Highlights of Musical

About the works

The Coming Decline of Frevo

Tambourine Playing in Brazil

The African Influence in Brazilian Music

Frevo Steps and Music

Art and Artists

In Terms of Music from São Paulo

A Mistaken Analysis of a Brazilian Rhythm

Scales in Brazilian Folk Music

The Indians of Petrópolis

Índios or Cabôcos of Petrópolis

Notes on Playing Marbles

Variations on the Boi

Variations on the Baião

Variations on the Maxixe






São Paulo, 1953.

Articles published in A Gazeta on three consecutive Saturdays, September 30 and October 7 and 14, 1961.


        It seems that playing marbles is a favorite children’s pastime throughout Brazil. At least in Pernambuco you could say all well-bred circles play it – although I haven’t had the good fortune of seeing it there myself. Like cirandinha, amarelinha (hopscotch), papagaio and baião, marbles is one of our most common games. There is not a Brazilian boy alive who hasn’t gotten into a fight over it, or a man who isn’t proud of his own childhood fervor over the delectable game.

        In Petrópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, like in some other places, the game is called jogo de bola-de-gude. As many can participate as want to, even playing in partners where adversaries take turns, each with one marble. The playing field is the ground, in which is made a whole called the búlica. Could that be an altered form of “bula” in the sense of “ability”? Possibly, since once he reaches it a player can better attack his adversary.

        The game really starts once you’ve entered the búlica. No participant can kill another’s marble without first having reached the búlica. Players position themselves at a pre-established distance from the búlica, usually five meters. You’re lucky if you get to go last, because if the first player gets a good position, one his opponents will have trouble reaching, they won’t shoot their marbles toward the hole.

        Rather they will keep them back where they are, five meters from the búlica. Whoever tries to kill one or more of the opponents’ marbles will do so from that distance. But the first one may choose to stay close to the hole, where a bad play or bad luck may cause another player’s marbles to land close by. With this set-up it wouldn’t be hard for the first player to kill those marbles – especially since, if positions are favorable, successive kills could help eliminate dangerous distances between marbles. Each failed play gives the player closest to the búlica a chance to set himself up.

        Note that killing a marble means that a player intentionally hits it out of its place. In other words, the player must use his own marble to move the other player’s marble. The word has the same meaning in São Paulo and in Pernambuco. To kill more than one marble in just one play – when there are more than two marbles in play of course – is considered an error.

        This makes it tricky for the player whose turn it is to kill just one marble in a very narrow place. Moreover, he’s better off not hitting his marble too hard so he doesn’t end up too far away for the play he gets after killing that other marble. Carambola – or carambolar – is the effect when a marble hits another one several times in a row in just one shot. It may not count at all, but if the partners agree, the shot can be cancelled and another one given. Note that partida is the start or restart of each “inning” of the game. When it’s a short distance requiring a very gentle kill – because of conditions like the position of the marbles, the Búlica, walls or large rocks – the player can ask for a “palmo”: a hand’s width of distance that allows him to play his marble from closer to his opponent’s. Returning to the búlica during the game is a valid recourse for positioning a marble closer to another. If the opponent contests this, he says: - “Não dou Búlica” (“I don’t allow Búlica”).

        If the marble positions may jeopardize a certain play, the player may request “Muda” (move), which allows him to move one of his or his partner’s marbles. A player requests “Muda para mim” (move for me) to move his own marble, and “Muda para você” (move for you) to move the marble his will hit, also avoiding a set-up where he could be killed by an opponent’s play. If the marble to be hit is between dangerous rocks, which may not let the opponent’s marble hit firmly and force it to hit only lightly, its owner may exclaim: “Feriu, não matou” “Wounded, not killed.” When the player is afraid he will hit the marble without killing the other and end up with awkward positioning, the other can make him proceed with: “Obrigo o avanço” (You have to advance). Then it’s up to aim or luck...

        If a player sneakily tosses his marble and another player catches him, the latter can demand: “Sem impulse” (no impulse), so the player must shoot with only the strength of his fingers. Actually, good players don’t toss anyway, so this doesn’t pressure them.

        These small but important game details have their flip sides too. A player can request “Palmo” (hand’s width), but the other can deny it before he asks: “Não dou palmo” (I don’t allow hand’s width) or “Não tem palmo” (no hand’s width). Likewise, with regards to tossing: “Não dou impulso” (I don’t allow impulse) or “Não tem impulse” (no impulse). This applies to the other cases as well: “Não dou muda” (I don’t allow a move) or “Não tem muda” (no move); “Carambolou, morreu” (carambola, dead); “Carambolou, não morreu” (carambola, not dead); “Carambolou, suspende o jogo” (carambola, suspend the play). Killing more than one marble in a shot is against the rules, unless the player calls out in time: “Matou duas, morreu” (Two killed, dead), meaning he killed both and both died. Only rarely are more than two marbles killed in one play, a stroke of amazing luck...

        If the marbles’ positions make a play too hard, instead of shooting the player can set up his marble for defense and attack by moving it, sometimes just barely. With this he says: “Estou” (I am). The other player must play, and if his marble lands in a dangerous position, he says it too: “Estou” (I am). This means: I am in the same place. I pass my turn. Continuing this they put off their plays, anticipating plays and firing off: “Estou. Está, deixa” (I am. You are. Leave it). With this they change positions little by little to get away from the troublesome walls or stones. But so often this just doesn’t work!... Usually they play for marbles, meaning that each point, each kill, means a player wins a marble. But they can play for money, movie star figurines, cigarettes - anything the boys might buy or have, including school snacks… especially if they have marmalade!


        As for wanting to go last when they first shoot toward the Búlica, it is curious to note some terms that give whoever calls them the right to shoot last toward the Búlica, from five meters away. The one who wants it – to go last – must be clever or experienced enough to remember to shout loud and clear: “Último” (last). However, the opponent also has the right to respond: “Marráio,” which gives him the right to play after the one who called “Last.”

        The first and third player can use yet another recourse, which is to say: “Cabide.” This ensures him the supreme right to go last, after those who called “último” and “marráio.

        Marráio seems to be a corruption of marralho, from the verb marralhar, which means to insist. The player insists on being the last to shoot toward the Búlica. They should actually say “Marralho” (I insist) or “eu marralho” (I insist). The term Marráio is also common in Barra Mansa, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

        Cabide may be a distortion of cabida, in the sense of acceptance. A player asks the other or others to read “accepted,” letting him play after the “último” and the “marráio”....

        True sportsmen play with marbles of uniform size and weight. Less trustworthy players may use marbles of different weights and sizes, although sometimes these differ just because that’s what a player has; he’s not necessarily shady. Players in Petrópolis value marbles made with fruit pits: coco-de-catarro, caroço da macaiba [“acocomia sclerocarp,” Mart.], also known as macaúba, macajá and bocaiúva. The marble is small and light. It is harder for other marbles to hit because it is so small, and it is easy to hit further because it is so light. These characteristics facilitate technique and lots of tricks....

There is one glass marble, average sized and colorful, that is a favorite among players; it has three or more different colors in wavy designs. This coveted marble has the curious name of Olho-de-boi (bull’s eye).