The word Carnival is derived from the Italian word ‘Carnevale’ and Medieval Latin ‘Carne levamen’ meaning ‘put away flesh’ as during Lent when flesh eating was considered taboo.

Initially the church was against the reveling and tried to stop participation. Believers ignored the church and eventually the Carnival became accepted as an outlet to indulge in pleasure for the 4 days of the festival before observing Lent.

In 1723 immigrants from the Portuguese islands started the Entrudo. The word Entrudo could mean the ‘entry’ into Lent or the ‘intrusion’. The idea was to go out on the streets with buckets of water and limes or oranges and soak everyone, no-one was immune. Even Emperors participated in the fun. Eventually it became a nuisance and the practice was outlawed by the authorities.

The Rio Carnival first started in 1840 when the wife of the Italian ambassador to Brazil arranged a Carnival in Rio. A ball was held with Musicians, dancers and streamers setting a trend in celebrations and paving the way in the minds of Brazilians for programs that the less privileged could join in.

Zé Pereira was started in the 19th century by a Portuguese shoemaker and his friends who would march the streets on Carnival Mondays playing drums, tambourines, pans, and whistles. Everybody joined in and even kitchen utensils were used as musical instruments.

In 1855 the Grandes Sociedades (Great Societies) organized a parade including the Emperor. The parade was a success with 80 masked aristocrats participating in the parade with masks, luxury costumes, music and flowers.

In 1870 the Cardao Carnavalesco started when poor dressed as queens, kings, and princes and the rich dressed as witches, peasants and street dancers all performing the role of the costumes they wore. Equality among the classes lasted for the 4 days of Carnival returning to their real class when Carnival ended.

Cordoes de Velhos was the name given to those who wore large and often bizarre papier-mache masks and walked with the gait of an old mans as if they are unable to dance or sing.

Later the Cordoes became the Blocos de Sujos, where everyone could join in plain clothes. The Blocos de Baianas were men dressed in white colonial clothes that acted as security to the Blocos. There was a percussion band and vocalist, and a women-only chorus of Pastoras.

Today the Blocos parade is free and can be seen on the Av. Rio Branco on all Carnival days Saturday to Tuesday starting at 2pm.

Ranchos Carnavalescos was started as a working class festivity in 1872 by Hilario Jovino. Participants were more organized than the Cordoes and wore glittering costumes and performed accompanied by an orchestra of strings, ganzas, flutes, and other instruments. This festival became popular with the poor around 1911.

The Ranchos started organized competitions until 1990 with sponsorship from the Hanseatica Brewery. Together with the Great Societies they became a main attraction of the Carnival.

During World War II the parades stopped and restarted after the war in 1947.

The granddaddies of current floats were the Corso who introduced a parade of cars to the Carnival 1907. In the 1930’s this celebration became popular with most car owners in the city participating. Revellers brought along streamers, confetti and spray cologne water.

The history of the Rio Carnival is not complete without the ‘Cariocas’. The Portuguese living in Brazil called themselves Cariocas after the Natives christened them Caricoas or white people living in the houses built in clusters. Today they are fashionable groups of jovial young men of all races and religions, singing, dancing or just playing and always ready to help others. Anyone with time to revel and roam the streets and beaches can join their group. Without the Cariocas, year round, the city of Rio would be like any other city in the world.

Samba music and Samba Schools are an integral part of the Rio Carnival as well as life in Brazil. Samba is played at the ‘Sambdrome’ and entry is by high priced tickets. Anyone attending the Rio Carnival should attend the Samba Show.

In the 19th century ladies from Bahia, priestesses of Candomble, lived in an area called Little Africa and sold food delicacies around town. They were influential in the community and typically wore white dresses with big round skirts.

One lady had meetings often entertained with live music. The samba took place in the back of her house, a term used for the ritual Candomble dance to drums and handclaps. The two beats came together and the first song named the Samba was composed in her house. Later Noel Rosa's Com que Roupa, had a broader range of instruments which became staples in a samba song.

In 1928 the Samba evolved into the first Samba School called the Mangueira. In the 40's and 50's the Samba Schools consolidated with a theme, a theme song, costumes and floats.

In the 60's and 70's the Samba gained prestige with the middle and upper middle classes. Albino Pinheiro, helped with his famous pre-Carnival balls. The Samba Parade became more popular, and in 1971 each Samba School was given a set time in the parade. The songs gained a faster beat, and a theme song for the Samba Schools was released on an album in 1972.

The Carnival made Samba famous but the Samba now has its’ own place in the sun. Today's Escolas de Samba (Samba Schools) are complex and have many wings and floats.
Today's Carnavalescos concept of design was initiated in 1959 when artists Dirceu and Maria Louise Nery designed their parade featuring painter Debret as the theme.

Initially Carnival celebrations were held in theatres, or houses of the rich. Today each street has a ‘Banda’ a club of young men who march, sing and play in an orchestra through predetermined routes. They wear special T shirts and a visitor can buy one on the spot and join the company.
Todays Blocos, like the Bandas are small groups of young men around a particular street. They select a theme song for the march rather than singing popular hits like the Bandas. They rehearse before events adding more fervor to the main Carnival. Their T shirts are themed to the main event. Today there are over 100 Blocos in Rio
It is natural for people to revel to forget the problems of everyday life. All cultures provide a release for this to varying extents. Some societies suppress it, others control it, while others celebrate it.

The Brazilian government didn’t want the colonist celebrations but the people rioted until their favorite celebration was endorsed by the government. The Carnival came back with more spice and fervor than before. Many immigrants have enriched the celebration with their different cultures.

Brazilians celebrate it, no inhibitions; no taboos, just celebrations whether it’s Carnival, Samba or Soccer they revel in it. Carnival season lasts 4 days and they make the most of it.

Carnival will never die as it evolves with the changing times. It has become a increasing staple to the Brazilian tourism industry. Tourists love it as they can participate in the world’s greatest cultural event.

Author's Bio: 

My name is Avril Betts, I am originally from England and now a Canadian Citizen, I have over 25 years experience in all aspects of Travel and Tourism, including running an online agency for over 13 years. I hold a CHA (Certified Hotel Administrator) an internationally recognized accreditation and in 1996 hosted the president's wives luncheon for the G7 conference.

I have co-chaired Atlantic Canada Showcase an International Travel Trade Show, managed 450 volunteers for the Tall Ships Visit in July 2000, and was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia. In 1988 I founded the Country Inn Association in Nova Scotia still going strong today. I have been involved in numerous Travel and Tourism volunteer activities throughout Atlantic Canada and across Canada.

As an experienced speaker I have spoken and presented seminars to large and small audiences for many years on subjects ranging from Marketing and Sales and Life Skills to Tourism, Travel and Real Estate, and operating an online Travel business.

As a recognized tourism expert I am accustomed to working with tourists and passing on my knowledge of the various destinations to help them make the most of their vacations.

Don't hesitate to contact me with any questions or travel inquiries.

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