Literatura de Cordel or Cordel Literature, perfectly named as they are small pamphlet books displayed traditionally on strings (cordel is Portuguese for string) is part of Brasil’s rich literary tradition. Found mainly in the North East of the country it is a literary tradition which is delightfully accessible and unpretentious and has a simple and direct approach to story telling.
The stories in these small booklets are short and concise and cover just about every genre and style available in literature generally. Told in poetry they are generally composed by unschooled poets who are considered to have the ‘gift of poetry’. Printed in 8, 16 or 32 pages they are photocopied and staple bound and then sold around the country-fairs, towns and cities of the North East of the country.
There are no subjects that are out of bounds and poetry, fantasy, romance, political tracts, everyday advice and historical fiction all appear in this accessible and highly affordable medium.
Much of the canon of Cordel literature celebrates the lives of the infamous Lampiao (Virgulino Ferreira da Silva) and Maria Bonita (Maria Déia,) who roamed the sertao with their gang. When they were caught and killed in 1938 their heads were taken on tour of the regions cities and towns to ensure that the population of the backlands believed that this Robin Hood figure and his beautiful girlfriend had indeed been vanquished.
Cordel literature can still be found in the Northeastern Brazilian states, and the diversity and complexity and sheer brilliance of their design and subject matter are a joy to behold.