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Bumba-Meu-Boi, Brazil's richest, best-loved folk pageant, depicting the death and resurrection of an ox, its central figure. A slave, named Pai Francisco or Mateus, kills his owner's prize ox, in most versions at the request of his pregnant wife, Mãe Catarina, who craves ox tongue. Pai Francisco is captured, but because the bull is resuscitated he escapes punishment. The pageant includes drama, dance, pantomime, music, and song, the lyrics of which are composed annually and feature commentary on current events. Although the first performance was recorded in 1840 near Recife, Pernambuco, the pageant probably originated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on northeastern coastal plantations as a satirical adaptation of an Iberian folk tradition by African slaves. In the Northeast, where it is most expressive, it is known as bumba-meu-boi (Maranhão, Piauí), bumba or boi calemba (Pernambuco), três pedaços (Alagoas), boi, boi-surubi, or boi de car eta (Ceará), and boizinho (Bahia). Variants include boi-bumbá (Pará, Amazonas), boi de mamão or melão (Santa Catarina), boi de chita (Minas Gerais), and reis de boi (Rio de Janeiro).

The pageant is presented in most of Brazil from mid-November through Epiphany (6 January). In Maranhão and Pará, however, it appears during the June festivals (which honor saints John, Anthony, Peter, and Marsalius), often as a personal religious obligation. Bumba-meu-boi in Maranhão reaches heights unmatched elsewhere. African, indigenous, and, more recently, European styles of performance have evolved, each with its distinctive choreography, music, instruments, story-line variations, and apparel. The velvet, hand-beaded ox costumes and massive beaded, feathered, and ribboned hats worn by the performers rival those of Carnival in Rio.

See alsoCarnival; MPB: Música Popular Brasileira.


Luís Da Câmara Cascudo, Dicionário do folclore Brasileiro, 3d ed. (1972).

Américo Azevedo Neto, Bumba-meu-boi no Maranhão (1983).

Jomar Da Silva Moraes, "Feasts and Festivals: Maranhão's Bumba-Meu-Bullfest!" in Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce Annual Report 1990 (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Farias, Julio Cesar. De Parintins para o mundo ouvir: Na cadência das toadas dos bois-bumbás Caprichoso e Garantido. Rio de Janeiro: Litteris, 2005.

Mukuna, Kazadi wa. An Interdisciplinary Study of the Ox and the Slave (Bumba-meu-Boi): A Satirical Music Drama in Brazil. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 2003.

Murphy, John P. Music in Brazil: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

                             Gayle Waggoner Lopes