Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Carnival in Rio a Short History

A short history of the Rio Carnival

History of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro BrazilHistory of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Life is a short affair celebrate it

It is an inborn nature of people to revel at times, forgetting the pains and problems of day today life. All cultures have provided to release this human desire at varying extents; some of the societies suppress it; some control it; while some simply unleash it for sheer celebration!

Brazilians belong to the third group; no inhibitions; no taboos; sheer celebrations unlimited; it doesn’t matter whether it is Carnival, Samba or soccer they are ready for a cheer. It is carnival season that lasts only four days; they have chosen to let their passions fly. Let’s see the various shapes this festival acquired with the changing times.

An ever evolving fest

The word carnival (carnaval in Portuguese) has its origin from Italian word ‘Carnevale’ and Medieval Latin ‘Carne levamen’ (carn = flesh + lavare = put away) as during Lent when flesh eating was considered taboo.

It is believed that the carnival celebrations had its origin back from the Roman times and was associated with the spring festival; when it was warm and flowers all around and youngsters were busy in courtships. People assembled in the temple for God Saturn and observed (Saturnalis worshipping Baco and Momo the ancient Pagan deities) and a mass feast organized along with other rituals.

From there this ritual traveled along with the Romans to various places in Europe. In the beginning in Europe it was a pure celebration to revel in the warm climate. It had nothing to do with god or any religion. The following are some of the forms the Carnival acquired during the course of time.


History of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro BrazilHistory of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro Brazil

The Portuguese got it from the Romans or rather Romans took it to there; later when Christianity engulfed the whole of Europe this festival got connected with Christianity and its timings matched with the observation of Lent (the Lent is a liturgical season for Christians dedicated to spirituality when fasting, avoiding eating meat etc are observed) that comes before Easter.

In the beginning the church was dead against this sort of reveling, they tried to dissuade people from taking part in Carnivals. Believers did not pay attention to the ban and later the church had to adopt it as their own. Thus carnival got accepted as an outlet to indulge in pleasures as much as one like and come clean for observing Lent that mandated keeping away from physical pleasures like eating meat and wandering around evading church services. Carnival came handy as a celebration saying bye to pleasures by seeking it extremely for those 4 days allotted to it!


It is believed that the carnival entered in to Portugal in the 15th century; how it got this name? One version is this as it marks the ‘entry’ of Lent season it is called Entrudo, the other version is this pouring of water and oranges filled with foul water made the authorities ban the festival and some revelers ‘intruded’ or sneaked in to the streets to revel! Thus the reveling by the intruders became known as Entrudo. The first recorded observation of carnival was in 1723.

The description of Entrudo before its ban was as follows; people took bucketful of water and lime and even rotten oranges to the streets and poured or threw it on everybody who happened to be around, initially even emperors used to take part in this fun, but a woman spoiled the whole sport by throwing lime at the emperor’s convoy, she was consequently arrested and the celebration itself got banned; even before this incident the reveling had got degraded in to a public nuisance.

The better-half’s role

The first recorded celebration of Rio Carnival is in 1840 when the wife of Italian ambassador to Brazil arranged a carnival in Rio, a ball was held in a hall decorated with streamers. Musicians and dancers were invited to the grand gala function that set a trend in celebration. It created some lasting reflections in Brazilian minds and paved way for better and more participatory programs from less privileged sections of the society.

Ze Pereira

This was one version introduced by a Portuguese man by name Jose Nogueira; he along with accomplices marched through the streets on carnival Mondays playing tambourines, drums, whistles and whatever instruments available, everybody was welcome to join his troupes and play whatever he could. Kitchen utensils even where used for this popular orchestra!

Grandes Sociedades or Upper Circle

The big guns of the Rio City also had their share in shaping the carnival in to its present shape; it was a well organized show in which about eighty bourgeois paraded with masks, flowers, fancy dresses music and everything that could catch attention; it turned out to be big hit. Democraticos, Fenianos etc were the well known groups associated with this show that debuted in 1855.

Cardao Carnavalesco

By 1870 a new theme by name cardao carnavalesco appeared in the Rio streets, in which poor people dressed as kings, queens, princes, or rich people while rich ones were in the costumes of Gypsies, peasants or street dancers etc. Without distinction of class or race all danced, sung performed as they were dressed. The equality among classes lasted as long as the carnival lasted that was all! Poor kings and queens returned to their huts while the rich Gypsies went back to their real business.

Cardoes de Velhos

It was associated with Cardao Carnavalesco in which people used to wear large and often bizarre masks and walked through the streets as if they are unable to dance and sing!

Ranchos Carnavalesco

It was introduced by an immigrant from Bahia by name Hilario Jovino; and gained popularity as a festival of the poor people; in which people dressed in glittering dresses marched through the streets playing numerous string instruments along with playing flutes etc. This gained much popularity during the early period of the 20th century.


This is some what recent as it began in the early 20th century; its significance is that for the first time cars were used for the parades. These cars were decorated with multicolor streamers and revelers showered confetti on the spectators. The car owners where thrilled all of them let their cars take part in the parade.


History of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro BrazilHistory of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro Brazil

A history of the Rio Carnival never goes complete without mentioning the ‘Cariocas’ this word may sound strange but its history is stranger. The Portuguese living in Brazil lived in houses built in clusters, natives called them white houses or cariocas; being inhabited by white people. Being called by natives as cariocas; the Portuguese began to address themselves cariocas!

Time changed now the cariocas need not be whites, or Portuguese, religion or race has nothing to do with the present day Cariocas, they are jolly youngsters spending their time singing or dancing or just playing. These people are fashionable always ready to help others and always move in company. Any one is welcome to their groups provided he has some time (a lot of time) to spare and ready to roam about the streets and beaches chatting and laughing! Without these Cariocas not just the Carnival season but whole the city of Rio will lose its sheen; it will be like any other city in the world!

Street Carnival, Bandas

In early times the carnival celebrations were held in theaters or in the houses of rich people, laymen had only a chance to see it from outdoors, the street version is not an organized affair. Each of the streets has its on ‘Banda’ a club of smart young men who perform orchestra and marches along the streets through predetermined routes. They play instruments and sing well known carnival hits in the streets everybody is welcome for merrymaking. They wear special T shirts for the occasion; a visitor need not stay away for want of such a shirt; it will be available on the spot for as little as ten bucks; just buy it and join the company!


History of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro BrazilHistory of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Blocos are like the Bandas (small groups of young men who live around a street) but they select a theme song for the march unlike the Bandas who sing popular hits. They do rehearsals before the evens and these rehearsals are adding much fervor to the main event. They as a team wear T shirts that have common theme for the main event. There are more than 100 Blocos in Rio!

Samba Parade

The Samba music and Samba Schools are all recent phenomena, but they have become an integral part of Rio Carnival as well as the whole life of Brazil. Samba is not played in streets as Street Carnival; it has a place called the ‘Sambdrome’ entry is also restricted by heavily priced tickets. One who visits Brazil during Rio Carnival season should at least once witness this grand show; it is worth its ticket’s cost!

Carnival will never die!

History of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro BrazilHistory of Carnival of Rio de Janeiro Brazil

The independent Brazilian government was not keen to follow the colonist celebrations but people went on rioting to get their favorite celebration get endorsed by the government. At last the government had to yield before the public wish and carnival came back to Rio with more spice and fervor!

Since then the celebration has undergone much metamorphosis as immigrants to Brazil from various cultures enriched it with imparting their own color and versions to it. During the World War the carnival had to be stopped for a brief spell, but soon after the war it was restarted in 1947. There is no spice to Rio without carnival and samba, though carnival made samba famous the samba has of late gained its own place in the sun.

The carnival will never die; it has an instinct to evolve as per the change of time. The money it fetches to the Brazilian tourism industry is tremendous and it keeps on increasing, to the tourists who spent the money brings its worth; what they can see at Rio is the greatest cultural event in the world and it does not fence them out as mere spectators; they can join the events and be a part of the greatest show, what else money can fetch!

1 comment:

Media Student said...

Do you know how carnival in Rio is Organized and planned?