Evolution of Brazilian Carnival

Rio de Janeiro is home to one of the biggest parties in the world, the Brazilian Carnival. Amazing dancers dressed in beautiful outfits, amazing music, and good vibes everywhere you go. Rio Carnival is on the bucket list of lots of travellers, but what do you actually know about Brazilian carnival? This blog will learn you everything about the evolution of Brazilian carnival, and will help you prepare for your future Rio Carnival trip!

Greek spring festival – Middle Ages

Even though the exact roots of carnival are unknown, some believe that carnival started thousands of years ago in Greece, known as the Greek spring festival. The Greek spring festival was held annually to honour the god of wine, Dionysus. The festival was a theatrical event that took place in March and lasted three days. The festival was a way to celebrate the beginning of spring and the start of the wine season. The holy figure of Dionysus would be carried from outside the city limits to the theatre of Dionysus, near the Acropolis, by a large procession. In celebration of Dionysus, choirs would sing Dithyrambs and gigantic phalloi would be carried along the procession route. All of this would be accompanied by copious amounts of wine.
During the festival, people wore a Marti bracelet for good luck, and to protect themselves from getting a sunburn. This tradition is still alive in modern Greece.

Portuguese Entrudo – 1723

In 1723 Portuguese immigrants introduced the Entrudo. During the Entrudo, men dressed up as devils and tricksters to invade the countryside, chase unmarried women, and evil spirits, spread mischief, and most importantly, celebrate spring.
During the festivities, people went out on the streets and ‘pranked’ each other by throwing water, mud, eggs, oranges, and all sorts of other things at each other. Even though the Portuguese said, “É Entrudo, ninguém leva a mal” which means “It’s Entrudo, nobody takes it the wrong way” the pranks often ended in fights and riots.
Moreover, people were dancing to the traditional music that was being played. Bagpipes and traditional drums played a central role in most places. The Entrudo was a time to celebrate and inspire fertility: the fertility of the planet and women.

Float parade – 1786

The concept kept changing through the years, and Entrudo became carnival. In 1786 the first float parade and masked balls were introduced. People started wearing masks and decadent costumes while dancing to traditional music. Horse-drawn floats and military bands were the highlight of the parade. These floats were passing through the Brazilian street to celebrate the beginning of Spring.

African influence – 1800-1888

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they brought African slaves with them. The slaves also participated in carnival and included aspects of their own culture in the festival. They used bones, grass, wood, and feathers in their costumes to fight the evil spirits. The influence of the Africans is the reason for the distinctive nature of the carnival in Brazil. The rustic and earthy aspects can nowadays still be seen in floats and the costumes of the Brazilian Carnival.

The samba (schools) – 1917-1932

In the early 1900s, the Africans introduced Samba to the Brazilian carnival. Samba is a combination of music and dance styles that Afro-Brazilians brought to the devastated ghettos around Rio after the cancelation of slavery in 1888. In certain parts of Africa, people use samba as a form of celebration for happiness and as a refuge from harsh conditions. 15 years after its first introduction, Samba became Brazil’s official national dance.
The first Samba school, called Deixa Falar, was formed in 1928. Through the years several Samba schools were established and were taking part in the contest. The contest started as a fun competition but later became serious business with several Samba schools competing for the title. The Samba parade got very popular, which forced the organization in 1971 to set a time limit for each school. Nowadays, there are over 200 Samba schools. Most Samba schools have their own buildings where they practice in secret.

The Sambadrome 1984

Up until a few decades ago, the Marquês de Sapucaí Avenue was the place to be to watch the carnival parade. However, more people were attracted by the festivities which led the organization to decide to build stands on the side of the road so all visitors could witness the spectacular festivity. In 1884 Oscar Niemeyer made a sketch and so the Sambadrome was born. The stadium is around 700 meters long and spans the avenue. It can accommodate at least 90,000 people at any given moment, though this number increases during carnival.
The twelve best Samba schools annually compete here for the title. The most famous Samba schools are Unidos da Tijuca, Beija Flor, Salgueiro, Mangueira, Mocidade and Portela.

Brazilian Carnival today

The evolution of Brazilian Carnival through the years has led to what the Brazilian carnival is today, a spectacular event that represents a mix of Brazilian, African, and European culture, celebrated all over the country.
Carnival is celebrated for several days before the beginning of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days in which some Christians and Roman Catholics don’t consume meat and poultry, also known as Carnevale, which means “removal of meat”.

One of the major goals of the Rio carnival is to bring people together. You will see people having a great time on the streets of Brazil late at night. Throughout the night, numerous parties and events take place at various locations. So join the fun, dance along, wear a funky party outfit, and enjoy the best party in the world!

Author: Maritha Born