“…Que la vida es un carnaval/y es mas bello vivir cantando…”
Nowhere do they know how to have fun like in Cuba. Despite the fact that Cubans live very poorly by world standards and under socialism (and far from Swedish socialism), they do not give up, do not lose heart and do not mope, but continue to move forward: someone towards eternal communism, someone towards bright future, someone to their dream of freedom and democracy. But all together, Cubans are one big, very cheerful smile, kind eyes and an open heart.
I want to tell you about Cuban carnivals. They are not as famous as, say, the Brazilian Carnival or the Venetian, but they exist and are no less interesting!
With my own eyes, I saw only a modern carnival in Havana. There are fragments in my memories: huge decorated platforms glowing from many light bulbs, the famous embankment of the Cuban capital, the Malecon, smelling of squid, and, of course, noisy crowds of people. The feeling that you see something grand, something that has not been allowed so close before.
Despite the fact that Cuba is not a very large island, more than one carnival is held here. According to CACHEDHEALTH, the most famous are the carnivals in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The carnival is also arranged in Varadero, Camagueya and many other cities.
Carnivals take their origins, firstly, in the pagan beliefs of Africans who settled Cuba, who managed to preserve their religious rites and culture, and secondly, in some Catholic festivities brought by the Spaniards, French, and partly in Asian traditions.
Initially, the holidays were held in honor of the Catholic saints: San Juan and San Pedro, San Cristobal (“San” is translated from Spanish as “saint”). Also, it is worth remembering the truly Spanish holiday in honor of the day of the Kings, which is celebrated on January 6th. On this day, the white, that is, privileged, people held family celebrations, and black slaves belonging to various African ethnic groups chose their representatives, who walked along the main city streets towards the government residence, dancing and loudly shouting their traditional songs. It is believed that they thus begged for gifts from the governor of the city, and in order not to go unnoticed, moreover, to stand out from the rest, they began to put on festive clothes, bright costumes and jewelry over time.
White Cubans celebrated their holidays more discreetly, sometimes strolling through the streets of the city. These holidays were not so cheerful and were often allowed only until the time of the evening prayer.
The first mention of dancing at the carnival dates back to 1833. These were masquerades held in the salons and theaters of Havana. The celebrations included walks along the main avenues of the city. Women rode in carriages decorated with flower garlands, and men, usually dressed in carnival costumes, rode horses or walked. Confetti, serpentine, flowers were thrown to the procession participants. Later, a jury appeared, which awarded the best crews.
In 1902, the city authorities of the capital issued a mandate designed to regulate the holding of the carnival. Since the beginning of the 20th century, carnivals have also acquired a commercial meaning. Platforms, carriages, giant puppets served as excellent advertising media. Mandatory participants in all carnivals and holidays were the so-called “kompars” – masquerade groups representing one area of the city, accompanying their crew. Many companies sponsored compars, thus working on their image. During the period of the Republic (1902 to 1959), Cuba effectively became a “semi-colony” of the United States, and carnivals became a show for American tourists.
After the revolution, carnivals acquired a completely unprecedented revolutionary socialist hue. If earlier compars were created by belonging to the districts, now the carnival has become similar to our Soviet May Day, when people represented their enterprises and syndicates. However, in the 60s and 70s carnivals reached their climax, but then slowly faded away. The reason for this was the usual lack of a creative approach to creating your performance, to preparing your dancers and costumes for them.
Carnivals were canceled, revived, tried to change, but people still reach for the roots, and even more tourists. Carnival is an enchanting action. It includes not only the main carnival procession, but also many other events: competitions, concerts, dances, performances. Despite the fact that all Cuban carnivals are different from each other, they have common elements:
Komparsas – as I said, these are groups of dancing people representing their area. Officially, they were recognized as part of the carnival only in 1937, but, in fact, they are the basis of all traditional holidays. For dancers, compars are beaten by musicians belonging to the same group. They use such instruments as trumpet, viola, as well as tumbadora, bombo, quinto, cecerros, which set the main rhythm. Each comparsa has its own name: “Los payasos” (clowns), “Las boyeras”, “La sultana” (sultana), “Los pharaones” (pharaohs), “El alacran” (scorpion).
Farolas – in this case, it is a very large street “lantern” that is mounted on a wooden stick. Farols are carried by men. This is a very responsible and difficult job. The color of farolas has a certain meaning. For example, red, stylized as a rooster, are turned to the African deity Chango, blue with a black doll – to Yemaya, white farols with a white dove are turned to Obatala, and yellow with a peacock – to Ochun.
In general, there are a lot of lights and lights at carnivals. After all, each platform (carrosa) glows with hundreds of lights. Not to mention fireworks.
And, of course, the most beautiful girls, the so-called “reinas” – queens, participate in the carnival procession. They greet the audience, wave their hand and bestow their smile. Together with the queen, many girls dance on the platforms in costumes, on which they spent a minimum of fabric and maximum effort.
The carnival procession ends late at night (more precisely, early in the morning) with general fun and dancing.
The carnival in Havana is designed for the audience to follow the performance on the stands installed on both sides of the Malecon, while the carnival in Santiago de Cuba involves the participation of the whole city and the guests who came to the carnival in the procession. These carnivals are held in the month of July, although the capital has historically always been held in February. There is also a carnival in Varadero. It is focused more on tourists who participate in the procession, representing a particular hotel. This carnival starts on the second Monday of January and lasts until the second Sunday of February.
All carnivals have one thing in common – they are very cheerful and colorful. Carnival is one common holiday. Hundreds of participants have been preparing for it for a long time, and millions of spectators are waiting for this holiday.