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
VARIATIONS ON THE BOI
O Tempo – São Paulo,
November 14, 1954.
The ox is one of
the most prominent animals in Brazilian folklore. It appears in
many of our stories and in the music of the people, where its importance
is keenly evident. Examples are plentiful, from the baiões
of the drama and celebration called Bumba-meu-boi,
to the romances, to the <aching> elegies the
cowherd sings when missing the ox he befriended. Here is where we
begin, with these human, sometimes very dramatic, lullabies. We’ll
take one at a time.
comes from <abôiar>, to herd the cattle while keeping
them docile and orderly. By extension the term abôio
also designates the cowherds’ singing while they conduct the cattle
from place to place, permeating their work with beauty. It is found
in many countries and is widespread in Brazil. Indications are that
we inherited it from Portugal, where it is still practiced in Minho.
Yet although many of our most common versions of the abôio
suggest their Portuguese origins, their melodic features show they
have evolved since coming to Brazil.
You rarely hear
the abôio in cities with more modern ways of life,
although you may hear it in the Pernambuco capital when the tangirim
[tangedor] passes with the cattle going to the slaughterhouse
in the Peixinhos neighborhood. His song, which consists of the single
syllable <Ei>, has a fairly developed melody.
When the moving
cattle become startled and begin to disperse, it is called an engalhe,
actually meaning encalhe (halt), obstacle or hindrance. Some
of the oxen stop; others back up. The tangirim reestablishes
order by guiding the dispersed ones back into the main group, while
calling sounds that move up the scale [whether or not he does so
intentionally] without losing rhythmic constancy: <Ôda!...Ou!...>
- syllables he can use in any order.
– a song also called grito, perhaps due to the influence
of the Coco – has just a few words which are repeated frequently.
This Pernambuco herding is an example; it is sung in Vila Bela and,
by the way, is similar to many others that have already been published:
<Ei-lá, meu boi!...>
On the ranches
in rural Pernambuco, the abôio is not limited to a
few syllables. Rather, the cowherd [note it is the cowherd and not
the tangirim] includes verses made up while herding. Because
he can’t or doesn’t want to improvise them, the cowherd introduces
traditional stanzas, like in Portugal. A cowherd singing the abôio
above included the following stanza, well known in Brazil, simply
adding the expression <meu boi> at the end:
<Por detrás da
Passa boi, passa boiada,
Também passa a moreninha
Dos cabelos cacheado.
Behind the mountains
The oxen go, the cattle
And the girl with the
The curly hair, goes
This type of abôio
is extremely common in the forests and rural areas of Pernambuco.
Each cowherd in the region may have his own abôio,
or he may adopt one he heard and liked, which is also not uncommon.
Customs in the
deep sertão (backlands), however, are different. But moving
on, we must remember what Luís da Câmara Cascudo said when describing
the expansiveness of the great ranches. The scholar wrote that it
took dozens and dozens of cowherds weeks to herd the cattle scattered
throughout the mountains and plains. He added that the cattle were
raised together in common fields [<Vaqueiros e Cantadores>,
On the large ranches
in the deep backlands of Pernambuco, the abôios are
traditional and have the unique characteristic of being a sort of
sound brand in the territory where they are sung; like the land,
the abôio is the rancher’s property.... This is precisely
because there are no fences, so the cattle need to answer to a certain
abôio so they do not mix with another rancher’s cattle.
The oxen on these massive ranches may not see a soul for weeks or
months, so when they are trained to just one abôio,
they respond only to it. Often ranchers own two or more ranches
and must move cattle from one to another for economic reasons. This
exchange is easy since his different cowherds sing the same abôio.
This would never happen in states like Sergipe, Alagoas, Paraíba
and Rio Grande do Norte, but only in states that stretch deep into
the backlands, like Bahia, Pernambuco, Piauí, Maranhão and others.
When a cowherd
is raised on one ranch, he develops affection for the cattle he
normally herds. One of the oxen usually wins his special, almost
fraternal, affection and becomes like family. When the rancher sends
it for slaughter, the cowherd eats its meat, cannot sleep, spends
weeks agonizing over it and even cries. Some cowherds have this
great sensibility, while in contrast others take sadistic pleasure
in seeing them suffer.
His loss is just
as painful if the ox is sent to slaughter or traded with another
owner. From these sentimental crises ballads are born that are both
sad and intensely dramatic. I noted one such poem:
<Êi, vendêro o
O boi qu’eu
Que quando eu chamava
O garoto não pastava.
Êi, meu boi! Ê, meu
Êi, meu boi!
Vorta cá, meu boizinho!
Êi, meu boi!...>
the creole ox,
The ox I cared for,
When I called the ox
The boy did not graze.
ox! Ê, my little ox!
Come back, my little
Whenever a cowherd is lost to death or anything
else, his replacement must learn the ranch’s characteristic abôio
and sing it exactly like the former cowherd. Often this falls to
another cowherd on the same ranch, who already knows the song well.
But if the new cowboy cannot or does not imitate well, he may incur
the wrath of the cattle: When they hear the unfamiliar call they
may think he is an intruder and take [revenge] [?] at the first
Cowherds that I
met in Sanharó, Pernambuco confirmed this information; these had
moved from the backlands to the coast. They added that this occurs
on ranches far from busy roadways.
Oxen that travel
by rail may have to endure much suffering: As the train jolts when
it pulls out from its many stops they may bang against each other
and break their horns. Worse yet, the horns of neighboring oxen
sometimes poke their eyes out. Based on this common story, cowherds
developed a <curse> for people they don’t like: - <May
God cause so-and-so to suffer like a loaded ox!>
Earlier I mentioned
oxen that reject new cowherds that don’t sing properly, but they
also react to new cattle sent to graze in their fields. This is
not because they are fierce, but because they don’t want the new
ones to take their place in the corral. That’s why they fight. They
fight, but they cry because they have to do it. But soon they forget
about it and <do not hold grudges> once they see there is
thing is the oxen’s sense of pending death when they take a different
path and are conducted differently. They begin to smell the blood
of other oxen a kilometer away from the slaughterhouse, if the slaughter
yard is not cemented of course. Sure of their fate they cry. Moan.
The tangerim must stay away once they are fenced in,
because the oxen, feeling like <victims>, will not hesitate
to settle the score with the traitor.