Cultural Heritage: Bumba meu boi and São João do Maranhão

Cultural Heritage: Bumba meu boi and São João do Maranhão

In addition to the traditional foods and dances typical of this June period, in Maranhão, he gains one more character, the great star of the arraiais: the Boi. Nobody knows for sure when it started, but the story told about the bumba my ox it is the same passed on from generation to generation. Here, the big party of Saint John it represents a mixture between faith, party and art, being, therefore, one of the most awaited times of the year by Maranhão.

Bumba meu boi do Maranhão

Bumba meu boi do Maranhão

What does the legend tell us?

A great farmer had a favorite ox on his farm. Her trusted man, Father Francisco, is the one who took care of that ox. Pai Francisco’s wife, Catirina, was pregnant and wished to eat precisely the tongue of that respective ox. In order not to contradict the desire of his beloved, Pai Francisco did so, cut the tongue of the ox, but the animal, unfortunately, did not survive.

The farmer, on hearing this news, told Pai Francisco that they should resurrect the ox. They called for all possible help, including the Indians who invoked the spirits of the forest. Thus, the ox was resurrected and, to celebrate, the farmer threw a big party, thus giving rise to the bumba meu boi.

During the presentations at the festivals, everyone involved in this story is present: Indians, cowboys, Pai Francisco, Catirina, tape players and the most different character of all: the cazumbás (they represent the spirits of the forest that raised the ox).

The ox is the main figure of the presentations and the person who is underneath carrying it is called the core of the ox.

The groups of bumba meu boi

There are more than three hundred groups scattered throughout Maranhão. An average group makes at least three presentations per night. There is no competition between oxen, as is the case with boi-bumbá in the North. The best known groups are Boi da Maioba, Boi de Axixá, Boi de Morros, Boi de Nina Rodrigues, Boi Pirilampo and Boi Barrica.

Each group plays at a rhythm, called an accent. In Maranhão, there are five accents: matraca, orchestra, zabumba, marshland and hand coast.

Boi da Maioba

The accents

Matraca: presents matracas as the main instrument, which vary in size, reaching up to 1 meter. Tambourines are played at shoulder height and are tuned to fire

Matraca and Pandeirão

Orchestra: uses musical instruments such as saxophone, guitars, ukuleles, trumpets and others.

Orchestra Accent

Zabumba: the zabumba is the main instrument (being played standing up) and tambourines that are tuned to the fire.

Zabumba accent

Downloaded: its striking feature is the small tambourines that are played below the waist line and the presence of the cazumbás. These tambourines can be made of synthetic leather or goatskin (when goat, they are tuned at the stake).


Hand Coast: accent that was born in the region of the city of Cururupu, the tambourines are a little inclined and are played with the back of the hand.

Hand Coast Accent

From Maranhão to the world

The magic of São João, augmented by the cultural complex of bumba meu boi in Maranhão, was already recognized as Cultural heritage of Brazil by Iphan (National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute) since 2011.

In December 2019, the UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Culture Union) elected him as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Now, O bumba meu boi joins other Brazilian heritage already recognized as Círio de Nazaré and Recife Carnival.

A title equal to a party that moves crowds, turns the local economy, arouses the passion and curiosity of tourists and scholars and that symbolizes for a people of faith a time of abundance and hope.