Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

BRAZIL: Carnival Goes Over the Top

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 21 1996 (IPS) - The explosive excess of Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro forms its main attraction, but could also mark its downfall, claimed reporters at the close of the celebration this week.

It is doubtful that a spectacle lasting two days, starting six o’clock Sunday night and ending seven o’clock Tuesday morning, has a very long future ahead of it – the parades alone lasted a total of 27 hours.

“It is excessive,” said Ubirici Freitas, member of a “samba school” who figures in the Rio de Janeiro procession every year, staying right to the end.

Each samba school tells a story in its lyrics, using the allegorical floats, the outfits of the dancers, the colours and the numerous sections within the groups to depict the theme, with numbers of up to 4,000 members.

The groups who appeared in the Rio de Janeiro “Sambodrome” between Sunday and Tuesday this past weekend dealt with issues as varied as the origin of the human species, the colonisation of Brazil by Spain (1580 to 1640), the role of Italian immigration, regional customs and the future of the nation.

Others included issues like the fight against hunger and the black resistence of slavery.

The Imperio Serrano samba school reduced the crowd to tears when they sang about Herbert de Souza, “Betinho,” leader of the campaign against hunger, who they classed as a “modern Quixote.”

The song said “those who are poor go hungry, while the rich are scared” warning that “the time for change is here.”

Another school claimed the human species started in north eastern Brazil, displaying “cave paintings” of giant penises.

Some 30 years ago, local song-writer Sergio Porto wrote a satire of “carnavaleros” tendency to rewrite the nation’s history, in a song entitled “the samba of the mad creole,” explaining the mental mayhem of carnival in Brazil.

This time round, play-write Mauro Rasi commented on the excessive and dubious historical information used in the samba school parades, which often disappear into the realm of indecipherable code.

“Understanding (the Marxist theorist Louis) Althusser is easier than attempting to decode the quantity of books and research” used by the carnival songwriters, wrote Rasi in Brazilian daily “O Globo” Tuesday.

The allegorical floats with their monsters, animals, imaginary objects and semi-naked women establish facts that do not figure in any history book – like the chicken born on the Greek mount Olympus who then dominated the Asian markets before getting Angolan citizenship and becoming a Brazilian heroine.

Anyone who has been to a few carnivals in Rio would also undoubtedly believe that Adam and Eve were Brazilian, and that they danced the samba.

However, this year Rasi did not wait to see them, criticising the surfeit of colour which sent his retinas into spasm, saying the seemingly endless processions left him so tired that the sleepiness “beat Adam and Eve” and he had to go.

All the reporters complained there has been nothing new in carnival over the last few years, despite the wide variety of issues tackled.

They claimed the samba songs, decorative floats and outfits had become “pasteurised” into a uniform event.

If this is really the case, the days of carnival attracting 100,000 people to sit 13 hours on uncomfortable seats at a cost of 20 to 90 dollars may well be numbered.

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