Elon International Studies: Brazil



Meet the Crew

Life in a Favela

Adventures in the

Black, White, and in
Between: Diversity
in Brazil


Biodiversity in the Amazon

Samba School

Favela Tour Opens Students' Eyes

Quality of Life
in Brazil

A Country that Runs
on Alcohol

Racial Inequality in

Ancient Indian
Remedy, New
Western Craze

Maracana Stadium

The Amazon


A Dish With Many Tastes

The Music and Dance
of Brazil as seen in
the Samba Schools

without Language

Fixing the
Race Problem

If an Entire Species is
Destroyed Before its
Discovered, Did it
Ever Exist?

The Beauty of Buzios

Salvador's Afro-
Brazilian Culture

Health Care and
Concerns in Brazil


Cristo Redentor

GST 243 Homepage

2004 Archives


James MacDonald

        It is known throughout the world that Rio de Janeiro , Brazil is home to Carnival. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Carnival is comparable to the U.S. 's Mardi Gras, only Carnival is about 10 times larger. Carnival takes place at the height of the summer in Brazil , and lasts for four days. During these four days, there is a constant celebration. The festivities start on Saturday and end on Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Not only is Carnival noted as one of the best parties to attend, in the world, but the traditions and culture that bred carnival is just as interesting as the party itself. It is this unparalleled culture that makes Carnival so well known.

        The origins of carnival date back to the ancient Greek spring festival in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine (www.ipanema.com). The Romans adopted the celebration with Bacchanalia (feasts in honor of Bacchus, the Roman equivalent to Dionysus), and Saturnalia, where slaves and their masters would exchange clothes in a day of drunken revelry. Saturnalia was later modified by the Roman Catholic Church into a festival leading up Ash Wednesday. It quickly evolved into a massive celebration of indulgences; one last gasp of music, food, alcohol, and sex before Lent: the 40 days of personal reflection, abstinence, and fasting until Easter. This is interesting because one can be sure that it was not the church's idea for its followers to do all of the things that are frowned upon in a short, couple of days. To be honest, it is more like 40 days of purging sins, preceded by a week filled with virtually every known sin. The word itself comes from Latin, "Carne Vale" or "Farewell to the Flesh".

        This year [2005], Carnival took place February 7 & 8. Or at least these were the days of the float precessions. The two most well known cities to celebrate Carnival within Brazil are Rio de Janeiro and Salvador . Rio 's lavish carnival is one of the worlds most famous. Scores of spectacular floats surrounded by thousands and thousands of dancers, singers, and drummers parade through the enormous Sambódromo Stadium dressed in elaborate costumes (or, quite often, with absolutely no costume.) It is an epic event televised around the world. The origin of Brazil's carnival goes back to a Portuguese pre-lent festivity called "entrudo", a chaotic event where participants threw mud, water, and food at each other in a street event that often led to riots (an event quite similar to today's Andean carnival - see Venezuelan section of this booklet). Rio 's first masquerade carnival ball (set to polkas and waltzes) was in 1840. Carnival street parades followed a decade later with horse drawn floats and military bands. The sound closely associated with the Brazilian carnival, the samba, wasn't part of carnival until 1917.

        Salvador da Bahia was Brazil 's first center of government (from 1549 to 1763)
[www.ladatco.com/CAR-Rio.htm] , and remains its musical capital. For centuries, Bahia was home of the Portuguese sugar industry and slave trade. As a result, today Salvador is the largest center of African culture in the Americas . Amidst the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, there is an unmistakable beat of Bahian drumming. You can hear it in the stereo speakers and boom boxes blasting the latest Axê pop music. It becomes overwhelming when the large percussion ensembles (with literally hundreds of drummers) called "blocos Afros" take to the streets for carnival. It was a movement launched a half century ago by the group Filhos de Gandhi (Sons of Gandhi). Today, there are countless blocos Afros that have taken on a new mission as part of the "negritude" movement to re-establish Black Pride. Like Rio, the city of Salvador is famous for its carnival. For both cities, it is an enormous festival leading up to Lent. That is where the similarities end. Rio is famous for its Samba schools, elaborate costumes (or at times no costumes), and a huge parade held at the Sambódromo Stadium. Salvador is Brazil 's street carnival. It lasts for weeks. The music begins daily as early as noon and runs until 7 or 8 the next morning.

        The actual Samba Parade began in the 1930's - first timidly at Praca XI, and later on Avenue Presidente Vargas. It found a permanent home in 1984 at the Sambodrome in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro . The samba music and dance is a mix of Angolan samba, European polka, African batuques, with touches of Cuban habanera and other styles. The "Samba" refers to both and intricate rhythm produced by a battery of percussion instruments, and to the accompanying dance. It commonly begins with a quick-strumming cavaquinho, something like a high-pitched ukulele, and builds into that distinctive percussive background, usually a 2/4 rhythm and heavily syncopated. Song lyrics play and important role in social expression, while melody lines are kept fairly simple since a samba is as much a community event as a song.

        The parade starts at 9 p.m. and goes on until sunlight the next day, around 6 a.m. The samba marathon is also a fierce competition; every year two samba schools are downgraded from special to access group, and vice versa. Samba schools are not teaching institutions, they are commonly explained as an association of people from the same neighborhood, usually a working class community (or favela) in a suburban area. The community gets together on a regular basis for rehearsals and samba nights. The samba schools are made up of members of all ages, starting with toddlers and ending with the senior citizens. The community gets together on a regular basis for rehearsals and "samba nights" filled with dancing, singing and bands. The samba schools also provide valuable jobs to the community; they give people year round employment in the production of costumes and floats. Each year the schools choose a different theme. In the year 2000 for example, schools highlighted different periods of Brazilian history, celebrating the country's 500th anniversary.

Works Cited

www.ipanema.com/ carnival /home.htm

www.encounter.co.uk/ rio - carnival .php


Carnival in Rio de Janeiro - Samba Parade, ( www.ipanema.com/carnival/parade.html )