Cordel Literature: what it is, history and curiosities

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"I come from a land where the people suffer

But does not fade and seeks to win.

From the dear land, where the beautiful cabocla

With laughter in her mouth mocks in her suffering

I don't deny my blood, I don't deny my name

I look at the hunger, I ask what's wrong?

I'm Brazilian, son of the Northeast,

I am an intrepid and resilient guy, I'm from Ceará."

Sou Cabra da Peste (Patativa do Assaré)


The excerpt you just read is by the cordelist Patativa do Assaré, the author of one of the most celebrated works in Cordel Literature. On August 1st, we celebrate the National Cordel Day, a literary style that received the title of Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2018. Let's learn more about this literary style that is so rich and important to Brazilian culture.



Cordel Literature is a popular literary genre, often written in a rhyming fashion, spawned from oral accounts and then printed in brochures. Cordel literature became popular in Brazil in the North and Northeast regions and is now widespread throughout the national territory. Published in printed small brochures, the word “cordel" comes from the fact that they are presented hanging on ropes - or “cordel", in Portuguese.

In addition to being a literary genre, cordel was a vehicle of communication and job, ensuring the income source for many cordelists. Popularized in the 19th century, it became a form of expression of Brazilian culture, bringing contributions from African, indigenous, European and Arab cultures, singing oral traditions, prose and poetry. 

Modern cordel poets define cordel as a literary genre with three main elements: a metric, a rime and the prayer. These elements, associated with woodcuts, which are the illustrations of the stories stamped on the covers of the booklets, form cordel literature. 



Contrary to what many people think, cordel was not created in Brazil. The style already existed in the period of the Greco-Roman, Phoenician, Carthaginian and Saxon peoples. It arrived in Portugal and Spain around the 16th century. In Brazil, he arrived with the colonizers, settling in Bahia, more precisely in Salvador, which at the time was the Brazilian capital.

Studies point to 1893 as the milestone of cordel literature, when Leandro Gomes de Barros, from Paraíba, would have published the first verses in the country. The brochures, in which short texts and poems were inserted, were called "cordel brochures". These brochures were always sold hand in hand and at low cost.

"The cordel brochure and popular shows like 'the warrior play' or 'seahorses' are precious sources for artists dreaming of joining a language more attached to the roots of Brazilian culture. The fact is that, as a whole, all these things represent a cultural space created by our own people and in which, for this very reason, they express themselves without any impositions or deformations coming from outside or from above", wrote writer Ariano Suassuna in 1999, for whom the "immense majority of the poor people of real Brazil" is the only part of the population "truly authorized to create a Brazilian popular art".



In the beginning of the 20th century, in a society with few means of communication available, cordel proliferated across several states in the Northeast. However, from the beginning of the publication of the brochures until the 1970s, cordelist women were still invisible: despite being the subject of so many cordel works, it was not common for women cordelists to publish officially.

In 2020, Izabel Nascimento, from Sergipe, gave a lecture at the 3rd Meeting of Cordelists of Paraíba, talking about the theme "Cordel as a Social Transformation Tool". Izabel made a historical cut to denounce the strong trait of machismo in this literary genre. Her purpose was to envisage changes in a poetry that still does not recognize, value, or respect the role and the prominence of cordelist women This was the first time that a group of women got together to organize a movement to denounce and confront machismo in cordel.

Thus, the #cordelsemmachismo campaign was born, currently formed by a group called the Movement of Cordelist Women Against Machismo.


Given its cultural and historical value, the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) granted cordel literature, in September 2018, the title of Brazilian Intangible Cultural Heritage, being heightened to cultural good of intangible nature, recognized by its symbolic value and its representativeness in Brazilian popular culture.

Neoenergia Institute, engaged in actions to encourage culture, established an unprecedented partnership with the BNDES (National Bank for Social Economic Development) and 4 other companies to encourage the restoration and revitalization of tangible and intangible heritage and memorial collections throughout the country.

Named "Rescuing History ", the program will have investments of 200 million Brazilian reais, whereby a part will be provided by the BNDES Cultural Fund, with resources from the Federal Law of Incentive to Culture. "Rescuing History" aims to be the largest program for the preservation of historical heritage in Brazil, bringing together resources from public and private initiatives.

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