Luís da Câmara Cascudo in his Dictionary of Brazilian Folklore, states that ‘Reisado’ is the erudite name for groups that sing and dance on the eve of the Epiphany.
The ‘Reisado’ came to Brazil through the Portuguese colonisers who continued to preserve the tradition of celebrating the birth of Baby Jesus in their small villages. In Portugal it is known as ‘Reisada’ or ‘Reseiro’.
In Brazil it is a type of traditional revue, full of folkloric stories, but its essence is still the same, with a mixture of sacred and profane themes.
The ‘Reisado’ is formed by a group of musicians, singers and dancers who go through city streets, and even rural properties, door to door, announcing the arrival of the Messiah, asking for gifts and praising the homeowners they pass by.
The name ‘Reisado’ still remains in Alagoas, Sergipe and Bahia. In several other regions the celebration is called Bumba-meu-boi, Boi de Reis (Wise Men’s’ Bull), Boi-Bumbá or simply Boi (Bull). In São Paulo it is known as Folia de Reis (Parade of Wise Men), where the party is made up of performances by musical groups and singers, all in colourful clothes singing verses about the birth of Jesus Christ and lead by a master.
Part of the spectacle are “entremeios” (a corruption of the word ‘entremezes’ = interlude), small dramatic scenes that are in between the performances of the plays and battles. The characters are human or animal and humanised fantasy types, full of energy and determination.
The merriment of the Christmas period is celebrated in various Brazilian regions, especially in the North and Northeast, where it takes on regional colours, formats and sounds. In Alagoas, it is usually a short and low-budget dramatic representation accompanied and preceded by singing.
In Sergipe, it is presented at any time of the year, not just on the festivals of Christmas and the Epiphany. Its themes vary according to the place and the period it is being staged: love, war, religion and others.
The ‘Reisado’ shows various modalities and is made up of various parts: the abertura (opening) or abrição de porta (opening of the door); entrada (entrance); louvação ao Divino (praise of the Divine); chamadas do rei (King’s call); peças de sala (salon pieces); danças (dances); guerra (war); as sortes (sorties); encerramento da função (closing of the event).
Music is always present at the ‘Reisado’. The Mestre (Master) is the soloist and is “answered” by a choir of two voices. The instruments alternatively used are: accordion, drum, zabumba (a type of bass drum), viola, fiddle or violin, ganzá (Brazilian rattle), tambourines, fife flutes and “maracás”, rattles made from tin decorated with coloured ribbons.
There is a wide variety of ‘Reisado’ dance steps, including: Gingá, where the squatting dancers swing and sway; Maquila, a small jump with legs crossed and swing the body from side to side alternatively, a dance step used by caboclinhos; Corrupio, a pivoting movement on the left heel; Encruzado, first crossing the right leg over the left, then the opposite.
The main characters are the Mestre (Master), the Rei (King) and Rainha (Queen), the Contramestre (Quartermaster), some Mateus and Catirinas, figuras (figures) and moleques (urchins).
The Master is the commander of the spectacle. Using whistles, gestures and orders, he commands the entrance and exit of the plays and the speed of the music. They wear a hat lined with satin, brim folded up at the forehead (in the ‘cangaceiro’ style), adorned with many small mirrors, gold trim and artificial flowers from which hang long ribbons of various colours; a brightly-coloured satin or sateen kilt to his knees, decorated with embroidery, underneath a white ruffled skirt; shirt, waistcoat and cape.
The King’s costume must be beautiful and decorated. He wears a kilt or trousers and a long-sleeved shirt in the same colours, waistcoat, a colourful robe in a shiny fabric (satin or similar) sneakers or cross-trainers, coloured socks and on his head a crown made in the mould of Eastern kings, similar to the other figures, but with a cross on top; he carries a sword and sometimes a sceptre in his hands. During the procession the Kings go in front, followed by the Master and the Quartermaster. The Queen is represented by a girl wearing a white or pink “party” dress, a crown on her head and a bouquet of flowers in her hands.
The Quartermaster is responsible for the ‘Reisado’ in the Master’s absence. His attire is similar, only less pompous.
The Mateus, who are always in pairs, wear different costumes to the other characters: chequered jackets and trousers, a large funnelled hat they call ‘cafuringa’, with mirrors and coloured ribbons, dark glasses, faces painted black, usually with soot from pans or petroleum jelly, and carry tambourines. They are the comical characters of the ‘Reisado’, together with Catirina.
Formerly known as ‘Lica’, Catirina is the fiancée of Mateus. She dresses in black with a cloth wrapped around her head, face painted black and a whip in her hand to chase after the young women and children.
The other figures make up the chorus of the ‘Reisado’, who actively participate in the battles, the dances and the singing, when they respond to the solo of the Mestre. They form two symmetrical lines, organised hierarchically and with one on the right and the other on the left side of the Master.
It is one of the riches and most appreciated popular traditions of Brazilian folklore, especially in the Northeast region.
Recife, 28 November 2005.
(Updated on 16 September 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
BARROSO, Oswald. Reis de Congo. Fortaleza: Museu da Imagem e do Som, 1996.
RIBEIRO, José. Brasil no folclore. Rio de Janeiro: Gráfica Editora Aurora, 1970.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Reisado. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.