Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade
The Carnival parties in Barranquilla have their closest antecedents in the celebration that took place in the nearby Cartagena de Indias, at the time of the Colony, as a slave party. The traditional novena of “La Candelaria” served as a framework for sumptuous dances which in the 18th century granted a holiday to the black muzzles brought from Africa. These parties are the source of the main dances of the Barranquilla Carnival. Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade
Factors that favored the arrival of the carnival in Barranquilla were the absence of a colonial past and the non-prominence of a religious holiday, which allowed all the Barranquilleros to enjoy an unprecedented celebration and regardless of the origin or religious belief of the carnival participants . Besides this , the sense of belonging together with a collective heritage to the folkloric tradition of the “Barranquilleros” made it a fundamental reference for the daily life of those who inhabited the city.
This celebration brings together emblematic expressions of the memory and identity of the people of Barranquilla, the Colombian Caribbean and the Rio Grande de La Magdalena, presenting multiethnic elements that combine indigenous, African and European traditions.
The Barranquilla Carnival is currently the most important folk and cultural festival in Colombia having received important awards.In a statement issued by the National Congress of Colombia in November 2001, it was proclaimed, “Cultural Heritage of the Nation” and in November 2003 declared by Unesco in Paris as “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
In 2019, 823 groups participated in the Barranquilla Carnival through “ danzas “ (dances) , “comparsas” (troupes) ,”disfraces”( costumes), “ comedias “(comedies) and “letanias adultas” ( adult litanies).
The costumes of this carnival have always been the result of the wittiness/ ingenious and creativity of their authors. This is how some of them have been consolidated and consecrated throughout history and are currently distinguished as Traditional Costumes.
Danzas – Dances :
The dances are choreographic groups, which collect music, songs, costumes and other elements of the mestizo Culture of the Colombian Caribbean, incorporating elements of cultural, indigenous, Spanish and African matrices first, and then of the multiple cultures gathered in this space throughout the history of the region.
The Cumbia is the most representative rhythm of Colombia’s Atlantic Coast and the basis for most regional rhythms. Although claim its origins, most scholars believe these can be traced to the slaves’ celebration of the Virgen de la Candelaria festivities which took place in Cartagena during colonial time.
Scholars agree that the Cumbia dance constitutes a tri-ethnic cultural expression and a testimony of a historical process 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 hand and the rim of their long skirt with the left, moving it back and forward following 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, a recreation of love conquest. Women flirt with their partners but keep them away by holding their skirts with their left hands and lit candles with their right hands. Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade
Danza del Congo :
The Danza del Congo is the most popular traditional dance of the Carnaval de Barranquilla.
It was originally performed in ancient African cabildos of Portobelo and Colón (Panama),4 and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), during colonial times.5 The dance was brought to Barranquilla by the descendants of the members of the cabildos who migrated to La Arenosa in the nineteenth century attracted by its economic growth.
Danza del Garabato:
The Garabato dance is one of the most representative traditional dances of the Carnaval de Barranquilla. Its plot represents the fight between life and death, a universal symbol of carnival. The dance is named after the garabato, a wooden hook used by peasants from the Caribbean coast to pull the grass that is cut with a machete. Within the context of carnival, the hook is also associated with the scythe held by the character representing death. 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 vestees, 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 353 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 Carnaval de Barranquilla. Young boys and men paint their bodies from head to toe with a mixture of powdered aniline and oil. They leave their torsos naked and wear black pants and sandals, although some prefer to walk barefoot. Some choose to wear necklaces made out of seeds and small calabashes. The choreography of the Son de Negro is reminiscent of the way enslaved Africans mocked their masters during colonial times. At first only men performed the dance on the eve of their patron’s festivity. They painted their bodies in black and enhanced their mouths and tongues with red dye. They made exaggerated grimaces and moved as if experiencing seizures or stiffness. They all wear the distinctive straw hats decorated with colorful cut paper. Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade
Danza del Paloteo:
The Danza del Paloteo is a Danza de Relación whose plot recalls 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 (native tree).
Danza de los Diablos Arlequines :
Danzas de Diablos resulted from the syncretism that occurred among indigenous, African and Spaniard peoples during Conquest and Colonial times. They were inspired by the story of a group of masked devils who went to church carrying on their backs sheepskins decorated with mirrors and jewels that reflected the sun rays and pretended to scare the Holy Ghost with their dance and the noise of their spurs and rattles; black men with machetes came 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 the popular festivities. 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 Carnaval de Barranquilla came from 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 saltimbancos. 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 (percussion instrument). They go back and forth leaning forward, making noise with bells, castanets and spurs. As their concentration 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 following the puya 380 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.
Comparsas are traditional carnival groups identified by their costumes. They participate in carnival parades with special choreographies danced to popular rhythms.
The Marimonda was originally created by a poor Barranquilleros” from the “Abajo “ and “ Montecristo” neighborhoods. They made a mask out of a cloth sack and adorned it with big ears, a long phallic-looking nose and openings for the mouth and the eyes. Their covered his entire body so they would not be recognized. They wore a pair of old pants and an old jacket inside out and walked around making a disturbing sound with a whistle known as pea-pea. They also wore a long necktie to ridicule government officials. The Marimonda made fun of people, particularly members of the ruling class. He was vulgar, aggressive and kept people away by poking them with a stick. In many occasions the individual wearing the costume ended in jail for his abusive advances.By the 1970s the costume had disappeared. In 1983, César “Paragüita” Morales who remembered 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 changed the vulgar attitude of the original Marimonda for a friendlier one. Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade
Monocucos: The name “Monocuco” comes from a monkeys’ costume inspired by the Commedia dell’ Arte that for a while was part of Barranquilla’s vernacular tradition. When it disappeared it was replaced by the harlequinesque “capuchón”. The capuchón became popular when members of the elite decided to participate in carnival’s popular celebrations. Covered from head to toe, wearing a mask, gloves and a stick to avoid transgressors wanting to discover their identity, individuals were able to enjoy the celebration anonymously. The costume began to disappear in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1995, Roberto Guzmán decided not to continue dancing in the Gallo Giro, the cumbiamba he directed, and to create the comparsa Los Monocucos del Barrio Las Nieves, which participated for the first time in the Carnaval 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 Carnaval de Barranquilla in 1937. These big-headed dwarves that ridicule human beings are grotesque figures that constitute a transgression to the classical model of beauty from a European perspective. They were brought to Barranquilla as an innovative costume to be displayed in carnival parades where they became a traditional comparsa. The gigantonas or muñecotas are the antithesis of the cabezones. They are gigantic deformed ugly 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 carnival theory are transgressive elements that contrast with the classical norm.
According to the director of the comparsa, 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 401 comparsa 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 Carnaval de Barranquilla for over forty five years.
the information provided in this section was taken from the dissertation written by Francine Birbragher, submitted to the Faculty of the University of Miami.
Barranquilla Via40 carnival parade