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First Hand Encounters with Amazon Folklore

First Hand Encounters with Amazon Folklore

By Kelly Zeni

The real Brazil – whose heartbeat lies in the vast, exotic wilderness of this expansive country – is made visible through its notoriously riotous folklore festivals. While Carnival in Rio is the ‘big stage’, another venue – far off the beaten path, may be more to the liking of those looking for the real thing – which can be found in Parintins, a small rural town in the Amazon inhabited by about 50,000 people. Two groups, known as Guaranteed Boi and Capricious Ox who dress in red and blue color clothes respectively, present a spectacular show in Parintins during the course of this festival that takes place every year in June.

The Parintins Festival has become one of the biggest promoters of local culture. Also known as June Festival, Parintins is the second most popular festival after the Carnival, and it is celebrated for more than a week.

The primary attraction of the festival is Boi-Bumbá, a form of dance involving bulls dressed in white and blue clothes.

Most of these events, organised as part of celebrating the festival, take place in Bumbódromo, a type of stadium in the form of ox head, with capacity for 35,000 spectators.

At the venue, drama troupes from both the associations dance and sing for hours on end, and most of the songs played at the festival are based around past myths and legends of the Amazon forest. Many of the tunes also include forest sounds and birdsong.

One of these days, bulls dance to the tunes of folk songs, and also characters dressed as cowboys and Indians dance and sing to entertain the crowd.

The festival dates back to late nineteenth and early twentieth century when a large number of Northeasterners moved into the Amazon, partly due to a boom in rubber cultivation and droughts elsewhere in the country.

Legend has it that when Mother Catirina was pregnant she developed an appetite to eat the tongue of  a beautiful ox. To satisfy her desire, Father Francisco sends his pet ox for the killing. Later a priest and a doctor save the bull and forgive Mother Catirina and Father Francisco, and then begin a big celebration.

October: Filled with Activities

However, if you can´t come in June, come in January and you´ll see the religious tolerance of the Brazilian people. The Cleansing of Bonfim (Lavagem do Bonfim) happens on the second Thursday after Epiphany, and this festival brings together followers of two religions. On this day, Catholics and Candomblé followers walk 8 kilometers through the Salvador streets, singing hymns of worship to the two main deities: Lord Jesus Christ and Oxalá. This festival has its roots in the days of slavery.

During the festival, women dressed in white robes and turbans (like baianas from Bahia state) lead the procession that sets off at Conceição da Praia Church. Then, as the day wears on, about  200 baianas wash the staircase of the church in a coherent passion, singing atabaque and African folk songs. The religious ceremony is followed by drumming, dancing and drinking.

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In the run-up to the festivities, people prepare scented water at Candomblé using leaves and fragrant herbs such as basil, lavender and orange. The scented water is stored in a room until the festival. The water is used to wash the steps of the chapel and anoint the way people move through to seek spiritual protection. The main attraction of the festival, however, is the staircase of the church.

How About Oktober(fest)?

Another important and popular festival is the Oktoberfest of Blumenau. Based on Germanic traditions, Oktoberfest is celebrated in South Brazil in middle October. It is considered the biggest German festival of South America.

The first edition was held in 1984 and nowadays the festival is in the people´s soul and spirit. In its 28th edition, more than 17 million people took part. Therefore, October is a special month. The Oktoberfest in Blumenau is something that preserves the traditions brought by German settlers more than 160 years ago. The festival features music, dance, beautiful costumes, the exquisite local cuisine and tasty beer.

One of the most memorable celebrations of Oktoberfest was on October 12th, 1810, when King Luis I (King of Bavaria) married Princess Theresa of Saxony. As part of the wedding, he organized a horse race. The festival gained a new dimension in 1840 when a train arrived from Munich carrying visitors to the event.

Kelly Zeni is Managing Partner at Tangelo Captação de Recursos, a company she founded in 2002 focused on innovation & entrepreneurship initiatives on Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) area.

About Narayan Ammachchi

Narayan, a veteran BPO journalist, writes for Nearshore Americas from his base in Bangalore, India.

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