CARNIVALE CULTURE

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CARNIVALE CULTURE

I have found many interesting facts and information about Carnival around the world, and I pleased to share it. There are many similarities between countries.

In Trinidad & Tobago, Carnival is a festival season that lasts months and culminates in large celebrations in Port of Spain which is the capital of Trinidad, on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with Dimanche Gras, J’ouvert, and Mas (masquerade). Tobago’s celebrations also culminate on Monday and Tuesday but on a much smaller scale in its capital Scarborough. Many people from various other Caribbean islands visit Trinbago at this time to participate in the festivities as either reveler or spectator. Carnival is a festive time of costumes, dance, music, competitions, rum, and partying. Music styles associated with Carnival include Soca, Calypso and Rapso and more recently Chutney-soca.   The annual Carnival Steel Pan competition known as the National Panorama competition is held in the weeks preceding Carnival with the finals held on the Saturday before the main event. Pan players compete in various categories such as “Conventional Steel Band” or “Single Pan Band” by performing renditions of the current year’s calypsos. Preliminary judging of this event for “Conventional Steel Bands” has been recently moved to the individual pan yards where steel bands practice their selections for the competition. “Dimanche Gras” takes place on the Sunday night before Ash Wednesday. Here the Calypso Monarch is chosen and prize money and a vehicle bestowed. Also the King and Queen of the bands are crowned, where each band to parade costumes for the next two days submits a king and queen, from which an overall winner is chosen. These usually involve huge, complex, beautiful well-crafted costumes that includes ‘wire-bending’.

J’ouvert, or “Dirty Mas”, takes place before dawn on the Monday (known as Carnival Monday) before Ash Wednesday. It means “”opening of the day”. Here revelers dress in mainly character costumes that make use of puns on current affairs, especially political and social. “Clean Mud” (clay mud), oil paint and body paint are usually familiar sights on one’s body during J’ouvert. A common character to be seen at this time is “Jab-jabs” (devils, blue, black or red) complete with pitchfork, pointed horns and tails. Here also, a King and Queen of J’ouvert are chosen, based on their representation of current political/social events/issues.

Guatemala   – The most famous Carnival celebration in Guatemala is in Mazatenango. During the month of February, Mazatenango is famous for its eight-day Carnival Feast. Locals and visitors alike look forward to the days of food, music, parades, games, etc. that bring the streets of the capital city of the department of Suchitepequez to life.

The Panamanian Carnival is the second biggest festival in the world of termintor. Traditionally beginning on Friday and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, “los Carnavales”, as Panamanians refer to the days of Carnival, are celebrated in almost the whole country. Carnival Week in Panama is especially popular because of the luxury and magnitude of the Las Tablas Carnival as well as the Carnival celebrations in Panama City and almost all of the Azuero Peninsula. The Panamanian Carnival is also popular because of the great number of concerts by national and international artists held on different stages in the most visited areas of the country

In Argentina, the most representative Carnival performed is the so-called Murga, although other famous Carnival, more Brazilian stylized, are held in the Argentine Mesopotamia and the North-East. Gualeguaychu in the east of Entre Rios province is the most important Carnival city and has one of the largest parades, with a similar Afro-American musical background to Brazilian or Uruguayan Carnival. Chamame, a kind of polka is played during the Carnivals. In all major cities and many towns throughout the country, Carnival is also celebrated. Carnival coincides with summer, in many parts of Argentina children play with water. The 19th century tradition of filling empty egg shells with water has evolved into water games that include the throwing of water balloons.

La Diablada Carnival takes place in the city of Oruro in central Bolivia. It is celebrated in honor of the patron saint of miners, the Virgin of the Tunnels. Over 50 parade groups dance, sing and play music over a five kilometre-long course. Participants dress up as demons, devils, angels, Incas and Spanish conquerors. There are various kinds of dances such as caporales and tinkus. The parade runs from morning until late at night, 18 hours a day, and 3 days before Ash Wednesday. Meanwhile throughout the country celebrations are held involving traditional rhythms and water parties.

The Carnival in Brazil is a major part of the Brazilian Culture, and it is sometimes referred to by the Brazilians as the “Greatest Show on Earth”. The first ever true carnival expression of this Brazilian festivity, officially recognized by Carnaval historians in Brazil, took place in Rio de Janeiro, with the “préstitos”, very similar to musical processions, in 1641, when John IV of Portugal was crowned as a King and parties were celebrated in Rio public streets.

Rio de Janeiro — A beautiful show takes place in Rio Carnival, with samba schools, parading in the Sambadrome.   Called “One of the biggest shows of the Earth”, the festival attracts millions of tourists, both Brazilians and foreigners who come from everywhere to participate and enjoy the great show. Samba Schools are large, social entities with thousands of members and a theme for their song and parade each year. Local tourists are allowed to participate, paying ($500–950), depending on the costume, to buy a Samba costume and dance in the parade through the Sambadrome with one of the schools. The price paid is used to buy the tourist’s own costume and also the costumes of the people who do not have the money to afford it. The Carnival continued its evolution and re-interpretation in the small towns where celebrations did not offend the ruling elites. The result was the uninterrupted celebration of Carnival festivals in Barranquilla which has been recognized as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

In Ecuador, the celebrations have a history that begins before the arrival of Catholicism. It is known that the Huarangas Indians (from the Chimbos nation) used to celebrate the second moon of the year with a festival at which they threw flour, flowers and perfumed water. This once pagan tradition has since merged with the Catholic celebration of Carnival.   A common feature of Ecuadorian Carnival is little devils who play with water. As with snowball fights, the practice of throwing or dumping water on unsuspecting victims is especially revered by children and teenagers, and feared by some adults. Throwing water balloons, sometimes even eggs and flour both to friends and strangers passing by the street can be a lot of fun but can also raise the ire of unfamiliar foreigners and even locals.     Although the government as well as school authorities forbid such games, it is still widely practiced throughout the country.

The Carnival of French Guiana is a major aspect of the culture of that country. Although its roots are in the Creole culture, everyone participates – mainland French, Brazilians and Chinese as well as creoles.     Its duration is variable, determined by movable religious festivals: Carnival begins at Epiphany and ends on Ash Wednesday, and so typically lasts through most of January and February. During this period, from Friday evening until Monday morning the entire country throbs to the rhythm of the masked balls and street parades. Normal life slows almost to a stop. Friday afternoons are the time for eating the cake of kings and drinking champagne. The cake may be flavoured with frangipani, guava, or coconut.    On Sunday afternoons major parades are staged in the streets of Cayenne, Kourou, and Saint-Laurent du Maroni. Competing groups prepare for months. Dressed according to the agreed theme of the year, they strut along with Carnival floats, drums, and brass bands.

Brazilian groups are also appreciated for their elaborate feathered and sequined costumes. However, they are not eligible for competition since the costumes do not change from one year to the next.   Certain mythical characters appear regularly in the parades: Karolin: A small person dressed in a magpie tail and top hat, riding on a shrew. Les Nèg’marrons: Groups of men dressed in red loincloths, bearing ripe tomatoes in their mouths and their bodies smeared with grease or molasses. These men deliberately try to come in contact with spectators, soiling their clothes. Les makoumés: Men in drag (out of the Carnival context, makoumé is a pejorative term for a homosexual). Soussouris (the bat): a character dressed in a winged leotard from head to foot, usually black in colour. Traditionally malevolent, this character is liable to chase spectators and “sting” them.

A uniquely Creole tradition of this version of Carnival is the touloulous. These are women wearing highly decorative gowns, gloves, masks and headdresses which cover them completely so that they are not only unrecognizable, but the colour of their skin cannot even be determined. On Friday and Saturday nights of Carnival, touloulou balls are held in large dance halls that only open in Carnival time. Touloulous get in free, and are even given condoms in the interest of the sexual health of the community. Men also attend the balls, but they have to pay admittance and they are not disguised. The touloulous pick their dance partners, who may not refuse the dance. The setup is designed to make it easy for a woman to create a temporary liaison with a man she fancies in total anonymity. Undisguised women are not welcome at the balls. By tradition, if one gets up to dance, the orchestra stops playing. Alcohol is served at bars – the disguised women also pick up men by whispering to them “touloulou thirsty”, at which a round of drinks is expected, to be drunk through a straw so as not to unmask in the slightest. The final four days of Carnival have a rigid tradition of celebration, and no work is done at all.

The Carnival in Uruguay is the longest of the world, with more than 40 days of celebration, generally beginning towards the end of January and through mid-March, with celebrations in Montevideo, the capital, being the largest and brightest. The festival is performed in the European parade style with elements from Bantu and Angolan Benguela cultures imported with slaves in colonial times. The main attractions of Uruguayan Carnival include two colorful parades called Carnival Parade and Calls Parade, a candombe- summoning parade.

During the forty days of celebration, popular theaters called tablados are built in many places throughout the cities, especially in Montevideo. Traditionally the different Carnival groups called mainly Murgas, Lubolos or Parodistas perform a kind of popular opera at the tablados, singing and dancing songs that generally relate to social reality and political situation in the country. The ‘Calls’ groups, basically formed by drummers playing the tamboril, perform candombe rhythmic figures. Revelers also wear their festival clothing. Each group has its own theme. Women wearing elegant, bright dresses are called vedettes and provide the sensual touch to parades.   European archetypes (Pierrot, Harlequin and Columbina) merge with African ancestral elements (the Old Mother, the Medicine Man, and the Magician) in the local version of the festival. As a manifestation of Uruguayan culture and a growing tourist attraction, Uruguayan Carnival is currently receiving important governmental support.

Carnival in Venezuela (2 days of festivals, 40 days before Easter) is a time when youth in many rural towns have water fights. Anybody and everybody that is out in the streets during the week of Carnival is subject to being soaked. Coastal town and provinces celebrate Carnival much more fervently these days than any place in the country. Venezuela regards Carnival about the same way they regard Christmas and Semana Santa (Holy Week; the week before Easter Sunday) when they take the opportunity to visit their families and enjoy this festive time with them.

Kathy Kiefer

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