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Article

Martha Abreu and Eric Brasil

Carnival is one of the most powerful images of Brazil in the contemporary world, a party marketed by tourism agencies as a unique spectacle, filled with rhythm, humor, fun, and free spirits that brings the entire population together, marked by infectious joy, sensuality, and irresistible samba. This perception of the party, however, is far from its history since colonial times. While Carnival has always been present in large cities and small towns from one end of Brazil to the other, it has taken many forms and included many sounds, meanings, traditions, and social subjects. To understand the history of Carnival in Brazil, one must take another approach: the celebration of Carnival as an expression of many differences, a variety of forms, and numerous conflicts. For many years, interpretations viewed Carnival as a space in which Brazilians come together to celebrate commonly held cultural traditions or as an effective escape valve allowing common people to forget the woes of everyday life. More recently, historians and anthropologists have studied Carnival celebrations as windows that offer a glimpse of the tensions, rivalries, and alliances of an entire year, brought to the fore, magnified and played out in public on the festival days. Whether through masks, costumes, and individual hijinks or through Carnival associations, various social groups have taken advantage of Carnival in various historical contexts of Brazilian society to assert their identity and take action on various political projects that aim to transform (or subvert) current reality and debate the very history of Brazil. The study of the history of Brazilian Carnival, or rather Carnivals, thus provides an innovative and original epistemological approach to understanding social transformations and the meanings of Carnival revelers’ political actions at various times in history, whether they be members of the economic and intellectual elite or urban workers, enslaved people, freed people, and free people. The article prioritizes the period between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, when Carnivals came to more closely resemble their modern form through intense disputes between those who sought to civilize the festivities and revelers who sought to act out their traditions and customs. The history of Carnival the article intends to tell engages in intense dialogue with struggles for black people’s citizenship before and after the abolition of slavery, stretching into the second half of the 20th century, when Samba Schools emerged as one of the principal features of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and, by extension, throughout Brazil.

Article

An Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer (LGBTQ) movement emerged in the late 1970s during the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985), as the country slowly moved toward democracy. The “Homosexual Movement,” as it was called at the time, along with feminist and black organizations that formed during the same period, fought for an end to discrimination, equality, and full rights. Since then, LGBTQ activists have challenged stereotypes about lesbians, gay men, and trans people and won some important victories, such as same-sex marriage, legal recognition of trans people’s rights to legalize their gender identity, and constitutional protection against hate speech, although discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people is still widespread. The movement challenged traditional Catholic Church notions of homosexuality as a sin, medico-legal discourses that considered same-sex and nontraditional gender performances as sicknesses, conservative political ideologies that privileged the heteronormative family, and sectors of the Left that considered homosexuality a product of “bourgeois decadence.” Built upon a long history of resistance to impositions of compulsory heterosexuality and normative gender roles, lesbians, gay men, and trans people formed diverse communities during the second half of the 20th century that offered important support networks. They also appropriated public spaces for dissident sexualities and gender performances. Carnival became a privileged site for subverting traditional gender roles. Gay activists pushed the government to change initial conservative policies dealing with HIV/AIDS, and Brazil became an international model for effectively combating the disease. Lesbians fought within the feminist movement for acceptance and against social norms that marginalized them. Trans people gained considerable respect and certain rights. The LGBTQ movement remains diverse in practice, composition, and ideologies. A recent reactionary backlash, which has united conservative Catholics, evangelical Christians, and right-wing political forces, is trying to undo the advances made since the late 1970s in favor of social toleration, respect, and equality.

Article

Patricia Mohammed

From the 15th century onward, the Caribbean has been populated with different ethnic groups, cultures, flora, and fauna in a way that is constantly changing the visual sensibilities of the space. The mixture of ethnic and nation groups that had settled by the 20th century produced a range of iconographic symbols, use of colors and forms that would signify the Caribbean aesthetic. This included a style of Caribbean painting which is referred to as Caribbean expressionism, the latter which included the group of artists known as intuitives or primitives. With few formal schools or institutions for instruction or opportunities for critical review, the Caribbean visual palette was established largely through the creativity of those involved in various festivals or ritual practices. Artistic expressions resemble performance or installation art rather than the classic forms of painting or sculpture. This work is somewhat iconoclastic in the interpretation of a Caribbean aesthetic and focuses on the homegrown artistic expressions that merge, collide, contradict, and emerge to create originality in this cultural space.

Article

Every year, in the days just prior to Catholic Ash Wednesday, the indigenous Zoque peoples of northwestern Chiapas, Mexico, celebrate “carnival.” In doing so, they affirm their ethnic identity, take pride in a native vision of the cosmos, and retrace their real and fictive modern and ancient family lineages. Zoque carnival is an “encounter,” or meké in Zoque language, which entails more than the word at first glance would imply. Scholars, however, have analyzed carnivals, be they state-promoted or not, as inversions, nationalistic celebrations, or representations of local, regional, and national history. They often argue that carnivals exist primarily to represent, celebrate, or be a logical result of cultural diversity. Why are the native Zoque carnivals of northwestern Chiapas different? What are these Zoque carnivals? What do they represent to the Zoque people themselves and to non-Zoque people? Why are carnival studies from an “encountering” ethnographic standpoint interesting avenues to develop and pursue?

Article

Agustín Lorenzo was a prototypical social bandit, according to Eric Hobsbawm’s definition in his studies of that phenomenon. As a bandit from south central Mexico believed to have lived between the 18th and 19th centuries, the exploits of Agustín Lorenzo have been recounted in myriad ways: myths, legends, loas, corridos, films, carnival representations, among others. Lorenzo is said to have stolen from the rich to give to the poor, swearing to avenge his grandfather’s mistreatment at the hands of his employer, the local landowner. To achieve his mission, the story goes, Lorenzo made a pact with the devil, to obtain supernatural powers. The attributes of this bandit undoubtedly place him in the same category as the great body of stories about banditry that have survived for centuries around the world, particularly considering their shared essence: a desire for justice. In the case of Agustín Lorenzo, it is possible to disentangle the universal principles Hobsbawm established regarding the phenomenon of social banditry from the local context in which this particular myth lives on. Hence, to analyze the myth of Agustín Lorenzo, it is essential to explore the narratives and meanings of the cosmogony of the Nahua peoples of south-central Mexico.

Article

Commercial recordings in Brazil were first made in 1902 in Rio de Janeiro. During the first two decades of the 20th century, however, the recorded repertoire centered around the same musical genres established in the final decades of the previous century: for sung music, this meant modinhas, lundus, waltzes, and cançonetas; for instrumental music, this meant polkas, maxixes, marches, and tangos. During this period, sheet music for pianos and musical bands played a greater role in disseminating popular music than did mechanical recordings. This included dissemination by the medium of radio, which had begun in the country in the early 1920s but only expanded when its commercial operation was authorized in the 1930s. Of the leading musical genres of the period, samba and carnival marches (always sung) came into their own during the 1930s. Rio de Janeiro, at that time the capital of the republic, the cradle of the burgeoning phonograph recording industry, and the center of the still extant sheet music publishing business and radio broadcasting, is key to understanding Brazilian popular music of the time. During the entire period, however, migrants from other regions, especially from the northeastern states of Bahia, Pernambuco, and Ceará, made crucial contributions to popular music. These contributions became particularly significant during the final years of that decade with the success of baião, a sung musical genre with a distinct northeastern flavor whose influence would stretch into the 1950s.