How Old is the Carnival?

According to some, the carnival was originally a Greek spring festival for the god of wine, Dionysus. The Romans adopted the tradition with a celebration for Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and Saturnalia. On this day, master and slaves exchanged clothes on a day full of drinking and parties.

The Roman Catholic Church adapted the celebration of Saturnalia into a festival before the start of Lent. But what evolved was a mass celebration of indulgences in music, dance, food, and drink, something which, perhaps, the Church did not plan...

Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
A Wet and Disorganised Start

Carnival in Brazil began 1723 with the Portuguese immigrants from the islands of Açores, Madeira and Cabo Verde introducing the Entrudo. People on the streets threw buckets of water and mud and food, which often ended in street fights and riots. The ideas continued to develop during the 1800s with more organized parades like the grandes sociedades or great societies where the Emperor became involved in the celebrations with a group of aristocrats that paraded in masks with luxurious costumes and music.

During the 1840s, masquerade carnival balls with polkas and waltzes became popular. A decade later, street parades with floats pulled by horses and military bands were the center of focus of the carnival. By the end of the century, the carnival became a working class celebration where people wore costumes and paraded in groups with musicians playing string instruments and flutes. Carnival was also used during the years of military censorship to express political dissatisfaction. The Samba Schools would use irony and sarcasm to express their anger with the government and the people’s desire for freedom.

Afro-Brazilian Magic

African slaves passed the pulsating rhythms of the samba to the Brazilians during the days of slavery. The samba is a mix of music, song, and dance styles that Afro-Brazilians brought with them to the poor favelas of Rio after the abolition of slavery in 1888. It wasn’t until 1917 that the samba became an integral part of the Rio Carnival. Today, Samba is a true component of Brazil’s cultural heritage. From the poorest favela to the richest mansion, samba went quickly through the city. Today, samba unites the Brazilian people independent of economic class. Samba lies at the heart of the Carioca culture.

Porto da Pedra Samba School Rio de Janeiro Brazil
Emerging Samba Schools

The first escolas de samba or samba school to be formed was Mangueira, in 1928. Soon theme songs, elaborate costumes, and floats became the principal attraction of the Rio Carnival. Many other teams from different communities in Rio followed Mangueira’s footsteps and formed samba schools to take part in the Carnival.

The samba parade soon became the most popular event in Rio and, finally, the organizers had to set a time limit for each team in 1971. The streets of Rio were the main focus for the Carnival until 1984, when the Sambadrome, built by world famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, began to dominate. Many of today's samba schools have their beginning in the original schools of the 20’s and 30’s. Each school has had its success and failures as the years and the competitions have continued.

Some of the most famous samba schools are Unidos da Tijuca, Beija Flor, Salgueiro, Mangueira, Mocidade and Grande Rio.

Adapted from

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