It is the most traditional festival in the cattle cycle in Northeast Brazil, currently an urban and public event that attracts a large number of onlookers. It consists of a gathering of cattle at the end of winter to care for them, castrating, breeding and treating wounds.
Formerly the festival’s purpose was to practice ‘apartação’, which was the division of cattle among farmers. The cattle were raised freely in common pastures seemingly without owners. In June they were driven to the large corrals. Part of the cattle were kept or reserved for the ‘derrubada’, or the true ‘vaquejada’ itself: the game of tackling the animal by the tail by a mounted cowboy. The bull (or the cow) was sent to the riding area with two riders running alongside it. The one on the left, called the ‘esteira’, had the job of keeping the animal in a certain direction, along a certain straight line, and the one on the right would try to tackle it and receive all the acclamations. Paired with the released animal, the cowboy held it by the tail and gave a sharp tug (‘puxada’), dismounting the horse at the same time. This is known as ‘mucíca’, ‘saiada’ or ‘arrasto’.
Unbalanced, the animal would fall with its hooves pointed skyward, with a complete, triumphant fall known as ‘mocotó passou’. If the beast rolled along the ground after the take-down, the crowd would scream and applaud: - Embolou! (He rolled it!) When the cowboy was unable to take it down, the animal escaping lithely from the ‘puxada’, he received boos, jeers and drums or cymbals sounded, which is known as ‘botou o boi no mato’ (putting the bull in the forest), ‘ganhou os paus’ (winning the sticks), ‘ganhou a madeira’ (winning the wood), ‘caiu no marmelo’ (falling in the quince), ‘sumiu na poeira’ (disappearing in the dust) or ‘deu adeus ao rabo’ (saying goodbye to the tail). In this case the cowboy ‘levou féde’ (stunk – from the Portuguese verb ‘feder’, to stink).
In Brazil there are no records of the ‘vaquejada’ before 1870. It is believed that the ‘vaquejada’, characterised by the ‘saiada’, the pulling by the ‘saia’ or skirt – the tail tackle – has Spanish origins. Its use was the habitual for creoles, mixed-races and Spanish born in the Americas, but not for Indians, who employed the stick and dominated the cattle with the ‘garrocha’ (a stick with an iron wire on one end).
The take-down of the bull by the tail quickly became popular throughout Northeast Brazil because the type of vegetation found there made it impossible to have the space required for the lassoes or bolas widely used to bring down cattle on the fields of Rio Grande do Sul.
Outside the ‘vaquejada’ exhibitions, cowboys pursue and tackle the animals to put bells on them, mask them and take them to the corral, with dramatic leaps being made in the dry back lands, with no witnesses and no applause.
Recife, 3 July 2003.
(Updated on 16 September 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
CÂMARA CASCUDO, Luís da. Dicionário do folclore brasileiro. 3.ed. rev. e aum. Brasília: INL, 1972. 2v.
______. A vaquejada nordestina e sua origem. Natal: Fundação José Augusto, 1976. 48 p.
SANTOS, José Batista dos. Pernambuco histórico, turístico, folclórico. [Recife: s. n.], 1989. p. 333-334.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Vaquejada. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.