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Rabeca (Fiddle)

The Rabeca (fiddle) is a musical instrument of Arab origin, precursor of the violin, of popular making, which sounds by friction and is played with a bow, and originally has the body in the shape of a pear where three or four strings are placed.

Rabeca (Fiddle)

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Last update: 24/05/2022

By: Virgina Barbosa - Librarian at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco - Specialist in Librarianship and History

The Rabeca (fiddle) is a musical instrument of Arab origin, precursor of the violin, of popular making, which sounds by friction and is played with a bow, and originally has the body in the shape of a pear where three or four strings are placed. It became popular in the Iberian Peninsula during the Moorish invasion and was probably brought to Brazil even at the time of Portuguese colonization. According to Calmon (1982, p. 22, emphasis added), there is reference to the instrument at the popular party held at the time of the marriage of the Princess of Brazil (D. Maria) to her uncle D. Pedro, in Bahia, in 1760:

On the eleventh day the shoemakers and corrieiros [people who manufacture or sell belts or other products that use leather as raw material] made their demonstration in a dance of rich and showy farce, which in no way yielded to that of the tailors, and they spoke through the streets to the sound of several rebecas [or rabecas] unduly touched.

The fiddle is regarded by many as an unfinished violin. Most fiddle players deny this statement on the grounds that each has its own potential and that the fiddle is another instrument. The first violins were made in Italy between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century. Basically, its characteristics were those of the fiddle, which had been used intensely by medieval minstrels. However, the violin, built with more precise technique and tools and perfect finish – producing the cleanest timbre and richest performance in musical resources –, caught the attention of the nobility. From then on, the fiddle had no more room in noble society. It continued to be made by the less favored population, with few material resources, by rustic handicraft processes, and became the musical instrument of the poor. It was with this connotation that the rabeca arrived in Brazil. Probably, for this reason, Mário de Andrade, in his Brazilian Musical Dictionary says: “Rabeca is what men of the people in Brazil call the violin”.

Before, it was restricted to popular and religious festivals; today, the instrument can be found practically throughout Brazil: in the fandangos of Paraná, in the boi de reis and cavalos-marinhos of the northeastern forest zone, in the revelries of Reis de Minas Gerais, in the caiçara music of the coast of São Paulo, in the reisados and dances of São Gonçalo throughout the Northeast, in communities of Guarani indigenous peoples in São Paulo and in Rio Grande do Sul, in the marujada on the coast of Paraná.

There is no standard in its construction process, whether in the material used, shape, size, number of strings or tuning. The number of strings, for example, varies from three to six and the way of playing changes according to the region. The material used is also diversified: gourd or bamboo wood, hose, cashew, genipap, cashier, turned pine, mandacaru woods. Thus, a fiddle, even if built by the same person, will not produce the same sound as another.

Learning to play the instrument is a process that requires intuition and method. There's no such thing as a 'playbook'. Observing and living, if possible, with veterans, helps a lot in learning, since there is no right way to play and the student needs, through his own experiments, to find the tuning of his preference.

The position to play the fiddle differs from that of the violin. While the latter is usually placed under the musician's chin, the latter is often rested on the player's chest or left shoulder, in the manner of some medieval instruments (although it can be played in the same position as the violin).

In Brazil, there are countless fiddle players. From their art and the rabeca there are bibliographic records and many artists are catalogued on the internet on a website dedicated to the musical instrument, such as

In Pernambuco, the grouping of fiddle players and rabeca manufacturers is very significant, especially in Ferreiros, a city in the Zona da Mata do Estado, known as land of the fiddle. “In fact, to be a ‘complete fiddle player’, many consider that the player must also be a manufacturer, because ‘rabequista' is the one that plays and builds’”. (NASCIMENTO, 2000, p. 66). Among the most famous are: Mestre Salustiano (1945-2008), Manuel Pereira, Mané Pitunga [Manoel Severino Martins] (1930-2002) and Siba (Sérgio Veloso).


Recife, September 19, 2013.

sources consulted

CALMON, Francisco. Relação das faustíssimas festas. Rio de Janeiro: Funarte; Instituto Nacional do Folclore, 1982. Reprodução fac-similar da edição de 1762 (Etnografia e Folclore/Memória; n. 1).

HOUAISS, Antônio. Rabeca. In: ______. Dicionário Houaiss da língua portuguesa. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva, 2009. . p. 1600.

ISTO não é um violino. Revista Raiz, n. 1, 2003. Disponível em: Acesso em: 15 ago. 2013.

LINS, Thiago. Ferreiros: município de 11 mil habitantes ganha fama como terra da rabeca. Continente, Recife, ano 9, n. 102, p. 38-41, jun. 2009.

NASCIMENTO, Mariana Cunha Mesquita do. Família Salustiano: três gerações de artistas populares recriando os folguedos da Zona da Mata. Recife, 2000. p. 65-70. Monografia vencedora do Prêmio Katarina Real de Cultura Popular, organizado e realizado pela Fundaj.

A RABECA. In: RABECA.ORG: um mapa e banco de dados da rabeca brasileira, portuguesa e o rawé guarani. Disponível em: Acesso em 15 ago. 2013.

RABECA [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: Acesso em: 16 out. 2018.

how to quote this text

BARBOSA, Virginia. Rabeca (Fiddle). In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available from: Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2009).