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Beberibe (river and neighbourhood, Recife)

The current districts of Agua Fria, Fundão and Cajueiro were born from Beberibe, today the latter has a bipartite administrative division between the cities of Olinda and Recife. In the period 1816 to 1817, a chronicler said of the place:

Beberibe (river and neighbourhood, Recife)

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 12/12/2016

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

In the Tupi language, the syllable “ja” used to appear at the beginning of words. Over time, it began to disappear, as jamandakuru became mandakaru, and the word jabebyra in the placename Jabebyrype evolved into Bebyrype and then into Beberibe. However, there is some controversy as to the meaning of that word. Some consider it to be “where the cane grows”; others claim that the name comes from tupi Iabebier-y, which means “river of rays and flatfish”; and others point out that the name comes from bebé and ribe, which mean “flying in flocks”, referring to the birds that gather on the banks of the river. As can be seen, the term has undergone various transformations, but for the past few centuries, the name used has been Beberibe.

The Beberibe River begins in the Camaragibe municipality at the confluence of the Pacas and Aracá Rivers, and is 23.7 kilometres in length. Its drainage basin measures 81 km2 and includes parts of the following municipalities: Recife (65%), Olinda (21%) and Camaragibe (14%). Due to the lack of sanitation in parts of Olinda and Recife, as well as the urban occupation around its banks, the river is considered one of the most polluted in the state. Over its journey, however, it receives the waters of the following tributaries: Pimenteiras, Secca, Marmajudo, Dois Unidos, Água Fria, Assador de Varas or Chã de Piabas, Beringué or Roncador, Quimbuca, Tapa d’Água or Coelhas, Lava-Tripas, and the Beberibe-mirim or Morno. Today, among its main tributaries are the Malaria Canal, Euclides Stream and the Vasco da Gama Canal.

The Beberibe River passes through the north of Recife city, mingling with the waters of the Capibaribe river that come from the south. The Capibaribe springs from a small waterhole, situated between the cities of São Lourenço and Olinda, in the forests of the former Timbó and Massiape plantations at a place called Cabeça de Cavalo. From there it receives waters from other streams and slopes.

The Beberibe valley is very narrow, passing through low-lying land and marshlands from its source to the eponymous suburb. That is why the land alongside it – formed by ferruginous and massapê clay – becomes inundated after a flood occurs.

At the beginning of colonisation, the Beberibe River flowed through the Ferraz, Pimenteiras, Passarinho, Beringué, Quimbuca and other properties, passed through the city of Olinda, on to the Cumbe, the settlements of Beberibe, Porto Madeira, Coqueiro, Sítio dos Craveiros, Fundão, Salgueiro and Peixinho, continued along the isthmus of Olinda, between the neighbourhoods of Santo Amaro das Salinas and São Frei Pedro Gonçalves, meeting the Capibaribe at the southern tip of Santo Antônio Island. Today more than 500 thousand people live in the Beberibe Basin.

Where the Beberibe and Capibaribe rivers converge, near the end of Rua da Aurora, there is a manor house built by Mamede Ferreira. These two great rivers today pass under two bridges – Buarque de Macedo and Sete de Setembro, today known as Maurício de Nassau – and flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Inaugurated on 30 July 1966 and passing over the Beberibe River, the Limoeiro bridge connects Fort Brum to the Santo Amaro neighbourhood.

One of the oldest places in Recife, dating back to the mid-16th century, was also named Beberibe because the river flowed through it. At that time, the sugarcane culture flourished in Pernambuco. History records that when Diogo Gonçalves, auditor of the Captaincy, wedded Isabel Frois – an important courtier who was protected by Queen Catarina, wife of John III, who had came from Portugal in 1535 – received as a wedding dowry an extensive property covering areas of the current neighbourhoods of Casa Forte, Várzea and Beberibe.

The auditor of the Captaincy began immediately to organise his fiefdom. As the seat of the property, he chose the lands of Casa Forte on the right bank of the Beberibe River, built a large mill, a villa house, a factory and a chapel; and in Várzea he raised another mill, which he named Santo Antônio da Várzea.

These lands were passed on to Leonardo Frois, the couple’s heir, and then sold to a settler: Antônio de Sá. In 1637, the property was confiscated from him by the Dutch, who sold it to Duarte Saraiva, with the name of Engenho Eenkalchoven, for ten thousand florins.

Dutch painters, members of Count Maurice of Nassau’s humanities committee, were able to record the beauty of the place; and these paintings were offered to King Louis XV of France, containing an inscription where the Beberibe River was cited as Bibaribe.

La riviére se nomme Bibaribe; de delá c’est um moulin à sucre avec la demeure du seigneur, et plus haut la chapelle.

[The river is called Bibaribe; and there is a sugar mill with the Lord’s manor, and above it the chapel.]

When the Dutch were expelled from Pernambuco, Antônio de Sá’s heirs claimed their rights of ownership, which were granted by the Portuguese authorities, so the lands passed then to the hands of José de Sá e Albuquerque. No longer concerned with the sugar industry, as noted in documents of the time, José transformed the property into Beberibe Farm, utilising the wood from his forest to make charcoal. It is worth mentioning that the wood was transported by barges descending the Beberibe River to the city of Olinda where, in its neighbourhoods, the charcoal was produced.

Handed down from heir to heir, aspects of the former sugar feudalism were disappearing. In the mid-18th century, the property began to be negotiated through separate plots of land, which continued to focus on the charcoal industry, the mills and the chapel disappeared, and a settlement emerged that basically cultivated beans, some tubers and manufactured cassava flour.

In 1767, construction was completed of a religious temple under the invocation of Nossa Senhora da Conceição do Beberibe [Our Lady of the Conception of Beberibe]. In the main chapel (still existing), master carver Simão dos Santos Pereira notched one of his finest works in 1780.

In the early 19th century, a road connecting Encruzilhada de Belém to Beberibe opened. Practically half a century later (in 1865) came railroad lines linking Recife and Olinda. Electric trams, however, were only available in 1922.

With regard to historical data, in the town of Beberibe, Pernambuco liberals raised their arms against the Captain-General Luís do Rego Barreto and set up the Movement’s headquarters. In October 1821, the famous “Beberibe Convention” was signed in the woods nearby, putting an end to the term of the last Portuguese governor.

Also in Beberibe, November 1848 saw a great struggle between the members of Praieira Revolution and the forces of Tosta. Despite its importance, only on 2 May 1879 was the locality elevated to the category of parish and dismembered from the See of Olinda.

The current districts of Agua Fria, Fundão and Cajueiro were born from Beberibe, today the latter has a bipartite administrative division between the cities of Olinda and Recife. In the period 1816 to 1817, a chronicler said of the place:

Leaving Recife one passes through the village of Beberibe, located on the river of the same name, adorned with beautiful villas; and it is where they wash most of the clothing of Recife, which has a shortage of fresh water.

In the 21st century, the problem has only worsened: the waters of the Beberibe River are extremely polluted, being unfit even for washing clothes; and, incredible as it may seem, nearly two hundred years after the writings of that chronicler, fresh water is still lacking in the cities of Recife and Olinda and in most municipalities in the state of Pernambuco.


Recife, 24 July 2003.
(Updated on 11 June 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, July 2016.

sources consulted

CAVALCANTI, Carlos Bezerra. O Recife e seus bairros. Recife: Câmara Municipal do Recife, 1998.

COMPESA, Secretaria de Recursos Hídricos. Seminário discute revitalização do Beberibe. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em 11 jun. 2008.

FRANCA, Rubem. Monumentos do Recife: estátuas e bustos, igrejas e prédios, lápides, placas e inscrições históricas do Recife. Recife: Secretaria de Educação e Cultura, 1977.

GALVÃO, Sebastião de Vasconcellos. Diccionario chorografico, histórico e estatístico de Pernambuco. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional, 1908. 4v.

GUERRA, Flávio. Velhas igrejas e subúrbios históricos. Recife: Fundação Guararapes, 1970.

how to quote this text

Source:  VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Beberibe (rio e bairro, Recife). Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.