Barranquilla-Via 40

"Quien lo vive es quien lo goza" -Those who live it are those who enjoy it

Via 40 - Carnival of Barranquilla 2019

Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

The Carnival festivities in Barranquilla have their closest ancestors in the slave celebrations that took place in nearby Cartagena de Indias, during the colonial period. The traditional devotional prayer period of “La Candelaria” served as a backdrop for sumptuous dances in the 18th century and served as a holiday for the black slaves brought from Africa. These celebrations are the origin and source of the principal dances of the Barranquilla Carnival.  Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Several factors encouraged the development of the Carnival in Barranquilla. Its freedom from colonization and subsequent lack of an imposed Catholic religious holiday allowed the Barranquilleros to enjoy a boundless celebration untethered to any particular religious belief. Additionally, a strong sense of community and tradition, and the collective folk heritage of the Barranquilleros facilitated the development of the Barranquilla carnival as a cultural and social anchor in the lives of those who inhabited the city.  Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

This celebration melds the traditions of the people of Barranquilla, the Colombian Caribbean, and the Rio Grande de La Magdalena basin, resulting in a festive blend of indigenous, African, and European traditions.

The Barranquilla Carnival is today the most important folk and cultural festival in Colombia, and is the recipient of multiple important awards. In a statement issued by the National Congress of Colombia in November 2001, it was proclaimed a “Cultural Heritage of the Nation” and in November 2003 was declared by UNESCO in Paris as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”  

In 2019, 823 groups participated in the Barranquilla Carnival through their “danzas“ (dances), “comparsas” (troupes), ”disfraces” (costumes), “comedias“ (comedies), and “letanias” (litanies).

The costumes of the celebration have always reflected the wit, ingeniousness, and creativity of their designers. Below are descriptions of how some of them were created, refined, and revered over time, thus becoming traditional costumes of the Barranquilla Carnival .


The dances of the Carnival are performed by choreographed groups that bring together the music, songs, costumes, and other elements of the mestizo culture of the Colombian Caribbean. They incorporate elements of  indigenous, Spanish, and African traditions foremost, but also elements of the multiple cultures that inhabited the area throughout the history of the region.           

Cumbia – The Cumbia dance is the most representative of Colombia’s Atlantic Coast and the basis for most of the region’s musical rhythms. Although many claim its origins, most scholars trace it to slave celebrations of the Virgen de la Candelaria festivities which took place in Cartagena during colonial times. Scholars agree that the modern Cumbia dance constitutes a tri-ethnic cultural expression and is a testimony to the historical development that occurred during the colonial period.

The Cumbia was originally danced clockwise in a circle, men inside and women outside. Women held a bundle of lit candles in their right hands and the hems of their long skirts with their left, swishing the skirts back and forth to the rhythm of the music. Musicians located in the center of the circle played different types of drums, including the tambor hembra, the tambor macho, and the tambora, in addition to maracas and flutes.

The Cumbia’s choreography is an expression of gallantry and the enactment of a game of love, with the women flirting with their partners while keeping them away with their skirts in their left hands and the lit candles in  their right.    Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Danza del Congo – The Danza del Congo is the most popular traditional dance of the Carnival de Barranquilla. It was originally performed in the old African communities of Portobelo and Colón (Panama), and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) during colonial times. The dance was brought to Barranquilla by the descendants of the members of these communities who migrated to La Arenosa in the 19th century, attracted by its economic growth.            Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Danza del Garabato – The Garabato dance is one of the most representative traditional dances of the Carnival de Barranquilla. Its movements depict a fight between life and death, a universal theme of the Carnival. The dance is named after the garabato, a wooden hook used by peasants from the Caribbean coast to gather up cut grass. Within the context of carnival, the hook is also associated with the scythe held by the character representing death.            Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Male participants paint their faces from their eyes down with white paint and red cheeks, symbolizing life and death. They wear yellow long-sleeve shirts, ornate vests, knee-length black trousers decorated with laces, white socks, and black cotizas (fabric shoes). They also wear white hats decorated with ribbons and flowers, and colorful cloaks embellished with embroidered shiny spangles and carnival symbols. They carry white hooks, adorned with matching ribbons. Women wear black low-neck dresses finished with red, yellow, and green ruffles (the colors of Barranquilla’s flag), black shoes, and elaborate flower headpieces.

Son de Negro – The Son de Negro dance dates back to the arrival of enslaved Africans in Cartagena de Indias during colonial times. Today the Son de Negro costume is quite distinctive and has become a symbol of the Carnival de Barranquilla. Young boys and men paint their bodies from head to toe with a mixture of powdered aniline and oil. They go shirtless and wear black pants and sandals, although some prefer to walk barefoot. Some choose to wear necklaces made out of seeds and small gourds. All wear distinctive straw hats decorated with colorful paper. The choreography of the Son de Negro is reminiscent of the way enslaved Africans mocked their masters during colonial times. At its beginning, only men performed the dance, painting their bodies in black and accentuating their mouths and tongues with red dye. They made exaggerated grimaces and moved as if having seizures or stiffness.    Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Danza del Paloteo – The Danza del Paloteo is a “Danza de Relación”, a dance that tells a story, and it depicts the combats between the creoles and the Spaniards during the War of Independence. Each dancer represents a city or a country and carries a distinctive flag. Couples mark the rhythm of the dance by hitting wooden sticks made out of guayacán, a native tree.

Danza de los Diablos Arlequines – The Danza de Diablos came from the synergy between indigenous, African, and Spaniard peoples during Conquest and colonial times. It was inspired by the story of a group of masked devils who went to church wearing sheepskins on their backs decorated with mirrors and jewels that reflected the sun rays. The devils tried to scare the Holy Ghost with their dance and the noise of their spurs and rattles. Black men with machetes then stepped up to defend the Holy Spirit, forcing the devils to retreat in procession, walking backwards. At the end of the story, people rejoiced upon the devils’ departure and celebrated. By 1890, during the Republican era, the Catholic Church prohibited the performance of devil dances during Corpus Christi celebrations, so they began to appear in other festivities, including carnival celebrations. The devil dances that first appeared in the Carnival de Barranquilla came from the villages located along the banks of the Magdalena River, particularly from the area surrounding the colonial town of Mompox. The characters of the Diablos Arlequines are reminiscent of the devils portrayed in Spanish Medieval carnival celebrations and the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte. They are a combination of devils, buffoons and charlatans.

During their performances, the devils march to the rhythm of melodic instruments such as the accordion or the lute, and the double beats of the drums or the caja, a type of drum. They go back and forth leaning forward, making noise with bells, castanets and spurs. As their focus and intensity rises, they stop to make pirouettes around small bottles placed on the floor. They cross their legs and arms as they jump over the bottles without knocking them down. These pirouettes are done to the fast-paced puya rhythm, in preparation for the grand finale, when one, two or three devils take turns to blow impressive flames from their mouths.

Danza de las Farotas –The Danza de las Farotas originated in the town of Talaigua near Mompox, Bolívar, where the Faroto and Chimila indigenous groups lived prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The dance was inspired by oral testimonies that tell the story of how, tired of the harassment and abuse suffered by their women in the hands of the Spaniards colonizers, indigenous men disguised themselves as women and ambushed them at night.  Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade


Comparsas are traditional carnival groups identified by their costumes and characters. They participate in carnival parades with distinct choreographies danced to popular rhythms.

Marimondas – The Marimonda character was originally created by a poor Barranquillero from the Abajo and  Montecristo neighborhoods. He made a costume with a mask fashioned from a cloth sack and adorned with big ears, a long phallic-looking nose, and openings for the mouth and the eyes. The costume covers the wearer’s entire body so he can not be recognized, and includes an old pair of pants and jacket turned inside out and. The Marimonda walks around making a disturbing sound with a whistle known as pea-pea. He also wears a long necktie to mimic and ridicule arrogant government officials and the ruling class. In his beginning, he was vulgar, aggressive, and kept people away by poking them with a stick. Many times a person in Marimonda costume ended up in jail for his abusive advances, and by the 1970s the costume had disappeared. In 1983, César “Paragüita” Morales, remembering the costume from his youth, decided to revive it. With a couple of friends he created the Marimondas del Barrio Abajo. Paragüita’s idea was not only to revive the costume, but also to transform it. He used colorful fabrics to beautify it and exchanged its earlier vulgar attitude for a friendlier one.  Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

MonocucosThe name “Monocuco” comes from a monkey costume inspired by the Commedia dell’ Arte that for a while was part of Barranquilla’s tradition. When it disappeared it was replaced by the harlequinesque “Capuchón”. The Capuchón became popular when members of the elite decided to participate in the Carnival’s popular celebrations. Covered from head to toe, wearing a mask, gloves, and a stick to protect them from aggressors who might try to reveal their identity, the Monocucos were able to enjoy the celebration anonymously. The costume began to disappear in the second half of the 20th century. Then in 1995, Roberto Guzmán decided to discontinue dancing in the Gallo Giro, the cumbiamba he directed, and to create the carnival group Los Monocucos del Barrio Las Nieves, which participated for the first time in the Carnival de Barranquilla in 1996.              Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Cabezones and Gigantonas – The first Cabezones were brought from Germany by the former owner of Café Almendra Tropical, Celio Villalba. They participated for the first time in the Carnival de Barranquilla in 1937. These big-headed dwarves that ridicule human beings are grotesque figures that offer a contrast to the classical model of European beauty. They were brought to Barranquilla as an innovative costume for Carnival parades and in time they became a traditional comparsa, or carnival group. The Gigantonas or Muñecotas are the antithesis in terms of proportion to the Cabezones. They are tall, gigantic deformed dolls whose heads are made with the same technique as the Cabezones’. They are known for their colossal size and their exaggerated hip movements, which in scholarly Carnival theory are transgressive elements to contrast with classical norms.        Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

Negritas Puloy – According to the director of this Carnival group, Isabel Muñoz, the Negritas Puloy were inspired by the logo of a popular detergent made in Venezuela that featured a black woman with an Afro and a voluminous red dress with white polka dots. The original group was formed by adult women, including many of Muñoz’s relatives and neighbors from the Montecristo and Barrio Abajo neighborhoods. Founded in 1970, the group has been participating in the Carnival de Barranquilla for over forty five years.  Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

The information provided below was taken from the dissertation “From Popular Expression to Public Spectacle: History and Visual Testimonies of the Carnival de Barranquilla in the XX and XXI Centuries“  by Francine Birbragher, submitted to the Faculty of the University of Miami in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy.

Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade

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