Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What are Cordels?

Thanks to Kurt Wooten of Habla for introducing us to the idea of "cordels"!

A Bit About Cordels

Portuguese for ("string literature") are popular and inexpensively printed booklets pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs, which are produced and sold in fairs and by sidestreet vendors in the northeast of Brazil. They are so named because they are hung from strings in order to display them to potential clients. They form one of the least altered continuations of the Western traditions of popular literature, such as chapbooks, and popular prints.

They are usually produced in black and white, in quarto format, and are illustrated with woodcuts. They come from the papel volante tradition of Portugal. The cordel literature found its zenith in the decades of 20s and 30s, with the popular legend created by the cangaceiros of Lampião, a band of outlaws and bandolier bandits who terrorized the region for almost 20 years. The War of Canudos, a military conflict in the state of Bahia, 1896-1897, has been also a frequent theme of cordel literature, due to its epic dimensions and importance for the history of the Northeast backlands.

There are a lot of not-well-known cordel authors in Brazil. Two expressive woodcutters are Adir Botelho and Jose Francisco Borges, whose woodcuts have been exhibited in the Louvre and the Smithsonian.


Census Results -- Final Thoughts


Our census of the senses showed us that although true love exists it is not possible or even necessary for all. The range of answers was thought provoking and impressive. Answers ranged from an espousal that God was the only thing capable of true love to comments that orphans are the only ones that need true love. Other answers were more exact, stating that 6 people need true love or even a billion. The day ended without numbers but with buoyant hearts that almost danced like rain clouds above our heads as we walked back to the Un Mundo building. As the questions stirred in our heads about the question of our census we reached to revisit questions about this type of work, driven by big questions and then attempted to weave connections with the present tense of the students. We lingered in thoughts about relationships and partnerships and the arts role in community development but more in how people learn and how these type of engagements create bonds of shared experience and hopefully new levels of understandings of ourselves and the world we live in.

Stitching It Together -- The Culminating Event

In order to complete the cordel, we partnered with local artisanos from the Juan Pablo Segundo Sewing Cooperative. Rosario and Leslie assisted us in creating pockets for each canvas that was to be hung and to sew a blue seem around the edges to create a more finished look. The final touches seams really did provide the finished and detailed aesthetic we had hoped for and we left excited to share the work with our students early the next day.

Three of the students met us at seven o’clock on Monday morning to hang the cordel. With the support of Oscar, the Principal and the school staff, we managed to be the closing act of the national Dia de Limpira celebration in honor of Limprira, Honduras’ indigenous hero. After Suyapa, who was chosen as the local India Bonita, explained the projects, we invited all the students to watch the poetry performance and to engage with the canvases that danced ever so slightly this hot and humid day. In each pocket waited paper and pens to use to answer the question. Below, were creamy candies to be taken in exchange for their answers. Our performers were both nervous and hot. After some wrangling, we managed to gather them in front of the line for a thirty-second performance. We yelled our poem with smiles on our faces with a somewhat aloof yet supportive audience. After the sharing Elly Goetz, the Un Mundo’s Co Director, invited the class to perform at a coming up concert and dance performance. They ladies shyly accepted. We all gathered in front of the pulperia where we shared a soda and congratulated and thanked on another. The cordel was collected from the line and given to the school to hang in the newly constructed classrooms that were, at the time, naked green walls.