mamulengo (Hand Puppet)

About this object

History of use

The puppet represents a character from a form of popular puppet theatre, found in northeastern Brazil, called mamulengo. This type of theatre is prevalent in disenfranchised communities with ancestral ties to colonized Indigenous peoples and uprooted, enslaved Africans. Mamulengo performances are entertaining events that can last all night long, with puppeteers (mamulengueiros) using 70 to 100 puppets in one staging. The stages are pop-up stands (empanadas), made of brightly coloured, floral-printed cloth. The shows consist of short sequences (passagens), or skits from popular stories that expose the inequalities and dramas of everyday life, profiling stock characters such as rich landowners and peasant labourers. The whole is spun together with humour, satire, lively music, and audience commentary.

Physical description

Mamulengo hand puppet of a 'Morte' (death) character. Head and hands are carved from wood and painted. He has a white skull with streaks of red, carved-out round eye sockets, and a wide grinning mouth. His fabric body / tunic is white, and he wears a long black scarf over his head. The fabric is adhered(?) to the hands and head, and wrapped with shiny black ribbon at the wrists and neck. His right hand is carved and painted to resemble a scythe. Operated by inserting a hand inside the body of the puppet to control its head and movements.