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Carnival in Northeastern Brazil

Carnival, a party from old, original catholic tradition from Europe, happens every year in the three days before Lent.

Carnival in Northeastern Brazil

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 26/02/2014

By: Rita de Cássia Barbosa de Araújo - Researcher and historian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Carnival, a party from old, original catholic tradition from Europe, happens every year in the three days before Lent. Introduced in Brazil by the Portuguese colonizers, it was known as Entrudo during the first centuries of colonial life. In this period, they used to throw lime and lemon fragrance and powder and containers of water and other liquids over one another. The entertainment was enjoyed among families in stately homes or in the streets and in squares where the slaves and free poor men usually had fun.

During the Empire the party, dedicated to laughter and pleasure, started being called more commonly, Carnival. The urban elites little by little abandoned the playful activity of the Entrudo and turned their looks to the carnival in the most progressive cities in Europe, such as Nice, Paris, Naples, Rome and Venice, where the party was cheered by balls, dances, music, illuminated ballrooms, banquets, pageants and parades of masks and luxurious costumes throughout the cities. The entertainment was seen as a sign of civilization and progress, of elegance and cultural development.

From the mid 19th century, carnival societies appeared, formed by the members of socio-economic and cultural urban elites whose members would show off wearing masks, parading in cars of allegory and criticism. To criticize costumes, politics and the social types through laughter and humor and without committing personal offenses was an extremely valued practice. Salvador, in Bahia, had the Bando Anunciador dos Festejos Carnavalescos, the Cavalheiros do Luar and the Cavalheiros da Noite, whose members were the boys from the shops and some clerks. In the 1890s, the clubs of black man appeared parading in luxury cars of criticism and ideas, followed by an orchestra made of African instruments. Their names referred to Africa: African Embassy and Pândegos d’África, African Arrival and African Warriors. Those great black clubs constituted a special feature of the Carnival from Salvador.

In Recife, the Carnival of masks, of criticism and allegories was represented by the carnival societies Asmodeu, Garibaldina, Comuna Carnavalesca, Azucrins, Os Philomomos, Cavalheiros da Época, Fantoches do Recife, Clube Cara Dura, Seis e Meia do Arraial and others. In 1883, the Clube Francisquinha was all the fun in the street Carnival of São Luís in Maranhão. Standing out in their presence in the Momo King merrymaking after the 1870s, the clubs of allegory and criticism were deeply decadent in the first years of the 20th century.

The more popular classes, in turn, continued to occupy the streets with their playful activities and their fun, being the object of contempt of the elite, of criticism from the press and repression from police — segments which saw them as a sign of ignorance and low socio-economic conditions and as a potential threat to public order. In Recife, besides the Entrudo, the “populacho” surrendered to sambas, maracatus and cambindas, had fun with the King of Congo, the fandangos and the bumba-meu-boi. In São Luís, in the late 19th century, the baralhos proliferated — a group of black men painted white, carrying umbrellas — and the strings of bears, buffers, bats, deaths, dirties and others animals such as guarás, sheep, eagles. In the party in Salvador, the “caretas” appeared with straw mats around them  or with tree leaves covering their abadás; besides the charicature of Ioiô Mandu, a costume made with underwear, sieve, the handle of a sweep and an old jacket.

In 1905, to avoid the so called process of “africanization” of the Carnival in Salvador, the repressive measures to popular carnival street parties were intensified, those parties included batuques, sambas and candomblés. Until the beginning of the 1930s, there were no known notifications of clubs or blocks evoking Africa or doing batuques in the central streets of the capital from Bahia.

In Recife, from the 1880s, a decade when slavery was abolished and the Republic proclaimed in Brazil, the number of popular carnival associations in the streets was multiplied, they were formed by urban workers, art craft workers and artists, factory workers, clerks, street markets traders, domestic employees. When they had public presentations, they brought with them all sorts of people: unemployed, lazy people, street boys, capoeiras. Among the walking carnival club, dominated those which were accompanied by music bands or orchestras of metal which played vibrant carnival marches, later known as marchas pernambucanas and, finally, as frevo: Caiadores, Caninha Verde, Vassourinhas, Pás, Lenhadores, Vasculhadores, Espanadores, Ciscadores, Ferreiros, Empalhadores do Feitosa, Suineiros da Matinha, Engomadeiras, Parteiras de São José, Cigarreiras Revoltosas, Verdureiros em Greve, among so many others. In the come and go of clubs and bands, the frevo was born and also the steps from Pernambuco. In the early 21st century, it was established that the frevo was born in 1907, a year when the first record of the word frevo was found in a local newspaper, the Jornal Pequeno, on the issue of 9 February 1907.

The maracatu nations, with their loas and toadas de bombo, were also considered by the elite as dangerous, infected, producers of a “terrible noise”, they started being more or less tolerated by the elite from Pernambuco from the 1920s and 1930s, maybe because they referred to the traditional ceremony of the King of Congo and for the fact that some were exhibited “prominently organized”. Blacks, mulatos and caboclos sought even more space in the party organized in Caboclinhos, groups which would perform with music, dance and costumes which evoked the auto-hieratic used by the Jesuit missionary in catechizing the indigenous: Canindés Tribe (1897), Carijós (1899), Tupinambás (1906) and Taperaguases (1916).

As from 1930, the process to make Carnival in Brazil official started and the cultural expressions coming from the popular classes started to be recognized as a great force and expression of Carnival. In Recife, the Federação Carnavalesca Pernambucana, founded in 1935, became responsible by the organization of parties and defined the categories of street carnival associations: club of frevo, troça, bloco, maracatu nação or of baque virado and caboclinhos. Were excluded from the list the popular bears and bulls from the Carnival and the maracatus de baque solto. At that time, the frevo started being considered official as a symbol of cultural identity from Pernambuco. In São Luís, in 1929, the groups of batucada or blocks appeared, recovering the traditional local rhythms. In Salvador, the popular carnival recovered the excitement as from 1949, with the creation of afoxé Filhos de Gandhi, a group formed by dockworkers and connected to candomblé.

In the 1950s, the city Halls of Recife and São Luís assumed the organization of their respective Carnivals and the established the official competitions between the different categories of carnival associations. They had the intention, among other things, of transforming Carnival into a touristic product and into a great open air show. The appearance of trio elétrico, which radically changed the structure and the shape of the carnival parties in Salvador, dates from 1951. In the 1980s, the trios elétricos were seen entertaining the Carnivals and Micaremes, the so called out of season Carnivals “fora de época”, in several Brazilian cities.

During the years of military dictatorship, the street Carnivals in Recife, Salvador and São Luís almost disappeared. They started recovering strength and energy with the first signs of political opening, after 1975. In Pernambuco, the street parties exploded from the streets of Olinda where the carnival clubs were shown in the middle of the crowd, without parades, runways and official competitions. In 1978, in Recife, the Mask Club O Galo da Madrugada appeared, which would become the largest carnival association in the world, according to the Guinness Book of records, in the turn from the 20th to the 21st century. In São Luís, propelled by the growth of the Black Movement, the first blocks of cultural Afro-Brazilian matrix appeared, around 1984, and, since the 1990s, the Carnival has shown its vitality through the cultural expressions of local roots.

In the city of Salvador, the Filhos de Gandhi and the Ilê Aiyê, created in 1974, were established as great expressions of negritude, contributing for the process of preservation, strengthening and valuing of the ethnical and cultural identity of afro-descendants and gave a positive sense to the so called “re-africanization” of the Carnival from Bahia. Afoxés and blocks of black people share today the avenues and the attention of the public and of mass communication means with trios elétricos and the blocks with their abadás and isolation chains. By the end of the 20th century, the party in Bahia already had been converted into a profitable and cost-effective commercial undertaking, subject to the influences of the market, although many still look to it simply to laugh, have fun and play.

Recife, 9 December 2009.

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Fonte: ARAÚJO, Rita de Cássia Barbosa de.. Carnaval no Nordeste do Brasil. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em:<>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009