Arts and crafts


Woodworking has two principal origins, the African and the Jesuit. In northeastern Brazil, many woodcarving and sculpting techniques are inherited from the African slaves who were brought across the Atlantic to work the sugar plantations. One of the most prominent examples is the
, the grotesque figurehead that was placed on a boat's prow to ward off evil spirits.
are an adaptation of the African mask- making tradition and other carved and sculpted masks can be found in the northeast. The Jesuits passed on skills in the carving and painting of religious figures in wood. Originally they encouraged their indigenous converts in the techniques, but today others practice the art. Woodcarving is widespread in Pernambuco and Bahia in the northeast. In Rio de Janeiro many contemporary artists work in wood and Embu, near São Paulo, is a centre for wooden sculptures and furniture making.


In northeastern Brazil, religious figures are also made in clay, for instance the unglazed, life-sized saints made from red clay in Tracunhaém, near Recife. Another centre for similar work is Goiana, also in Pernambuco. A third place from which the ceramics are even more famous is Alto da Moura, near Caruaru. Here, Mestre Vitalino began modelling scraps of clay into little figures depicting everyday life (work, festivals, dancing, political events). He died in 1963, but the tradition that he started has continued and is known throughout Brazil.

The pots that are made in the Amazon region come in various styles, some of them quite strange. Bahian and other northeastern pottery shows African influence.

Textiles, clothing and leather

Ceará, in the north, is famous for its lace-making, and beautiful pieces are sold all over Brazil. In other parts of the north, hammocks and other woven items are found. The hammock is, of course, an essential household item and you may well need to buy one if you are travelling up the Amazon on a boat. Other utilitarian articles which have become craft items are the rugs and capes made in the highlands further south, such as Minas Gerais, to keep out the night-time cold.

In the northeast, traditional costumes have their roots in the rituals of the African religions that came to Brazil with the slave trade. In southern areas where European immigration was heaviest, many traditional costumes can be seen, usually at the festivals and dances that have survived. Another type of clothing from the south is that associated with the
, the Brazilian cowboys of Rio Grande do Sul. As well as the clothes, which normally use hide in their manufacture, you may also buy saddlery, stirrups, silverware and the gourds used for drinking

Leatherwork is not confined to the south, but can be found in any region where cattle are raised.

Musical instruments

The most popular instruments that tourists like to buy are those connected with African music, especially the hand and friction drums like the
, cuica and
reco reco
, shakers and the
(the one-stringed bow that is twanged in accompaniment to capoeira). Here again, the best place to look is in the northeast where the African heritage is strongest. You can also purchase guitars and other stringed instruments.


In Amazônia, a huge variety of raw materials are available for making baskets, nets, hammocks, slings for carrying babies, masks and body adornments. In the northeast, too, baskets come in all shapes and sizes, especially in Bahia, Pernambuco and Paraíba. Another northeastern craft, which does not fit into the above categories, is pictures made in bottles with coloured sands (Lençóis, Bahia, and Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, are good places to buy them). In Minas Gerais, two very common things to see and buy are soapstone carvings (for instance birds and animals) and the cooking pots used in

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Salvador & Bahia Handbook

Colourful Portuguese mansions, gilt-covered baroque churches, the martial art dance of capoeira and...

Brazil Handbook

Beautiful, vibrant, exuberant and welcoming, Brazil is truly a country to explore. From the miles...

São Paulo Handbook

A vast city, Sao Paulo is the intellectual capital of Brazil, and nowhere in the country is better...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!