Pau de Arara

Lyrics from “Pau de Arara” by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes (1965) from musical Pobre Menina Rica

Good Audio Version (without spoken sections)


I was growing tired of how hungry I was, of the hunger I had
I had nothing, what hunger I had…
What a cursed drought in my Ceará
I went and got together what little I had
Two old pairs of pants and a little guitar
And in a pau-de-arara I set off for here
And at night I would stay on the beach of Copacabana
Roaming on the beach of Copacabana
Dancing the Xaxado for the girls to watch
Virgin saint, the hunger was such that I didn’t even have a voice
My God, so many girls, … what hunger I had
More hunger than I had in my Ceará


That’s when I decided to swaller razors
There was a buddy of mine from up there in Quizeramubim that made a lot of money swallowing razors on Copacabana beach. By day, he’d go door to door asking for ol’ razors, and by night he’d swaller them all for everyone to see. I don’t know, but I think he swallowed so many that by the time I got there on the beach, those people watching already had indigestion from seeing that comrade swaller razors. One time, I was so hungry that I went like this to a boy that was passing by: “Decent fellow!  You let me swaller one little razor for you?” “Get outta here, pau-de-arara, you got it?” “Oh, distinguished one! Just one, cause I haven’t eaten anything yet today.” “You really insist, don’t you, pau-de-arara!”  That left me so annoyed, that if it weren’t for the love that I had for my little guitar, I would have smashed it over the head of that father of a mare…


Son of a gun, no life was worse than mine
What a cursed life, what hunger I had
Roaming on the beach, from here to there
When I saw all those people just eatin’ and eatin’,
I swear I felt longing for the hunger,
The hunger that I had in my Ceará
And so I would go on and sing and dance the Xaxado
And I only managed because in the Xaxado, you can really only drag yourself along
Virgin saint, the hunger was such that it even seemed
That even dancing,  my body rose up
Just as if it were trying to fly


Sometimes the hunger was such that a lotta times we stirred up a little fight to go eat some grub in the slammer. Ah, good meal in the stomach… But, forgive my language, we gave it all back afterwards, cause the grub was already spoilt. But, while it was still in our stomachs… calm… what joy!  Nah, but now things is gettin’ better, ya know?  There’s a really nice lady, over there in Leblon, who really likes to see me swaller shards of glass. That’s some real kindness! With that, I already saved some five hundred thousand réis. When I get a little more, I’m getting gone.  I’m going back to my Ceará.


I gonna leave for my Ceará because there I have a name
And here I’m nothing, I’m just a Joe-Hungry
I’m just a “pau-de-arara,” I don’t even know how to sing anymore
I’m going to prod my mule, I’m leaving before everything blows up
Because I’m thinkin’ the weather’s hot
And it can’t get any worse than this

–Interpretation —

The pau de arara truck, which migrants traveled on for days to reach cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

Pau-de-arara — literally “parrot’s perch” — is a rustic truck (pictured above) that millions of migrants from Brazil’s poorest northeastern states traveled on to cities in the southeast, most notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  In turn, in these cities “pau-de-arara” also turned into a pejorative term for migrants from the northeast, as the singer alludes to at the end of the song: “Here… I’m just a pau-de-arara.”

The Xaxado is a traditional northeastern dance in which dancers shuffle, or “drag,” their feet to the rhythm (see this YouTube video). The name Xaxado – pronounced “sha-shado” –  is an onomatopoeia for the sound the dancers’ feet make dragging on the ground. I translated literally, “…What hunger I had” – even though it’s not something we would say in English – mostly to keep the first line as true to the original Portuguese as possible:  “…I had nothing, what hunger I had.”  Some of the northeastern accent/dialect in the song — “para as moças oiá,”  “não pode ficá”  — is lost in the English translation, though I’ve tried to keep it where I could.

As  migration from northeastern Brazil became increasingly intense in the 1950s and 1960s (see this post), and political and social engagement in Brazilian popular music became more popular, songs about the migrants’ condition – both in the drought-plagued northeast and in the southeastern cities – grew more common.  The pau-de-arara itself became a recurrent theme in such songs, perhaps the most well-known being “Pau-de-Arara” by Luiz Gonzaga and Guio de Moraes (1952) and “Ultimo Pau-de-arara” by Venâncio, Corumbá, and José Palmeira Guimarães (1973). (In this 1973 video, Maria Bethânia sings both.)

This song was written during the years of closest collaboration between Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes. In 1962, Carlos presented Vinicius with a set of melodies in need of lyrics.  To Carlos’s surprise, Vinicius declared that the songs went perfectly together, and should be turned into a musical.  During a summer stay in Vinicius’s home in Petrópolis, a mountain resort town in Rio de Janeiro where Vinicius had also written the lyrics for “Garota de Ipanema,” the two worked on the songs together. Vinicius wrote lyrics for Lyra’s melodies and wove them into a story called Pobre Menina Rica, Poor Rich Girl. The musical play was written with Nara Leão in mind as the protagonist, a lonely rich girl who falls in love with a disabled beggar living outside of her home.

Carlos Lyra wasn’t convinced by the plot, and asked Vinicius, “Don’t you think it’s a bit unlikely that this beautiful rich girl would fall in love with a beggar?”  Vinicius, ever the romantic, responded, “It so happens that this beggar is charming, advanced, and put-together… and what’s more, it was Spring, my dear partner, Spring, understand?” Ultimately, the perhaps implausible plot was overshadowed by the lovely songs in the play, including “Primavera,” “Sabe você,” “Maria Moita,” and “Samba do Carioca,” along with “Pau de Arara.”

The play was put on first at Teatro Maison de France, then moved to Teatro de Bolsa, at which point some of the actors were replaced. That’s when the comedian Ary Toledo (singing in the video above) began playing the role of the migrant from Ceará, who was based on a poor northeasterner, familiar to Vinicius, who lived on Copacabana and got by dancing Xaxado and swallowing razors. Toledo asked Carlos Lyra for permission to record the song for the soundtrack, in 1964, and went on to record a live version at Teatro Record during the program O Fino da Bossahosted by Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues. The audience laughed heartily at Toledo’s comic performance, as you can hear in the recording.

Tom Jobim was meant to provide musical arrangement for the album Pobre Menina Rica, and Elis Regina, just 19 years old at the time, was considered to sing the rich girl’s songs on the soundtrack.  Tom nixed Elis for the role, though, saying her disheveled appearance made her look more like a country bumpkin than a patrician (even though no one would actually have seen her). Ultimately, Tom didn’t end up handing in musical arrangements, either. Carlos Lyra said this was because the 1964 military coup left Tom worried about dictatorship’s reaction to the musical’s “social theme”; Tom said he just didn’t have time. Thus, for the soundtrack, the part of the rich girl ended up going to Dulce Nunes, and Radamés Gnatalli took over the musical arrangement. And so, as Ruy Castro mentions in Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias da Bossa Nova, Pobre Menina Rica “missed the chance to bring together Tom Jobim and Elis Regina ten years earlier than they finally ended up working together,” on the legendary 1974 album Elis & Tom.

Carlos Lyra (left), Aloysio de Oliveira, Nara Leão and Vinicius de Moraes preparing the musical “Pobre Menina Rica”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Eu vinha cansado da fome que tava, da fome que eu tinha
Eu não tinha nada, que fome que eu tinha
Que seca danada no meu Ceará
Eu peguei e juntei um restinho de coisa que eu tinha
Duas calça velha, uma violinha
E num pau-de-arara toquei para cá
E de noite ficava na praia de Copacabana
Zanzando na praia de Copacabana
Dançando o xaxado pras moças oiá
Virgem Santa, que a fome era tanta que nem voz eu tinha
Meu Deus, tanta moça… que fome que eu tinha
Mais fome que eu tinha no meu Ceará


Foi aí que eu resolvi comê gilete.
Tinha um compadre meu lá de Quixeramubim que ganhou um dinheirão comendo gilete na praia de Copacabana. De dia ele ia de casa em casa pedindo gilete véia, e de noite ele comia aquilo tudinho pro pessoal vê. Eu não sei não, mas acho que ele comeu tanto, que quando eu cheguei lá na praia aquele pessoá já tava até com indigestão de tanto vê o camarada comê gilete. Uma vez, eu tava com tanta fome que falei assim prum moço que ia passando: “Decente! Voismecê deixa eu comê uma giletezinha pra voismecê vê?” “Sai pra lá, pau-de-arara. Tu não te manca, não?” “Oh, distinto! Só uma, que eu não comi nadinha ainda hoje.” “Tu enche, hein, pau-de-arara!” Aquilo me deixou tão aperriado, que se não fosse o amor que eu tinha na minha violinha, eu tinha arrebentado ela na cabeça daquele pai-d’égua.


Puxa vida, não tinha uma vida pior do que a minha
Que vida danada, que fome que eu tinha
Zanzando na praia, pra lá e pra cá
Quando eu via toda aquela gente no come-que-come
Eu juro que tinha saudade da fome
Da fome que eu tinha no meu Ceará
E daí eu pegava e cantava e dançava o xaxado
E só conseguia porque no xaxado
Agente só pode mesmo se arrastar
Virgem Santa, que a fome era tanta que até parecia
Que mesmo xaxando meu corpo subia
Igual se tivesse querendo voar


Às vezes a fome era tanta que volta e meia a gente arrumava uma briguinha pra ir comê uma bóia no xadrez. Eta quentinho bom na barriga… Mas, com perdão da palavra, a gente devolvia tudo depois, que a bóia já vinha estragada. Mas, enquanto ela tava ali dentro da barriga… Quietinha… Que felicidade! Não… Mas agora as coisas tão meiorando, sabe? Tem uma senhora muito bondosa, lá no Leblon, que gosta muito de vê eu comê caco de vrido. Isso é que é bondade da boa. Com isso, já juntei assim uns quinhento mil réis. Quando tivé mais um pouquinho, eu vou-se embora. Volto pro meu Ceará.


Vou-se embora pro meu Ceará porque lá tenho um nome
E aqui não sou nada, sou só Zé-com-fome
Sou só pau-de-arara, nem sei mais cantar
Vou picar minha mula, vou antes que tudo rebente
Porque tô achando que o tempo tá quente
Pior do que anda não pode ficá

Main sources for this post:  A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958-1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello;  Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias da Bossa Nova by Ruy Castro; and the documentary Vinícius (2005).

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