|A History of Carnival in Salvador, Bahia - An Introduction|
Carnival is the most important holiday in Brazil. While the official festivities last about a week, the preparations, rehearsals, preliminaries as well as the aftermath go on for much longer. No other people dedicate as much energy and enthusiam to carnival as the Brazilians, and carnival an essential part of their cultural and national indentity. Brazil without carnival is so absolutely unthinkable that the question of why the Brazilians, of all people, came to embrace carnival with so much passion is rarely asked. While the many possible answers to this question will be dealt with in a separate chapter, this article attempts to give a brief overview of the history of Brazilian carnival and some of its regional varieties, and the Carnival in Salvador, Bahia State, in particular.
Although it all but seems this way, Carnival is not ‘from’ Brazil. Festivals related to the arrival of springtime existed among the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the Celts, the Asians and the native American Indians, usually in the honor of a deity responsible for the harvest. Characterisitic elements and themes of carnival, like the temporary suspension of social rules, can be found in the Egyptian festival of the rising of the Nile, the Greek feasts in honour of Bacchus or the Roman orgies related to Dionysos, which are all regarded as ancestral to the carnival we know it today. All were associated with transformation, wine, food, drink, dance, and sex. Although carnival is now firmly embedded in the Christian tradition as the festival before Lent, it is a pagan festivity in its core.
Concerned with wild pagan practices during springtime celebrations, the Catholic Church decided to take up the festival, and in 590 A.D. Pope Gregório I created the Christian Carnival. The Christian tradition most threatened by pagan rites was Lent, the 40 day period in which Catholics must fast in preparation for Easter. As a result, Christian carnival had to be celebrated between the 7th Sunday before Easter and Shrove Tuesday, the last day on which Catholics were allowed to eat meat prior to Lent. Hence also the origin of the term Carnival, which essentially means "farewell to meat" in Italian. As Easter is a movable feast, Carnival dates change with it every year. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, so the original Christian Carnival always falls somewhere between the 3rd of February and the 5th of March.
Carnival comes to Brazil: The Entrudo
Entrudo, also known as Entroido or Antroido, is the name for the traditional pre-Christian springtime festivities held in Portugal and Spain. Like its Spanish cousin, the Portuguese Entrudo was (and still is, in some regions, especially in northern Portugal and Galicia) an irreverent form of street fun involving the throwing of water, eggs, powders and flour along with lemons filled with whatever vile concoction was on hand. The term 'Entrudo' derives from the Latin 'introitus', meaning “entry“, and refers to the arrival of springtime, and Lent. The Entrudo travelled with the Portuguese to Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde, and soon enough also found its way to Brazil, where the first vague records of it date from the late 16th century. In 17th century Bahia, the poet Gregório de Mattos made reference to the Entrudo and the mayhem which reigned over Salvador during the festivity. From the very start, the Entrudo reflected the harsh social divisions in colonial Brazil. The black slaves and the poor celebrated in the streets, throwing dirty water, eggs (and worse) at each other, while the wealthy families stayed in their mansions or country houses, engaging in a scaled down version of the game, called "Entrudo Familiar", using scent-filled lemons instead of eggs. Walking the streets and squares of Rio de Janeiro or Salvador during Entrudo could be outright dangerous. There are reports of people invading houses to soak the inhabitants, and not rarely the confusion would turn violent. The Entrudo of the streets, the "Entrudo Popular", was shunned by the upper classes and cracked down upon by the authorities. Clearly, the Entrudo Popular had all attributes of a symbolic revolution (certainly not an entirely redundant context in a country whose economy was based on slavery) where the dominant class temporarily lost control of the cities streets.
Beginning in the 1830s, the Brazilian upper classes imported Venentian and French Carnival practices from Europe, with the intent to replace the Entrudo. Initially in Rio de Janeiro, parades, floats, confetti, streamers, marching band music and other elements of European Carnival along with the proper name "Carnaval" merged into the Brazilian festivities in this way. Much was done to erradicate the rough "Entrudo Popular", not always successfully, as the poor and the slaves had long embraced the Entrudo as a symbolic revolt and saw no reason to give it up. Its roots have presisted in spite of all prohibitions and its presence can still be felt in popular street carnival and the suburbs in contemporary Brazil. The chaotic "Pipoca" crowds jumping wildy behind the Trio Elétricos of modern Bahian Carnival, for example, can be considered as direct descendants of the historic Entrudo Popular. The dynamic interaction between elements of the implanted and well structured Venetian/French Carnival spectacles of the upper classes and the anarchic Entrudo Popular of the poor has shaped the evolution of Brazilian Carnival into its many regional varieties ever since.
20th century: A comparison between Rio and Salvador
The abolition of slavery in the late 19th century directly influenced the social dynamics of Brazilian Carnival. Afrobrazilians, now endowed with at least some civil rights, were told they had to adhere to standarts in order to be able to participate in the official carnival celebrations. Popular carnival was welcome in principle, but it had to "civilize" itself. It had to wear uniforms, use floats and respect formats concerning the look and the behavior of the parades.
This outcome of this situation was distinct in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. In Rio, it set the stage for a long "march through the institutions" of the Afrobrazilian Samba, a process which lasted for decades and resulted in the samba schools eventually taking over the official event form the inside. Elements like the 'Porta Bandeira' of the cariocan samba schools are remnants of the military elements in the early 20th century Rancho parades, which are regarded as the direct forerunners of the early Samba schools of the late 1920s.
In Salvador there were conflicts and police prohibitions, leading to a "carnivalisitic stale mate" that lasted until the late 1940s. While the rich retreated into secluded club events, popular carnival dispersed spatially across neighbourhoods, and also temporally, into the 'Gritos de Carnaval' (pre-season neighborhood carnival events), religious festivals and the Micareta (post-season carnival events), with the official downtown parade somewhere in the middle. Controlled by the upper classes for matters of prestige and principle, the downtown parade continued to be the central event while 'Carnival in Salvador' as such much rather happened all over the rest of the city.
The Bahian Trio Elétrico tradition of the early 1950s is credited with initiating a process of unification and centralization in Bahian Carnival. By the late 1940s, economic and urbanistic changes in Salvador had dealt out a new deck of cards: Petrol had been discovered near Salvador, the city was expanding and its historic center between Campo Grande and Praça da Sé, the location of the offical parade, had begun to loose importance and prestige. The Trio Eletricos, racially mixed, mobile and economically independant as they came, were able to appeal to both camps while not belonging to either, to blurr the distinctions and to break the ice. Tradition has it that the 'Fobica', the first Trio Electrico, invaded the official downtown parade without permission, which is commonly viewed as a milestone and a revolutionary turning point in the history of Bahian carnival. Hence it may be said that, as opposed to what happend in Rio, Bahian popular carnival took over the offical festivity from the outside.