There was a time when Carnival was called shrovetide, the time when instead of the masks glittering, the lemons, the water pans, the baths and various graces were substituted by others, I don’t know for better or worse. (Um dia de entrudo (A Shrovetide Day), Machado de Assis)
‘Entrudo’, from the Latin introitu (introduction) is a synonym of Carnival and, in Brazil, was also the name of an old Carnival game, brought by Portuguese colonisers, in the 16th century. Its name refers to the period preceding ‘Quaresma’ (Lent) (from the Latin quadragesima), the Christian term used to designate the period of forty days that precede Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Palm Sunday. Shrovetide took place on the three days prior to Ash Wednesday.
In Portugal, it was known as “dias gordos” (fat days), for being a party where there was an abundance of wine, meat and sex, contrasting with the forty days of Lent – a time of abstinence, fasting and penance for Catholics.
Known as Fat Shrovetide, it was also celebrated in several European countries.
Records of Shrovetide in Brazil in the 16th to 18th centuries are rare. Only from the 19th century is there more information about the festival, which was celebrated in practically every region of Brazil.
The game, which remained during Colonial Brazil and the Brazilian Empire, basically consisted of throwing water at others, using jars, bowls, syringes and squirts. This was complemented with a “bath” of flour, starch, mud or chalk.
It was a simple festival that contained a dose of spontaneity and improvisation, dispensing with the grand preparations that used to happen in public festivals.
Around two months before the events, production began of limes, oranges or lemons – small objects with the shape and size of an orange, made from thin wax, containing perfumes that were used in the “Carnival wars” of Shrovetide. Afterwards, non-recommendable materials began to be used, such as mud, rotten fruit and urine.
Families usually played in a private, previously chose space. The streets and parks served as the stage for the less favourable classes, such as poor freemen or slaves. The latter could only play in times permitted by their owners, when there wasn’t much demand for work. Generally they went to the streets tattooed or painted white or red, until nightfall, dancing and singing to the sound of percussion musical instruments such as ‘atabaques’, ‘marimbas’ e ‘zabumbas’.
When referring to the typical cuisine of the Shrovetide period, ‘filhós’ (donuts) and ‘sonho’ (dreams) can be mentioned; sweets that were sold by black people, either free or slaves, on decorated trays scattered throughout the city streets.
At least two foreign travellers recorded in their chronicles the Pernambuco Shrovetide: Englishman Henry Koster, in his book Travels in Brazil (1816) and the Frenchman Louis-François Tollenare in his Notas dominicais tomadas durante uma viagem em Portugal e no Brasil em 1816, 1817 e 1818 (Sunday Notes Taken During a Travel in Portugal and Brazil in 1816, 1817 and 1818).
In Brazilian colonial times, Shrovetide was one of the main forms of public entertainment, celebrated as much in the cities and in the country.
Despite having attempts by public authorities in prohibiting Shrovetide in Colonial Brazil – there are records of warnings and permits against the games since the 17th century – it was only from the 1820s and, especially, the 1830s that the prohibition and the combat of Shrovetide intensified through systematic campaigns.
In 1822, with the Independence of Brazil, there where changes in the political and organisational structure of the country, bring social, political, economic and social changes with the objective of creating a new National State.
From the 1830s, the campaign against the games was given a strong boost with the entrance of the press, a powerful information and social penetration tool.
In the newspapers and publications of the Pernambuco press, various records of protests and criticisms of Shrovetide can be found. The newspaper O Carapuceiro (1832-1847), published in Recife by Father Lopes Gama, in 1834, openly condemned the games, attributing to them a barbaric, rude and pagan character. This helped to construct the idea that the merriment originated in religious festivals and cults from pagan or pre-Christian times, further encouraging the spirit of opposition to all that came from Portuguese coloniser, intensifying national sentiments that had flourished after the Independence of Brazil.
The Diario de Pernambuco also carried out a systematic campaign against Shrovetide, attributing pagan origins to it, saying it was responsible for stirring indecent feelings and promoting disorder and crime, leading to savagery and violence. In 1837, the newspaper published an article condemning Shrovetide, but unlike others, suggested that the partygoers were worthy of a civilised, decent, moderate and fashionable people.
The Folhinha de Almanak or Diario Ecclesiastico e Civil para as Províncias de Pernambuco, Parahyba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará e Alagoas, published in Recife, in 1858 (p. 96), gives us the rules for the games at the time:
SHROVETIDE AND MASKS
Extract of the regulations of 2 February 1858
The Shrovetide game with water, limes, lemons, mud, rotten fruit and any other object is expressly forbidden.
Masks with allusion to religion or dignitaries may not be used.
Slaves must not wear masks.
The arms of masks shall be made of cardboard or delicate wood.
Masks on the occasion of Carnival may only be worn on the streets until 8 o’clock at night.
Asking questions or entering into conversation with masked persons who are not decent is not permitted: as is looking to discover the secrets of said persons.
Masked persons who perform indecent acts or provoke brawls shall be punished.
Despite all the protests, criticism and attempts to forbid Shrovetide, especially the games that took place in public spaces, the revelry came to be very much rooted in the collective unconsciousness of party-goers. In the 1960s, the games made up part of the ‘Corso’ parade, being called mela-mela.
‘Entrudo’ continued to exist, with some modifications, enlivening the Recife Carnival until the 1970s, when it was decided to open the Dantas Barreto pedestrian mall, the main location for it, to traffic. The game lost its atmosphere and disappeared.
In the suburbs and outskirts of the city, however, mela-mela remained for a long time, mainly as a game played by children who enjoyed playing mela-mela with talcum powder, flour, lipstick, starch and giving water baths to unsuspecting drivers passing by in their cars with the windows open.
Recife, 31 March 2008.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Shrovetide (Entrudo). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.