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St John Festival in Caruaru

The city of Caruaru, known as the ‘Agreste Princess’ (geographical area in eastern Pernambuco) and the ‘Capital of Forró’, is situated 135 km from Recife.

St John Festival in Caruaru

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Last update: 20/03/2020

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Do leste ao oeste (From east to west)
Do norte ao sul (From north to south)
Da beira-mar ao Sertão (From the coast to the backwoods)
Do famoso Pajeú (Of the famous Pajeú)
O São João melhor que tem (The best St John’s festival there is)
É o de Caruaru (Is the one in Caruaru)
Da véspera até o dia (From the eve until the day)
Só se vê arrasta pé (You only see people dancing)
forró por todo lado (And forró everywhere)
Só não dança quem não quer (Not dancing are only those who don’t want to)
E o jantar preferido (And the favorite dinner)
É pamonha, queijo e café (Is tamale, cheese and coffee)
E os bacamarteiros (And the blunderbussers)
Dando volta no salão (Going around the room)
Com uma flor no chapéu (With a flower in their hats)
Suas armas em posição (Their weapons in position)
Fazem bonitos disparos (They shoot beautifully)
E gritam Viva São João! (And cry Hooray St John!)
Um São João em Caruaru (A St John Festival in Caruaru), cordel de Maria do Carmo Cristóvão, [197?].

The city of Caruaru, known as the ‘Agreste Princess’ (geographical area in eastern Pernambuco) and the ‘Capital of Forró’, is situated 135 km from Recife and offers visitors a wide variety of folkloric and tourist attractions characteristic of the popular culture of the Brazilian Northeast.

Since the late 19th Century, the June festivities in Caruaru have attracted people from the area and even from Recife. Celebrations were organised on private farms, with bonfires, balloons, fireworks, June square-dances, lots of canjica (traditional corn porridge with coconut milk), pamonha (a variation of tamales), corn and joy.

In Caruaru in the 1950s, a fireworks fair of all kinds, characteristic of the Northeast – buscapés, rockets, bombs, volcanoes, pistolões, firecrackers, sparklers, girândolas – was the joy of children and adults. The fireworks arrived in Brazil through the Portuguese and Spanish, who received them from the Chinese and the Arabs.

At that time, according to the Caruaru-born writer Nelson Barbalho, St John in the city was like this:

[...] In every household, preparations would begin for the night: wood on the doorsteps for the traditional bonfires, tables set with linen and new utensils to celebrate the date and “because we have visitors,” finishing touches on dresses. [...] Finally it was dark. Red dots emerged from house to house – the bonfires were lit. All windows opened and had small multi-coloured balloons lit inside with candle stubs. People dined hurriedly - canjica, pamonha, corn cake, coffee and corn cooked at home. The kids ran to the sidewalks – the small ones lighting sparklers and throwing caps; the older ones lighting roman candles and firecrackers; big kids having fun throwing big caps at the feet of passers-by, and lighting rockets whose fireballs protruded a great distance. Grown men took advantage of the celebration and also played with giant rockets and shot tubes. It was the reign of gunpowder, which spread to anyone. [...]

[...] There were hundreds of dances, of frolics around the whole city. [...] A group of girls and boys took an ox cart, decorated it in a traditional way and turned it into a bridal car. Yes, bridal car, which they used to organise an ironically funny hillbilly wedding in which the ox cart was indispensable.

[...] We strolled hand in hand with our girlfriends, around the huge campfire, listening to the crackling of wood branches and warming up in the sphere formed by the caressing warmth. We listened to the corn roasts turning into popcorn, the sounds of many fires, the girls clapping at every new balloon released into the immensity of the sky.

[...] And in the midst of everything, all the dances, the samba, the cocos danced in the floor all night long, delicious like the pés-de-moleque (traditional manioc cakes) cooked in every home.

Currently, the city holds the St John festival throughout the month of June, which is considered one of the most important of the Northeast June Festival Cycle, especially in the preservation of tradition and originality. It is the most traditional event on the city’s tourism calendar, attracting thousands of tourists from all over Brazil and abroad.

With years of tradition in June festivities, the St John Festival of Caruaru has taken place, since 1994, at the Event Square Luiz Gonzaga, a complex with 41,500 square metres, which houses the Caruaru Cultural Foundation, the Museum of Clay and Forró, a pavilion for exhibitions, the Municipal Secretary of Tourism, a stage for shows and the Vila of Forró, which reproduces a typical village of the interior with a small church, city hall, grocery store, banking and post office, built in masonry.

In the Vila do Forró, several bars and restaurants are located, decorated with typical motifs such as balloons, coloured flags, straw hats, and offering typical dishes of regional cuisine: cowpea beans, roast goat, clarified butter, pamonha, canjica, cooked or baked green corn.

In January 2011, the City Hall demolished the Vila do Forró, stating that another one will be raised again. However, today the project for the new building is just in the design phase.

During the festivities, which are distinguished by their grandeur and excitement, attracting more than one and a half million tourists, visitors can watch presentations of blunderbussers and fife bands, concerts by artists like Alceu ValençaDominguinhos, Elba Ramalho, Gilberto Gil, Zé Ramalho, Nando Cordel and other forró singers from the country, taste the regional cuisine and dance the authentic Northeast ‘forró pé de serra’ (‘foot hills’ forró).

Giant food and beverage also constitute major attractions of the festival, being served on previously scheduled days: the biggest hot chocolate, the largest quentão (traditional hot beverage with cachaça, ginger, cinnamon and sugar),  the biggest popcorn, the largest pamonha, the biggest couscous, the giant corn cake, the largest pé-de-moleque, the biggest rice pudding, the giant canjica, the biggest cassava cake, the largest corn starch (type of porridge) and the traditional giant cozido (meat and vegetable stew).

There is also the largest St John bonfire, made with green wood, and placed in front of the Church of the Convent, which is lit on 28 June.

From the usual quadrilhas, in 1989 appeared the so-called Drilhas in the Caruaru St John festival, street parties similar to the electric trios of the Salvador Carnival. To avoid spoiling the traditions of the June Festival, they only perform in the afternoon, on Agamenon Magalhães Avenue. The oldest and most traditional are the Gaydrilha, where only men participate dressed as backwoodsmen and women and other typical characters, and Sapadrilha, with women dressed as men, both created in 1989. Today there are many, including the Piradrilha; Diversãodrilha; Turisdrilha; Trokadrilha, the Brinkadrilha and New Drilha. According to the participants, what matters is the willingness to dance forró and to follow the bandwagon.

In 2009, the St John Festival in Caruaru paid tribute to the centenary of Mestre Vitalino – famous Caruaru potter – and in the same year, the event was registered, by proposition from the State Legislature, as an Immaterial Patrimony of Pernambuco.

Recife, 26 January 2011.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.

sources consulted

AXÉ invade São João de Caruaru. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 19 jan. 2011.

BARBALHO, Nelson. Caruaru, cidade princesa: visão histórica e social, 1905 a 1908.     Recife: [s.n.], 1981.

BARBALHO, Nelson. São João. In: ______. Caruraru, Caruaru: nótulas subsidiárias para a história do Agreste de Pernambuco. Caruaru (PE): [s.n.], 1972.

CARUARU. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 20 jan. 2011.

FARIAS, Edson. Faces de uma festa-espetáculo: redes e diversidades na montagem do ciclo junino em Caruaru. Sociedade e Cultura, Goiania, v. 8, n. 1, p. 7-28, jan./jun. 2005.

GIL, Wagner. Demolição da Vila do Forró revolta Caruaru. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 25 jan. 2011. Cidades, p. 4.

LIMA, Maynara. Viva o São João de Caruaru. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 19 jan. 2011.

SÂO João em Caruaru (Foto no Destaques do Mês). Disponível em: . Acesso em: 8 jun. 2011.


how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. St John Festival in Caruaru. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009