Mamulengo is the name given to the theatre of dolls, also known as marionettes and puppets, which, like pastoril, bumba-meu-boi and fandango, is one of the richest popular spectacles of Northeast Brazil. It is a dramatic representation through dolls on a small elevated stage covered by a curtain, behind which are the people who give the life and voices to the characters. According to its nature, the dolls can be hand, stick, metal stick or string:
hand – a doll with a wooden, plaster or cardboard head wearing a long cloth dress whose movements are produced by the hand (index finger placed in the head and thumb and middle finger in the arms);
stick – a doll made of wood or other material, articulated and moved by sticks;
metal stick – the dolls are suspended from their heads by a metal stick held by the puppeteer, they also can have wires in their hands and legs;
wire – the dolls are connected by strings to a wooden control that allows the manipulator to move them.
The puppets are known by many names in different regions of Brazil: Briguela or João Minhoca, in Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo; João Redondo, in Rio Grande do Norte; Mané Gostoso, in Bahia; Babau, in Paraíba and in some places in the forest zone of Pernambuco and also Benedito, in other parts of the State.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church used puppetry to spread religious spirit, creating a form of presentation that was also called ‘Presépio’.
The “stories” are generally improvised with dialogue invented on the spot, according to the circumstances and the reaction of the public, mixing animals – snakes, bulls, dogs, leopards – people – cowboys, landowners, bandits – and supernatural entities such as the Devil, the Soul and Death. The mamulengo characters are usually called Benedito (Benedict), Cabo 70 (Corporal 70), Professor Tiridá, João Rodondo (Round John) and are mainly black, with almost always a white villain.
Pernambuco is the only state where the history of mamulengo development in Brazil can be learned. There are several famous ‘mamulengueiros’ or ‘titereiros’ (those who perform it) in the State like Doutor Babau, Cheiroso (‘Nice Smell’, because he also makes cheap perfumes besides dolls), Mestre Ginú, and others.
Recife, 18 July 2003.
(Updated on 16 September 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
Ilustration by Rosinha
BORBA FILHO, Hermilo. Fisionomia e espírito do mamulengo: o teatro popular do Nordeste. São Paulo : Companhia Editora Nacional; Edusp, 1966. (Brasiliana, v.332).
REIS, João Santiago dos. Folclore. Recife: Prefeitura da Cidade do Recife, 1983. p.7-8. Mimeografado
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Source: Gaspar, Lúcia. Mamulengo Puppetry. Pesquisa Escolar On Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.