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Repente: Female Presence

Of the poetic modalities, perhaps it is the art of the sudden that arouses the greatest curiosity.

Repente: Female Presence

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Last update: 26/05/2022

By: Laércio Queiroz - Professor at the Federal Institute of Pernambuco - PhD in Linguistics
Leonardo Dantas - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Historian, Bachelor of Laws

Of the poetic modalities, the repente is perhaps the art that arouses the greatest curiosity. What creature in a moment of endless passion did not feel the need to express his love through verses? Many succeeded, with greater or lesser mastery; however, few dared to create in the inaccurate instant, at the start of the cry, Decassyllable verses, Sextilles or any other genre of this complex art, to bestow their inspiring muse. If we are amazed at the talent with which the ingenious minstrels fence their verses, then imagine the surprise when we see the presence of women in such a markedly machist territory. There are few women who go through this universe and, in fact, we cannot be surprised at the almost absence of female poetry “given the situation of enclosure experienced by women for years. Despite everything and everyone, they tried to overcome the obstacles and challenged the patriarchal order that restricted them to the domestic sphere” by publishing texts sometimes anonymously or under male pseudonyms. Violeiras, emboladoras, aboiadoras, cordelistas challenged this traditionally masculine space and transfigured verses with their perfect metrics that leave nothing to be desired to poets of old. This expressive presence, sometimes mimicked, did not seek to occupy the space of the other, but mainly to occupy its own previously empty space.
Popular literature has been studied on various aspects and, especially with regard to the analysis and interpretation of its language, of expression, typically northeastern. However, when we immerse ourselves in these paths, there are few records of women who produce this artistic manifestation. And when a female text deserves applause and praise, it is systematically considered a strong and virile text, and the poetess obtains the consecration of her talent by being considered “a woman who sings like a man.”
It is known that the figure of the woman is a very recurrent character in popular literature. A vast continent of female characters parades through the shadows, yet there is almost  no news of female poets. Even renowned researchers, in search of elements to compose their vast anthologies, seem unaware of the existence of poets in this territory. However, a more detailed research will find women who are repentistas from the first moments of the emergence of singing. To what do we owe this almost absence of singers in anthologies? The total ignorance of anthologists, the lack of talent of the artists or the arbitrary attempt to erase evidence of a female production? Although much remains to be scrutinized, fortunately, the existence of women in repentes is proven in some bibliographical references.
A more detailed study of the women in repente will find, among many, a certain Maria do Ribeirão, young and beautiful cabocla who they say was much better than their courters; Rita Medero, who resided in the Retiro da Boa Esperança, municipality of Barras, State of Piauí and died sexagenarian in 1901 or 1902; Maria Tebana of Rio Grande do Norte; Francisca Maria da Conceição, nickname Francisca Barrósa or Chica Barrósa, was born in Patos Estado da Paraíba and lived from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; Zefinha Anselmo, from São Benedito, where she was born on August 1, 1915, in addition to the singers Maria do Chambocão, Naninha Gorda do Brejo, Luísa de França, Terezinha Tietre, Salvina Inês Gomes de Freitas Ferreira and the legendary Maria Assunção do Senhor, Grandma Pangula, who was said to be an example of competence in the art of improvisation. Born in Piauí, in Simplício Mendes, Sertão, on November 25, 1918. She was not literate, she did not sign her name, but her verses impressed by coherence and agility. “In 1941, she arrived in Teresina to be a maid. She was regarded as a vain woman, who, although poor, did not leave the house without proper care for her appearance. She died on September 4, 1990, at the age of 72.
Following the same trail, scattered throughout the various Brazilian states, some women, despite the existing prejudices, contradicted this machist environment, venturing into the field of repente art and keeping alive this mnemonic tradition, always waiting for an opportunity to perform at singers' meetings or even immortalize their voice on a record. In singers' congresses, often, when there is female participation, this is restricted to mere observation or only to a supporting role, “being very rare that they can sometimes compete freely in pairs with another repentista or with another violeira”. Singers Maria Soledade and Minervina Ferreira, respectively, said: “In congresses, women have no chance. When you happen to make room, there are two humiliated in the middle of all those men. An insignificant fee... It is rare for a woman to participate in a singer's congress and when she appears, it is usually a special presentation. Special is without competing, understand? And of the women, me, Minervina and Mocinha were still the ones who made the most presentations. The others, their spaces are still smaller than ours.” “Men are privileged. When we participate in congress, the woman is always invited to make a special presentation. This is good, because the woman is special, but we also have the ability to compete. I have already competed in the middle of male doubles, but this is very rare, and they are privileged.”
Aware of this exclusion, during the eighties, these repentistas of Paraíba sought the support of local merchants and prefectures to organize female singer meetings. There were only five editions, one in Cuité and four in Alagoa Grande. Ten singers participated in each meeting, five pairs. In addition to concerts with the ciranda group Os Negros do Caiana, Maria Aboiadeira (poetess who sang long toadas just solfejadas that end with expressions such as “é boi” and “é boiada”) and, a male duo as a special participation, thus repaying the “kindness” granted to the repentants at Singers' Congresses.
The judging table of the meeting was composed of men and women, but there was a female majority. For the ordering of the rules, the same regulation of the singers' congresses was used. It should be noted that during the event the local press almost did not pay attention to the fact, which highlights the enormous prejudice suffered by the poetesses. According to Minervina Ferreira, only teachers from the Federal University of Paraíba gave attention to the event, in addition to a timid article in a newspaper.
During the research to achieve our master's dissertation, having as protagonists the women of repente, we tried to find articles in magazines and newspapers from 1999 to 2002 and we found almost no information about this particular. Even when a newspaper focused on meeting singers and there was female participation, it either did not disclose the participation of the female repentistas or just cited their names without greater relevance to the fact.
We also inquired singers in an attempt to obtain contacts that would lead us to our object of study; however, the artists almost always said they did not know the existence of women in this modality and the few who admitted the existence, denied knowing them and added that they were devoid of any poetic talent, highlighting ingrained prejudices. Of the poets consulted, only one praised the feminine skill in the art of repente: Sebastião Marinho. He even introduced us to two singers: Luzivan Matias and Lucinha Saraiva, in addition to making significant comments about the first, placing it on an equal footing with the veterans Mocinha de Passira and Minervina Ferreira, considered by him as the two greatest female repentistas of the time. The following women were interviewed: Minervina Ferreira, Maria da Soledade, Severina Maria, Terezinha Maria, and the sisters Santinha and Mocinha Maurício, Neuma da Silva, Francisca Maria, Mocinha de Passira, Luiza dos Anjos, Luzivan Matias and Lucinha Saraiva. Most of them did not have any phonographic record. Of the singers interviewed, only five had their voices perpetuated on record. The reasons were several: specific discrimination, lack of resources, (since most of them could not live on their own art and were underemployed), even the lack of knowledge of record companies.
During the interviews with the repentistas they mentioned names of other women who also ventured into this universe, but for reasons such as: prohibition of the partner, financial difficulty, lack of perspectives, among others, declined their art. An example of this reality are the Pernambucanas Lídia Maria, Bernadete de Oliveira, Estelita José, Doralice, Elizete Claudino, Maria Sabino, Zeza Barbosa and Maria de Lurdes, the Paraibanas Elza Galdino and Lita Cruz, Maria Lindalva de Currais Novos and Cearense Lurdinha de Oliveira. It is regrettable that, with so few singers, adversities are able to silence the voices that, for so long, have remained silent.
This study, although quite pale, may provide future paths to be followed to know and disseminate the female voices of the northeastern repente.

Recife, August 2005.


sources consulted

AYALA, Maria Ignez Novais. No arranco do Grito (aspectos da cantoria nordestina). São Paulo: Ática, 1988.

AYALA, Maria Ignez Novais. Mulher Repentista: uma profissão, dificuldades várias. Seminário Nacional: Mulher e Literatura, 5., 1995. In: Anais [...]. Natal: EdUFRN, 1995.

MULHER repentista. [Foto neste texto]. Folha de Pernambuco, 08 mar. 2019. Disponível em:,98236,71,1400,DIVERSAO,2330-CANTORIAS-REPENTES-CELEBRAM-DIA-MULHER-CARUARU-RECIFE.aspx. Acesso em: 25 out. 2019. 

TOCALINO, Magda M. Renoldi. A escritura e a mulher brasileira no período colonial. Remate de letras, UNICAMP, São Paulo, n. 14, 1994.

RAFAEL, Ésio; FREIRE, Wilson. A mulher e a cantoria. Continente documento, Companhia Editora de Pernambuco, Recife, p. 14, 2003.

how to quote this text

QUEIROZ, Laércio; SILVA, Leonardo Dantas Silva. Repente: female presence. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2009. Available from: Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2009).