A Rare Witness to an extinct Brazilian Language – With Poems in Karirí

BRAZIL. Bernardo de Nantes (fl. 1686-1709; Martin de Nantes (1638-1714)

Katecismo Indico da lingua Kariris, acrescentado de varias praticas doutrinaes, & moraes, adaptadas ao genio, & capacidade dos Indios do Brasil. pelo padre Fr. Bernardo de Nantes, capuchinho, prêgador, & missionario apostolico; offerecido ao muy alto, e muy poderoso rey de Portugal Dom Joaõ V.S.N. que Deos guarde.

Lisbon: V. da Costa, 1709


Octavo: 15.5 x 9.5 cm. [24], 363, [1] p. Collation: a8, b4, A-Y8, Z8 (with blank Z7, blank Z8 absent). Complete.


A very fine copy in contemporary limp vellum. Binding and contents in excellent condition with just a mild stain to two lvs. of the epistle. Provenance: 19th c. Library stamp of Dom Pedro de Sousa Holstein, Duque de Palmela (1781-1850), the first Prime Minister of Portugal; ownership inscription of C. R. Boxer (b. 1904), noted historian of Portuguese colonial history, on fly-leaf.

An extremely rare Catechism, the first in the Karirí-Dzubucuá language, printed in Portuguese and Karirí in parallel columns. With other important texts in Karirí (see below). The book is a valuable witness to this now-extinct language. Today, the roughly 4,000 ethnic Karirís are largely monolingual Portuguese speakers.

The translation is the work of Bernardo de Nantes, Superior of the Capuchins of Pernambuco. In his preface to King João V, he writes that he has been teaching among the Indians for 23 years and explains that this language is considerably different from the language of the Karirí-Kipeá Indians, for whom a Catechism (by Mamiani) had appeared in 1698.(See Kappel, Bosch 162). 

“The terms Karirí and Kiriri are not mere mis-spellings. In the prologue to Garcia’s edition of Mamiani’s ‘Arte’, he writes that ‘Quiriri’ is applied to the tribes of Bahia, and ‘Cariri’ for those of the North. According to Garcia, the Karirís lived near the river of São Francisco and spoke Dubucuá (or Dzubucuá), a different language, but related to that of another tribe, the Kipeá. In the study of Rodrigues (1999) we read that ‘Karirí was mainly located between Itapicuru and the middle and lower São Francisco river, in central and north-eastern Bahia and southern Sergipe, and with some extensions northward and southward.’”(Zwartjes, Portuguese Missionary Grammars, p. 178)

Singing in Dzubucuá

The book includes two poems, “Spiritual Canticles”, the first on the mystery of the incarnation of the Word of God, the other a song for Saint Francis, by the Capuchin friar Martin de Nantes, Bernardo’s predecessor, who labored in the Bahia mission from 1671 to 1688. These two songs “are probably among the first examples of religious poetry sung in a native language other than Tupî in Brazil.”(Castagna)

“During his Brazilian mission, Martin de Nantes preached the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo in Portuguese but when he became proficient in the local language, [Martin] wrote an [unpublished] vocabulary, a catechism [the text at the conclusion of this volume?] , and a ‘Life of Saints’ in Karirí [unpublished] and possibly also a grammar which has disappeared... He often wrote about the importance of learning the language of the tribes, since he reports that many Portuguese priests did not know the local language…. His successor, Bernardo de Nantes, probably used the linguistic work of Martin when he published his ‘Katecismo Indico’ in 1709.”(Zwartjes, Portuguese Missionary Grammars, p. 178)

Instructing the Karirí in the mysteries of the faith.

More than half the volume is dedicated to yet another text in Karirí, “Moral instructions in the form and practice of the mysteries of our holy faith”, an explanation of the Catechism, perhaps by Martin. Its chapters cover: God, the Creation, Fall of the Angels; Creation of Man, Man's Fall, and the coming of Christ; The Passion; Resurrection; Ascension; Last Judgment; Sacrament of Penance; and Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Full contents: Katecismo (p. 1-151); Cantico espiritval sobre o mysterio da encarnaçao do Verbo Divino, pelo padre Fr. Martinho de Nantes, Capuchinho (p. 152-161); Cantico espiritual a S. Francisco (p. 162-167); Instrucçoens moraes em fórma de praacticas sobre os principaes mysterios de nosa santa fè (p. 168-363).

Sabin 51749; Alden-L. 709/17; Innocencio I, 382, 302; Borba de Moraes. 102; Streit III, S. 447 f.; Rodrigues 1741; Bosch 162; 7 North America copies: NYPL, Catholic Univ., LC, Newberry, Indiana, Harvard, JCB, Austin.