Besides Brazil: Carnival around Latin America

. Feb 25, 2020
The Oruro Carnival, in Bolivia, is one of the biggest in South America. Photo: Gary Yim/Shutterstock The Oruro Carnival, in Bolivia, is one of the biggest in South America. Photo: Gary Yim/Shutterstock

There are two big misconceptions about Carnival and Latin America. One is that Carnival entirely defines Brazil, and the other is that Brazil is the only place to find a good Carnival party on the continent.

One of the things that makes Brazil so unique, plural, and colorful is its mix of cultures, putting the history of enslaved African populations and colonized indigenous peoples into the melting pot with European influences, resulting in the Brazilian nation. However, similar mixes can be found all over America, which was once one huge colony. 

Though Brazil differs from its neighbors by having been the only Portuguese colony, its most famous celebration can also be found around the continent, with their own local twists. The Brazilian Report has taken a look at all of the unique Carnival celebrations to be enjoyed around Latin America. 

</p> <h2>Dance with the devil in Bolivia&nbsp;</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_696800152.jpg" alt="Dancers at Oruro Carnival in Bolivia, declared UNESCO Cultural World Heritage" class="wp-image-31997" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_696800152.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_696800152-300x199.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_696800152-768x510.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_696800152-610x405.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Dancers at Oruro Carnival in Bolivia, declared UNESCO Cultural World Heritage. Photo: Gustavo Ramirez/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>Traditional Andean communities say that &#8220;the seven deadly sins crossed the oceans with the Spanish,&#8221; and is now part of one of Bolivia&#8217;s most idiosyncratic cultural expressions. In the city of Oruro between February 23 and March 4, look out for the <em><a href="https://boliviatravelsite.com/travel-articles/oruro-carnival-dance/diablada-dance">Diabladas</a></em>, a typical celebration consisting of 48 dances, with performers wearing disguises and devil masks. The festival is the perfect blend of Andean and Catholic traditions, which also made it recognized by Unesco as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The celebration starts with a pilgrimage to Socavón, then reverence of “Pachamama,” the Andean word for Mother Earth.</p> <h2>Free your hips in Cuba</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1240279090.jpg" alt="carnival Stilt dancer group entertains people on the streets of Havana, on February 26, 2011. M By Martchan" class="wp-image-31995" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1240279090.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1240279090-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1240279090-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1240279090-610x407.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Stilt dancer group entertains people on the streets of Havana. Photo: Martchan/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>As Brazil&#8217;s celebrations are largely split between Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and São Paulo, Carnival in Cuba is focused in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The roots of the island&#8217;s Carnival go back to the celebrations of the annual Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, which combined with the rhythms of African enslaved communities brought to Cuba in the 16th century to create a singular result. The festivities in Santiago happen in July, in the holy week of James the Apostle, who is the &#8220;guard&#8221; of the city.&nbsp;</p> <p>As you go to the capital, something different comes into view, with Havana&#8217;s old buildings from revolutionary times colored by the country&#8217;s most important celebration. The first edition happened on February 24, 1895 and took place every year until the early 1960s. After the revolution led by Fidel Castro, it was moved to the summer to coincide with the end of the sugar harvest.&nbsp;</p> <h2>A mix of colors in Colombia&nbsp;</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_194901482.jpg" alt="Colorful floats full of singers, dancers make their way down the street during the Battalla de Flores. The pinnacle parade of the Carnaval de Barranquilla. G By Gary C. Tognoni" class="wp-image-31996" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_194901482.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_194901482-300x203.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_194901482-768x519.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_194901482-610x412.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Colorful floats full of singers, dancers make their way down the street during the Battalla de Flores—the pinnacle parade of the Carnaval de Barranquilla. Photo: Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>The world’s self-declared &#8220;second-biggest Carnival,&#8221; the party in northern city of Barranquilla is one of the must-see attractions in Colombia.&nbsp; As the city lies not far from the Caribbean sea, it takes influence from African and pre-Colombian—mainly Mayan and Incan—traditions.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the historiography, the first notable date in Barranquilla&#8217;s Carnival’s story comes in 1888, when the character known as King Momo appeared as the foremost figure of the local celebration. In 2020, Unesco declared the Carnival in Barranquilla as one of the word’s Intangible Cultural Heritages. The motto is: “those who live it are those who enjoy it.”</p> <h2>Dances of freedom in Haiti&nbsp;</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1553892710.jpg" alt="Jacmel is really famous in Haïti and high in colours and expressions. Each years, thousands gather to watch and participate to this event in Haïti. Q By Quentin Gustot" class="wp-image-31998" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1553892710.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1553892710-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1553892710-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1553892710-610x407.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Jacmel &#8220;Karnaval&#8221; is really famous in Haiti. Photo: Quentin Gustot/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>“Kanaval,” as it is called in Haiti, began precisely when the country achieved its independence in 1804, after defeating the French Army. With the triumph also came the end of slavery, making Haiti the first nation to abolish the practice in Latin America. Since then, the streets of Port-Au-Prince became the stage of musical syncretism, mixing African origins of Vodou with giant masks and colorful paintings.&nbsp;</p> <p>There’s also the Carnival of Flowers in July, with the same enthusiasm and twice the floral decorations, and the Raras music celebrations. In recent years, street riots against the government of President Jovenel Moise saw Kanaval canceled, only the second time that has ever happened. In 2010, the festival was put to one side after an earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people.</p> <h2>Wave goodbye to sadness in Mexico&nbsp;</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1327082537.jpg" alt="huehue mexican carnival dancer dancing with a colorful folk costume C By Cris_mh" class="wp-image-32000" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1327082537.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1327082537-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1327082537-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_1327082537-610x407.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Huehue dancer. Photo: Cris_mh/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>Feeling down? Try out the “happiest carnival in the world” in Mexico. As one of the biggest countries in all the Americas, Mexicans have a large variety when it comes to Carnival celebrations. If you want tradition, go the state of Veracruz, where masks, colonial poems and a slice of Mesoamerican culture are on show. The show is very theatrical: with the soundtrack of ballads with guitars and drums, you can witness the performance of the burial of Don Juan Carnival.&nbsp;</p> <p>To support the indigenous cause, Mexicans also lampoon the culture of their Spanish conquerors, with native communities dressing up as comical mariachis or wearing bullheads, in reference to the Spanish bull runs.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Uruguay, the longer, the better&nbsp;</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_25825087.jpg" alt="montevideo" class="wp-image-32001" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_25825087.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_25825087-300x205.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_25825087-768x524.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/shutterstock_25825087-610x416.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Montevideo Carnival. Photo: Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> has explained in the past why <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/12/23/no-christmas-uruguay-why-not/">Uruguay doesn’t celebrate Christmas</a>, but in compensation, the nation of 3.5 million people has the longest Carnival celebrations in Latin America. In fact, it is Uruguay&#8217;s absence of strong Catholic rules underpinning civil society that allows their celebrations to be 40 days long, as the celebrations do not have to compete with or adhere to religious holidays.&nbsp;</p> <p>But beyond the happy drums, there is also an important racial question in Uruguay&#8217;s Carnival. Such as in Argentina, the Eurocentric discourse after the country’s independence—powered by the times of military dictatorship at the end of the 20th century—instilled a certain form of eugenics among Uruguay&#8217;s cities, pushing black citizens away to peripheral areas. </p> <p>A study from the Women National Institute published in 2010 said less than 10 percent of the population declares itself as black. So, despite the traditional African rhythms played at Carnival processions, the celebrations are overwhelmingly white.

 
Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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