stories on a String: the Brazilian Literatura de Cordel. University of California Press, Berkeley: 1983.
    Souza, Magna Celi Meira de. Misticismo e fanatismo na Literatura de Cordel. Editora Universitária, João Pessoa: 1998.
    Existing Collections of Literatura de Cordel
    United States
    The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (9000+ items) Brazil Collection in the Archive of Folk Culture, Literatura de Cordel Brazilian Chapbook Collection Call Number: AFC 1970/002
    University of Wisconsin-Madison (1600 items) Literatura de Cordel Collection Call Number: PQ9660 L59
    Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at University of Texas, Austin (1000 items) Individual listed items in general catalog under search: “Chapbooks, Brazilian”
    Princeton (~1500 items) Brazilian Literatura de Cordel, Princeton University Library Latin American Collections
    Brown University (381 items) Literatura de Cordel Collection
    University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (1000+ items) Literature and Languages Library, Brazilian Cordel Literature
    Brazil
    Universidade Estadual da Paraíba Biblioteca (9900+ items) Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, Rio de Janeiro (9000 items) Centro Nacional de Folclore de Cultura Popular, Rio de Janeiro (7200 items) Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (2500 items catalogued) Acervo Maria Alice Amorim, Recife, Pernambuco (7300 items) Biblioteca Centra da Universidade Estadual de Londrina (4000+ items) Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB), Universidade de São Paulo (4000 items)
    Other
    Centre de Recherches Latino-Americaines, Universite de Pontiers, France (5000 items) Fonds Raymond Cantel de Littérature Populaire Brésilienne

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Chapbooks, Brazilian.