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Vicente Salles

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Leading researcher and promotor of Amazonian history

Social sciences

Vicente Salles

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 04/06/2015

By: Júlia Morim - N/I

Vicente Juarimbu Salles was a leading researcher and promotor of Amazonian history and culture. Born in 1931 in Vila de Caripi, in the Igarapé-Açu municipality – 117km from Pará’s state capital Belém – he graduated in Social Sciences with an emphasis on Anthropology. He is noted for his studies on the presence of black people in the Amazon, publishing twenty-two books and fifty-one micro-editions (artisanal booklets made by him) in several areas: music, folklore, literature, theatre.

Son of lawyer Clóvis de Mello Salles and housewife Maria Cristina Passos Salles, both from Ceará, Vincente was the third of the couple’s seven children. He received the Indian name ‘Juarimbu’ as a tribute from his father to the Tembé people, who lived in the region he was born. During his lifetime, he followed the family as they moved to various cities in Pará chasing job opportunities for his father. He spent his childhood in Castanhal, where he was breastfed by a wet nurse, Maria Pretinha, a quilombola who taught him songs and stories. His father taught him to read and write at home, where he had access to the many books in his father’s library, from classics to cordel literature. According to Souza (2013, p.187),

In addition to books, Vicente’s world was populated by folk songs sung by his mother, political evenings led by his father, who also liked to read cordel stories in a loud and singing voice, which would later become Salles’ study objects. The boy also studied choral singing and violin, but gave up the desire to become a professional musician.

As a teenager, he began working to help the family with household expenses. In 1945, already in Belém, he worked as an office assistant typing business letters. In his boss’ absences, he wrote poetry, letters and articles. He had a taste for collections, and at that time began assembling his collection, primarily related to music. During this period, he worked with the local press.

A meeting in 1954 with Edison Carneiro, the folklorist from Bahia, would pave a new way for his life. He asked Salles to map out the Umbanda yards in Belém. The result of this survey supported the inclusion of black religiosity in the Amazon into Carneiro’s research, a subject that was considered of little importance until then. He also received advice from the aforementioned folklorist to go to university in Rio de Janeiro, which Salles followed.

In Rio de Janeiro, he met his wife, Marena, with whom he had three children: Marcelo, Mariana and Márcia. He worked at the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) as a typist until 1961, when he was transferred to the Brazilian Folklore Defence Campaign (CDFB), where he remained until 1972, being responsible for a nationwide study on popular culture. He also worked in the organization of the Amadeu Amaral Library, now part of the National Centre for Folklore and Popular Culture, and in the writing of the Revista Brasileira de Folclore (Brazilian Journal of Folklore). He was a member of the Federal Council of Culture’s Arts Chamber, holding the position of secretary. The Chamber, according to Souza (2013, p. 189), was “an academia of notable Brazilian intellectuals that included, among others, sociologist Gilberto Freyre.”

During this period, he wrote his most well-known work that was of great importance for the studies of black people in the Amazon: O negro no Pará sob o regime da escravidão (Black People in Pará under the Slave System), published in 1971. The book presented the relevance of black people’s role in the North, which went against the trend of the time that thought there would not have been a strong enough black presence in the region to influence the cultural dynamics, and those who had arrived there had already lost their “African purity”, an aspect taken into account in conducting research.

But Salles went against the flow, guided by other theoretical and methodological standards of research in this area. Using newspaper clippings, posture codes, notices of infraction, literature, music and images, he showed where these subjects circulated, how they actively participated in the Cabanagem movement, and finally how they contributed to the cultural, political and economic development of the Amazon region. (Souza, 2013, pp.189-190).

Transferred to Brasília in 1975, he collaborated with the creation of the National Arts Foundation (FUNARTE). At this time, he worked with several of the country’s producers and artists, and participated in the development of multiple records. He retired in 1990, during the Fernando Collor de Mello government. But he did not stop. He continued to work and write.

In the mid-1990s, he directed Belém’s Museum of the Federal University of Pará, the institution to which he donated the research archive he had collected over his lifetime. The Vicente Salles Collection, a research reference on Amazonian culture, contains three thousand books, a newspaper library, dozens of tapes and scores, and which, according to Souza (2013), he continued to feed up until his death.

As with studies on the black presence in the Amazon, Salles was a pioneer in research on the production of cordel literature in the region. The scope of his work is quite comprehensive, always having as its main theme black culture and folklore, in a period that encompasses the 17th to the 20th centuries. In 2011, he was awarded an “Honoris Causa” doctorate from the Federal University of Para for his contribution to the culture of Pará and Brazil.

Despite his vast work, writing important texts on black people in Brazil and their contribution to the historiography of the Amazon, the author is unknown outside the North Region. Souza (2011, p.2) notes that, even with the universality of his intellectual production, it has not been the subject of research in the academic sphere, and has also faced difficulties in being published by commercial or institutional publishers.

Salles returned to Rio de Janeiro in 2012 and passed away there in March 2013, leaving three books ready for publication, including Lundu: canto e dança do negro no Pará (Lundu: Song and Dance of the Black People of Pará), and a huge legacy.

Below are some of his publications:

• Música e Músicos do Pará (Music and Musicians of Pará) – (1970);
• O negro no Pará sob o regime da escravidão – (1971);
• A música e o tempo no Grão-Pará (Music and Time in Grão-Pará) – (1980);
• Repente e cordel, literatura popular em versos na Amazônia (Repente and Cordel, Popular Literature in Verse in the Amazon) – (1985);
• Memorial da Cabanagem (Cabanagem Memorial) – (1992);
• Época do teatro no Grão-Pará ou Apresentação do teatro de época (The Theatre Period in Grão-Pará or The Theatrical Presentation of the Time) –
• Marxismo, socialismo e os militantes excluídos (Marxism, Socialism and Excluded Militants) – (2001);
• Vocabulário crioulo: contribuição do negro ao falar regional amazônico (Creole Vocabulary: the black contribution to regional Amazon speech) – (2003);
• O negro na formação da sociedade paraense: textos reunidos (Black People in the Formation of Pará Society: selected texts) – (2003).



Recife, 8 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.

sources consulted

MENEZES NETO, Geraldo Magela de. As contribuições de Vicente Salles (1931-2013) para os estudos da literatura de cordel na Amazônia. Nova Revista Amazônica, Manaus, v. 1, n. 2, p. 9-26, jul./dez. 2013. PPG Linguagens e Saberes da Amazônia, Bragança, Pará. Available at <>. Accessed: 5 maio 2014.

OLIVETO, Karla Aléssio. Vicente Salles: trajetória pessoal e procedimentos de pesquisa em Música. Dissertação (Mestrado em Música em Contexto) – Instituto de Artes, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, 2007. Available at: <>. Accessed: 5 maio 2014.

SOUZA, Roseane Silveira de. Vicente Juarimbu Salles (1931-2013): o tempo vence o homem, não a obra. Bol. Mus. Para. Emílio Goeldi. Ciênc. Hum., Belém, v. 8, n. 1, p. 185-194, 2013. Available at: <>. Accessed: 5 maio 2014.

______. O sujeito visível: uma biografia de Vicente Salles. SIMPÓSIO NACIONAL DA ANPUH, 26., 2011, São Paulo. Anais... São Paulo, 2011. Available at: <
>. Accessed: 5 maio 2014. 

how to quote this text

Source: MORIM, Júlia. Vicente Salles. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.