By Zarif Ahmed – The Rio Carnival in Brazil and the Carnival of Oruro in Bolivia, are perhaps two of the biggest carnival events that take place in South America. Both carnivals contain parades, synchronized dancing, extravagant costumes and vibrant music. They showcase the rich cultures of both countries and draw hundreds of thousands of people to the streets each year.
The Rio Carnival, considered to be the biggest in the world, is attended by more than two million people. The carnivals can be expensive not only in terms of preliminary measures, but also the admission tickets themselves. Many people work hard to save money for the carnivals as it has become a local tradition. Performers must practice and be in their best form, and costumes need to be as eye-catching and extravagant as possible.
There is no doubt that the preparation process is a very meticulous one.
Culmination of the Times
Historically speaking, both carnivals have important religious connections. The Carnival of Oruro has roots long before the Spanish colonization of Bolivia. It began with religious practices of the Aymara and Quechua peoples as they worshipped Andean deities by taking part in a religious festival. Once the Spanish came along, they tried to impose Christianity on the indigenous population and discouraged the performing of indigenous religious festivals.
The indigenous people continued their practices anyway, and that is when the Spanish realized that since they couldn’t eliminate the indigenous ritual practices, it would be better to have the rituals performed on Catholic holidays. The modern Carnival of Oruro is said to contain a mixture of Catholic and Andean religious influences.
The Rio Carnival started off as a food festival before the start of Lent, and while this is a Catholic practice, there is also European pagan influence. The Rio Carnival is said to be a cultural blend between the Portuguese, who brought the festival from Europe, and Africans, who brought over the music and dance traditions from Africa.
In the Carnival of Oruro, the most important dance is La Diablada. It is known not only for the popular legend behind the dance, but also for the intricate and expensive costumes, which are an essential part of the performance. The story behind this dance goes back in time to when the Spaniards were colonizing Bolivia. It concerns indigenous miners who felt the need to honour the god of the underworld because they thought he would become envious of the attention given to the Virgin, who is considered to be the patron of the Oruro Carnival. The miners were informed by religious authority, Christian priests, that the god of the underworld was the devil, and so the miners honoured him by dressing up as him when performing their Andean rituals.
At the Rio Carnival, the most important dance event is the Samba parade. Samba dancing originates from Africa, and was brought over and introduced into Brazilian society during the slave trade, after which it became firmly established as a core part of the country’s traditions. It has since been modified and there are many variations. Originally, it was the Africans who practiced Samba, but nowadays you can find anyone in Brazil taking part in Samba, regardless of their background.
The most interesting thing about the Samba dancing in the carnival, is that it is not just a simple performance; it is a competition between the top twelve best Samba schools in Rio de Janeiro. There are many requirements for the Samba performances, and prizes are awarded based on many factors that can be as specific as costume and originality, all the way to performing within the given time. The winning Samba school receives one million US dollars, and the winner is determined from a diverse panel of judges.
Roots in the Rhythm
The Carnival of Oruro has an important connection with the Bolivian identity, one that is different from that of the Rio Carnival. In addition to celebrating local culture, the carnival not only celebrates what is bad and what is good, but it also tells the story of the Spanish conquering Bolivia. This is important to Bolivian national identity because it incorporates history and culture, two of the most important things needed in order to draw an understanding about a particular group of people. The Carnival of Oruro gives Bolivia’s story, and is a magnificent display of culture.
The Rio Carnival is different because it is connected to the Brazilian identity in a manner that is representative of Brazil’s social fabric. It started of as a mix between European and African traditions, and that is what is reflected in Brazil’s population today. The carnival has become globally known as a Brazilian event, and therefore is a significant part of Brazilian identity. Brazilians of all colours and classes attend and take part in this carnival, so it is evident that the carnival is not restricted to a select few. The processes of both carnivals in the creation of a national identity are similar in many ways. The carnivals have been attributed as events specific to those two nations, and see a large attendance of all citizens from all colours and classes. The carnivals may accurately depict the modern population in terms of diversity, and there may even be some religious influences.
One of the main differences between the Rio Carnival and the Carnival of Oruro is that the latter actually tells the story of Bolivia and gives historical insight. Another difference, is that the Rio Carnival can be attributed to non-stop partying for four days, with lots of food, drink, and dance. This “party” image is not as strongly attributed to the Carnival of Oruro.
The Rio Carnival and the Carnival of Oruro are evidently an important part of the identities of Brazil and Bolivia.
Both carnivals blend the indigenous and colonial legacies together and create the modern atmosphere of the two countries today. They showcase the rich cultures of both countries with music, dance, as well as elaborate parades.
While they may have similarities, it is the differences that make these carnivals truly special for those that regularly attend them.
About the Author: Zarif Ahmed
Zarif Ahmed is an aspiring international affairs professional in Canada. He is currently pursuing his B.A. in Political Science, and has a profound interest in international politics. His regions of interest include Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.