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






O Tempo So 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 baies 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. Well take one at a time.

        <Abio> comes from <abiar>, to herd the cattle while keeping them docile and orderly. By extension the term abio 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 abio suggest their Portuguese origins, their melodic features show they have evolved since coming to Brazil.

        You rarely hear the abio 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: <da!...Ou!...> - syllables he can use in any order.

        The abio 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-l, meu boi!...>

        On the ranches in rural Pernambuco, the abio 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 cant or doesnt want to improvise them, the cowherd introduces traditional stanzas, like in Portugal. A cowherd singing the abio above included the following stanza, well known in Brazil, simply adding the expression <meu boi> at the end:

<Por detrs da serra

Passa boi, passa boiada,

Tambm passa a moreninha

Dos cabelos cacheado.

Meu boi!...>

Behind the mountains

The oxen go, the cattle go,

And the girl with the brown hair,

The curly hair, goes also.

Oh, oxen!...

        This type of abio is extremely common in the forests and rural areas of Pernambuco. Each cowherd in the region may have his own abio, or he may adopt one he heard and liked, which is also not uncommon.

        Customs in the deep serto (backlands), however, are different. But moving on, we must remember what Lus da Cmara 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>, p. 72].

        On the large ranches in the deep backlands of Pernambuco, the abios 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 abio is the ranchers property.... This is precisely because there are no fences, so the cattle need to answer to a certain abio so they do not mix with another ranchers cattle. The oxen on these massive ranches may not see a soul for weeks or months, so when they are trained to just one abio, 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 abio. This would never happen in states like Sergipe, Alagoas, Paraba and Rio Grande do Norte, but only in states that stretch deep into the backlands, like Bahia, Pernambuco, Piau, Maranho 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:


<i, vendro o boi crilo,

O boi queu estimava,

Que quando eu chamava o boi

O garoto no pastava.

i, meu boi! , meu boizinho!

i, meu boi!

Vorta c, meu boizinho!

i, meu boi!...>

<i, vendor, the creole ox,

The ox I cared for,

When I called the ox

The boy did not graze.

i, my ox! , my little ox!

i, my ox!

Come back, my little ox!

i, my ox!...>

   Whenever a cowherd is lost to death or anything else, his replacement must learn the ranchs characteristic abio 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 opportunity.

        Cowherds that I met in Sanhar, 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 dont like: - <May God cause so-and-so to suffer like a loaded ox!>

        Earlier I mentioned oxen that reject new cowherds that dont 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 dont want the new ones to take their place in the corral. Thats 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 no competition.

        Another curious thing is the oxens 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.