Brazilians like to say Carnival is the greatest show on Earth, but what many people do not know is that it is far from being the only big festival in the country. Throughout the year, many regions in Brazil have their own traditional celebrations that are cherished by locals but are little known abroad. Besides all the beauty and fun, understanding their deep cultural significance may explain a lot about Brazilian history and society.  

Bumba meu boi

Deep in the Amazon, a battle divides the city of Parintins every year.

During the three-day festival, which usually takes place at the end of June, two groups face off in the “Bumbódromo” arena to tell the tale of Boi-Bumbá.

bumba meu boi parintins

There are some variations of the legend, also known as “Bumba-meu-boi” in the Brazilian Northeast, but the common version tells the story of Mother Catirina, a pregnant slave who wanted to eat the tongue of an ox. Father Francisco, her husband, killed the most beautiful ox on their master’s land. Furious at the death of his prized beast, the slave master locked Father Francisco up and called an indigenous priest (known as a pajé) to bring the animal back to life. Filled with joy at seeing his ox raised from the dead, the master forgives Francisco and Catirina and the entire community celebrates the life of the ox (boi, in Portuguese) with a party: the celebration of Boi Bumbá.   

During the Festival of Parintins, two teams—called Garantido and Caprichoso—tell the tale of the ox with songs, dance, elaborated costumes and floats almost 25 meters high, fighting to win the crown of that year. Besides the traditional tale, they also choose a specific theme for the year’s presentation—frequently related to regional issues—which is added to the plot.

Unlike the Carnival parades, the presentation takes place in the aforementioned Bumbódromo—an arena shaped like the head of an ox and divided into red for Garantido and blue for Caprichoso. While one team presents itself, the other must remain in total silence. Once your side is on the stage, however, supporters must sing, cheer loudly, and follow the choreography.

The lavish party is an ode to Amazonian and Brazilian culture, deeply influenced by indigenous traditions. “The festival is of utmost importance to define the identity of Parintins Island, but also Brazil’s. The legend itself reflects indigenous influences, as well as relations in a rural context which is seen around the entire country, not just in the Amazon,” says Mr. José Maurício Conrado, a professor of Communication and Language at Mackenzie University.

As well as Carnival, the Parintins Festival has a strong economic significance. The local government projects an injection of BRL 80 million to the economy of Parintins, provided by an estimate of 100 thousand tourists a year. Also, the state government invests around BRL 40 million in the festival, sponsoring both Garantido and Caprichoso, improving the infrastructure of the Bumbódromo and the surrounding town.

Enjoying the party itself has a price. Cheapest tickets cost around BRL 200 per day, or BRL 660 for the entire festival. But to tip the scales, locals who support the teams may come in for free, an inclusive measure in a city where the average income is around 1.6 minimum salaries.

Festa Junina

If you think that four days of parties during Carnival are too much, imagine a celebration that lasts an entire month. These are the June Parties, or Festa Junina, which last the entire month of June and often spill over into July. Around the entire country, you will run into Festa Junina parties, open to all comers and easily spotted by their colorful bunting and raucous music.

festa junina

Festa Junina is not a national holiday, but in some areas of the country (the Northeast, for example) they are considered among the most important celebrations of the year. They are also deeply connected to the Catholic calendar and Brazil’s Portuguese colonial heritage.

In June, three of the best-known saints of the Roman Catholic Church—Anthony, John, and Peter—celebrate their feast days, the original root of the Junina festivities. There is some discrepancy around the origin of the name, however: some say it is named after the month of June, while others claim it is an homage to Saint John (João, in Portuguese). That is why it is also known as the Festa do São João, or even “Arraial“—a word to describe the countryside villages where the parties are organized.  

Nowadays, the Catholic inheritance still remains, but the party has gained new dimensions. In bigger cities, it is normal to see celebrations in schools, clubs, streets and even in companies. It is popular to see funfair games such as rubber duck fishing, and bingo. Some cities hold a competition to see who can successfully climb the pau de sebo (greasy pole) to reach a prize.

Food is a central element to the Festa Junina, often the most important part for some revellers. “It is a party very connected to food, which is the symbol of collective memory. Traditional foods are the collective memory of our people,” said Eliane Morelli Abrahão, a historian at Campinas State University (Unicamp), to Agência Brasil.

As June is best time to harvest corn in Brazil, plenty of the Festa Junina treats are corn-based. But there are also variations around the country. In the South and Southeast, where Italian, Spanish and German immigration was quite present, one of the most popular recipes is “hot wine,” a Brazilian take on mulled wine. In other parts of the country, quentão is the drink of choice, made with warm cachaça, sugar and ginger. Meanwhile, in the North and Northeast, the fermented beverage called aluá is most popular. The recipes vary wildly: it can be made using pineapple, sugar cane juice, sugar, corn or even bread.

Over the years, more and more differences have arisen. In the Southeast, for example, it is common to hear American-style country music, where traditionally sertanejo and forró were the rhythms of choice. Even up in the Northeast, where the Festa Junina tends to be more traditional, some identity conflicts have been going on.

In 2017, musicians created the “Bring Back My São João” campaign, in a protest to the choice of attractions at some major parties in cities such as Campina Grande or Caruaru, often favoring pop stars with no connection to the São João culture. The campaign aims at bringing attention to local musicians and traditional rhythms, to keep Brazilian culture alive.

Professor Conrado sees the changing landscape of the Festa Junina as a reflection of modern, connected, and globalized times.

“In a globalized world it is hard to create rigid cultural frontiers. It is hard to see a traditional festival and not associate that to something that feels similar, but it is important to know your identity. Observing others also tells me who I am, and festivals usually take on different meanings over time. The problem is when this process is not conscientious, when people do not know about the history. This is when people do not recognize themselves in the culture and it loses its value,” he explains.

Read the full story NOW!

SocietyMar 02, 2019

Tags: - -

BY The Brazilian Report

We are an in-depth content platform about Brazil, made by Brazilians and destined to foreign audiences.