I just got back from an excellent free showing of a Brazilian art called Mamulengo, performed by Chico Simões, which according to the handout,
“…is the most traditional and popular kind of puppet theater in Brazil. Passed along over the centuries by itinerant performers, mamulengo reveals the influence of the Italian Commedia Dell’Arte and African cultural aesthetics. The form is still alive in the Brazilian countryside and in the marginalized outskirts of big cities.”
More specifically, mamulengo is a type of typical puppet from Northeastern Brazil, especially in the state of Pernambuco. The origin of the name is controversial, but it is believed that it comes from mão molenga (soft or floppy hand), ideal for giving life to the puppets.
Chico Simões & Culture Points
Chico Simões is currently the University of Berkeley’s Distinguished Writer in Residence occupying the Mario de Andrade Chair with the support of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Center for Latin American Studies. Chico is a puppeteer, an educator, and the director of a Ponto de Cultura (Culture Point) known as Invenção Brasileira (Brazilian Invention). Sponsered by the National Ministry of Culture, thre are presently over almost two-thousand of these Pontos throughout Brazil. There are also three in the USA, including one in San Francisco (see links on San Francisco). The purpose of the Pontos is to use art forms to effect social change in marginal communities.
Mr Simões distinguishes his art form as traditional (alive and envolving) as opposed to folkloric, which he describes as immune to improvisation (much like a museum display). Mr Simões’ shows incorporate the theatrical language of “Grammelot” that dates back to the 16th century in Italy, and involves a mix of languages, sounds, gibberish and onomatopoeic elements. Since 1983, he has been travelling throughout Brazil, studying, lecturing and giving presentations of mamulengo, in addition to various other traditional forms.
To the folklorist Câmara Cascudo, the mamulengo is the same as the French guignol and the Italian pupazzi. In all of them, there is a cloth in front, behind which hides either one or two manipulators that give voice and movement to the dolls.
The presentations are given in a public square, generally in the outskirts of town during religious festivals, presenting both religious and present-day themes. Mamulengo itself has been practiced since the colonial era, depicting the daily lives of the people in a format which is generally comical and satirical.
Videos, Music and More
Music is sometimes played alongside the puppet theater, usually in the style of Forró. See a short video here. As well as being played alongside the theater, sometimes the puppeteers themselves sing, as can be seen here. For a lot more videos and information as well as photos, see this story on Mamulengo, The Theater of Laughter. Recife Guide also has a story on the art form.
In the city of Olinda, the Espaço Tiridá – Museum of Mamulengo aims to preserve the tradition of the dolls, counting among its collection close to 1,500 pieces, aside from showcasing daily presentations.
The Museum is maintained by the municipality of Olinda, with antique pieces preserving the memory of the popular masters of the art form, like Saúba, Tonho de Pombos, Luiz da Serra, Pedro Rosa, Zé Lopes, Antônio Biló, Manuel Marcelino, etc.
How the Mamulengo puppets are made (PT)