Brazilian folk literature has long been a focus of curators in UNM’s Latin American Collections, and our collection Literatura de Cordel continues to expand. “Love in the Archives” is the title of a popup exhibit to be held on February 14, 2019, in the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections. While thinking about materials for this event, yet another shipment of of these poetic folhetos happened across my desk, and it included a piece on Brazil’s favorite outlaw couple, Maria Bonita and Lampião.
Lampião (Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, 1897-1938) was a notorious bandit (cangaceiro) active in the 1920s and 1930 in Brazil’s hardscrabble Northeast. His reputation as a folk hero is somewhere between those of Pancho Villa, Billy the Kid, and Robin Hood. His relationship with Maria Bonita is romanticized with the same flavor as fans in the US view the violent and dramatic exploits of Bonnie and Clyde.
Maria Bonita (Maria Déia, 1911-1938) joined the band in 1930 and became Lampião’s common-law wife, although she was married but estranged from her husband. Cangaceiro women were well-armed and were trained in the use of weapons. Females whose partners were killed had to either take up with another band member or face execution, as they were considered a liability if captured. Several women joined the band and participated over the years. Another couple who are the subject of legend a lesser degree were Dadá (Sérgia Ribeira da Silva, 1915-1994) and Corisco (Cristino Gomes da Silva, 1907-1940).
(“Corisco was not bad”, says ex-bandit Dadá, his widow, in an interview.)
Lampião, Maria Bonita, along with 9 others of the band died via betrayal and ambush in 1938. As a grisly show of power, the paramilitary police displayed their severed heads to the public. Their complete remains were not released to family and buried until 1969.
Many folhetos featuring cangaceiros are held in the CSWR Special Collections. Footage of daily life in the cangaceiro camp can be viewed at https://youtu.be/j2JNhBaFNXs
Great post Wendy! Love on the edge.