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Carnival of Pernambuco

Carnival is characterized by parties, public entertainment, masquerade balls and folkloric manifestations. In Brazil, Carnival is traditionally celebrated on the Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday preceding the forty days that go from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

Carnival of Pernambuco

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 03/03/2023

By: Claudia M. de Assis Rocha Lima - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - PhD in Sciences of Religion

The origin of Carnival

Ten thousand years before Christ, men, women, and children met in the summer with masked faces and painted bodies to ward off bad harvest demons. The origins of the Carnival have been sought in the oldest celebrations of humanity, such as the Egyptian festivals that honored the goddess Isis and the Apis bull. The Greeks celebrated with grandeur at the Lupercalia and Saturnalia Festivals the return of spring, which symbolized the rebirth of nature. But, at one point, it was generally  agreed that the great parties, such as the Carnival, are associated with astronomical phenomena and natural cycles. The Carnival is characterized by parties, public amusements, masquerade balls, and folkloric manifestations. In Europe, the most famous carnivals were or are those of Paris, Venice, Munich, and Rome, followed by Naples, Florence, and Nice.


Carnival in Brazil

The Carnival was called Entrudo due to the influence of the Portuguese from Madeira Island, Azores, and Cape Verde. In 1723, they brought a play similar to Tag, in which the “tagged” people were splashed with water, flour, and lemon water, which eventually led to tradition of battling with confetti and serpentines. In Brazil, the Carnival is traditionally celebrated on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before the forty days ranging from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. In the state of Bahia, it is also celebrated on the Thursday of the third week of the Great Lent, changing its name to Micareta. This festival originated many others in the Northeastern states, all with characteristics of Bahia, with the indispensable presence of the Trios Elétricos. Such festivals are held throughout the year: in Fortaleza, the Fortal takes place; in Natal, the Carnatal; in João Pessoa, the Micaroa; in Campina Grande, the Micarande; in Maceió, the Carnival Fest; in Caruaru, the Micarú; in Recife, the Recifolia, now extinct.

Carnival in Recife

17th century –- According to the ancient traditions, around the end of the 17th century, the Companies of Sugar Shippers and the Companies of Goods Shippers existed. These companies usually met to agree on how to hold some celebrations, especially for the Folia de Reis (popular festival in honor of the biblical Magi). This great number of workers consisted mostly of Black people, free or enslaved, who suspended their duties from the day before the Folia de Reis. They gathered early, forming processions with wooden coffins carried by the partying group and, sitting on it, a person leading a flag. They walked improvising songs at a marching pace, and rockets were heard in much of the city.

18th century – The Maracatus de Baque Virado, or Maracatus da Nação Africana, emerged particularly from the 18th century. Melo Morais Filho, a writer of the 20th century, describes in his book Festivais e Tradições Populares a coronation of a Black King in 1742. Pereira da Costa, on page 215 of his book, Folk-lore Pernambucano, transcribes a document concerning the coronation of the first King of the Congo, held in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, of the Parish of Boa Vista, in Recife. The first records of these coronation ceremonies date back to the second half of the 18th century in the churchyards of Recife, Olinda, Igarassu, and Itamaracá, in the state of Pernambuco, promoted by the brotherhoods of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men and St. Benedict.

19th century – After the abolition of slavery in 1888, the employers and authorities at the time allowed the emergence of the first carnival associations, formed by urban workers in the former commercial districts. It is assumed that the Folia de Reis served as inspiration for the entertainment of the Carnival of  Recife. According to older people who participated in these carnivals, the first club to appear was possibly the Caiadores. Its headquarters were located on Rua do Bom Jesus, and it was founded by Portuguese Antônio Valente, among others. On the Tuesday afternoon of Carnival, the club attended the Parish of St. Joseph, playing a beautiful carnival march, and the members, carrying buckets, paint cans, ladders, and sticks with brushes climbed the steps of the church and caiavam (painted) them, symbolically.  Originated from the Caiadores, the Bloco das Pás de Carvão emerged in 1888, and in 1890 changed its name to Clube Carnavalesco Misto das Pás. Other clubs existed in the neighborhood of Recife: Xaxadores, Canequinhas Japonesas, Marujos do Ocidente, and Toureiros de Santo Antônio.

20th Century – The Recife Carnival consisted of many carnival and recreational societies. Among all, the Clube Internacional, called the club of the rich, stood out. Its headquarters were on Rua da Aurora, in the Palácio das Águias. The Tuna Portuguesa, now the Clube Português, had its headquarters on Rua do Imperador. The Charanga do Recife, a musical and recreational society, was based on Avenida Marquês de Olinda. And the Recreativa Juventude, an association that assembled in its halls the youth of the neighborhood of São José. In the beginning of this century, the Carnival was held in the streets of Concórdia, Imperatriz, and Nova, where papangus and pillowcase-masked performers (lace-trimmed pillowcases stuck in the head and skirts from the waist down and another over the shoulders) paraded, and they  always performed in groups. Back then, Recife had no electricity and street lighting was streetlamps burning carbon dioxide. Transportation on Carnival days was overcrowded from the suburbs to the city. The lines were made by the trains of Great Western and Trilhos Urbanos do Recife, called maxambombas, which brought the revelers of VárzeaDois Irmãos, Arraial, Beberibe, and Olinda. The Companhia de Ferro Carril, with donkey-drawn streetcars, brought revelers from Afogados, Madalena, and Encruzilhada. The clubs that performed from 1904 to 1912 were Cavalheiros de Satanás, Caras Duras, Filhos da Candinha, and U.P.M.,the latter created as a joke to men who had no more virility.

The Corso – Traveled over the following itinerary: Square of the Recife Law School, leaving by Rua do Hospício, following  Rua da ImperatrizRua Nova, Rua do Imperador, Princesa Isabel, and stopping on the square of the Law School. The corso (a parade with ornated, luxury cars) consisted of horse-drawn vehicles such as: cabriolé, aranha, charrete, and others. The play in the corso was with confetti and serpentine, lemon water, and pistols with scented water. There were also horse-drawn and well ornamented trucks and wagons, and boys and girls played and sang marches of the time, giving a joyful musicality to the event. Fanfares hired by families paraded in beautiful floats.



Recife, July 21, 2003.

how to quote this text

LIMA, Cláudia M. de Assis Rocha. Carnival of Pernambuco. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available at: Access on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2020.)