Meu boi morreu        My bull has died
que será de mim?     what will become of me?
manda buscar outro, I will send for another 
ô maninha,                my dear brother,
lá no Piauí.                there, in the state of Piauí.

'Auto' or pastoral drama? It does not really matter. 'Bumba-meu-boi', a form of hieratic theatre during the Christmas and Twelfth Night celebrations, is one of the purest popular presentations in existence. Although it is possible to note certain European influences, the structure of the contents, the subjects, the characters and the music are essentially Northeastern.

Pereira da Costa imagined that the origin of this 'auto' could be located during the colonization of the State of Piauí around the end of the 17th century. This assumption was made from the verses - my bull has died and I will send for another from the State of Piauí. However, Pereira da Costa also believes that it is quite possible that the bull originates from the State of Pernambuco, because of the following verses : 

Cavalo-marinho                          The Sea Horse
dança bem baiano                      dances the Baiano* well.
bem parece ser                           So well - he could be
um pernambucano.                     From Pernambuco.

* a kind of dance explained in Caboclinhos.

However, since there is no documented proof, how can we justify the thesis that the bull from Pernambuco is the oldest? The Bumbá Bull from the Amazon, The Kings' Bull from the state of Maranhão, The Surubi Bull from Ceará, The Calemba Bull from Rio Grande do Norte, The Sea Horse from Paraíba, The Papaya Bull from Santa Catarina and The Little Bull from Rio Grande do Sul, could all also claim to be the oldest. The bull from Pernambuco, for certain, possesses its own peculiar characteristics of the region, in the same way that all the others also present regional characteristics.


Traditionally presented during the Christmas Cycle, and nowadays also during carnival, 'Bumba-meu-boi' has been associated with church festivities ever since the Medieval period. Festivities linked to the bull have also been registered in many other countries and cultures - the Apis Bull, the Isis Bull, The Mneris Bull, The Geroa Bull, The Bull of St. Mark etc. The influences and links seem to go on forever.
A presentation of Bumba-meu-boi normally has a duration of up to eight hours. The presentations takes place in an arena where the public stand in a circle. As the presentation gets under way so the circle opens wider to allow for freer movement. The characters of the Mule, Mateus or Bastião, as we have seen previously in other manifestations, are once more responsible, for opening the proceedings with games and 'attacks', always at the cost of the audience.                               In the style of the Greek theatre, the actors either use masks, or cover their faces with charcoal or a coloured mixture of flour and water to imitate a mask. There are no women in a Bumba-meu-boi presentation. The female roles are usually played by men dressed as women, with the exception of the Little Shepherdess, who is normally played by a young girl, never a mature women. 



The other female element to be found is the Cantadeira - the Songstress, who sits beside the orchestra. The orchestra is generally composed of a deep drum, maracas and tambourine, which are played by the songstress during the songs. Unless the actors have been especially contracted for some particular occasion, then the actors receive payment by passing round the hat during the show. The hat is taken round by either Bastião or Mateus. Of course, should the spectator contribute what these two characters consider to be a pittance, or indeed contribute nothing at all, then the spectators are open to all kinds of abuse and jokes.

The characters are classified into three categories : human, animal and the fantastic. The storyline for all the presentations are practically the same.

The young shepherdess loses the bull, which was in her protection,
and goes off in search of the animal.
During her search, she comes across numerous characters
who make up the show.  
In the end, she manages to find the bull, which is dead
but is finally resurrected.



The Captain is the big boss of the show. He commands the show through his speeches, his songs and dances. He arrives on foot, but as the show progresses he mounts the 'sea horse'.                                                   His main assistants are Mateus and Bastião who carry bull bladders -balloons - full of air, in their hands.                                                        Beside the Captain's horse is Harlequin, who also at times acts as the attendant.                                                                                               

Catirina is a freed black woman and singer, who in some presentations ends up as Mateus' wife. The Young Shepherdess looks after the bull that is lost. Turtuqué is the great daredevil, who boasts too much and ends up demoralized. Other characters are - the Engineer, the Priest, the Doctor, Mané - the good-looking one, Zabelinha, the Sexton, the Inspector, Master Domingos, the Master of the Loom, Romeiro, the Smoking Country Bumpkin, the Complainer, Mde. Joana, the Archer Native, the Field Captain, The Barber, the Apothecary, John Sheep etc.


The Emu, the Mule, the Snake, the Woodpecker and of course the main character - the Bull.


The Goblin, the Devil, Babau - a character created for the show, the Deadman carrying a living man on his back, and Jaraguá - a character who is able to take on various forms.
There are many who lament that Bumba-meu-boi has undergone certain adulterations with the passing of time. However, as Hermilo Borba Filho states in his publication  PRESENTATIONS OF BUMBA-MEU-BOI....this is simply nonsense. Every popular show is subject to momentary influences, day after day, and it is performed by popular performers not erudite.....
                                                 This is why Bumba-meu-boi lives on. It is a popular show, created by what is popular - the pure, innocent artist that continues to sing :


Meu boi morreu        My bull has died
que será de mim?     what will become of me?
manda buscar outro, I will send for another one
ô maninha,                my dear brother,
lá no Piauí.                there, in the state of Piauí.

1The word 'bumba' is a kind of interjection meaning - flop!, bang, wallop!. 'Meu boi' means - my bull.