History of Carnaval in Brazil

Carnaval was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese between 16th and 17th centuries via a popular game named ‘entrudo’, a game of public mockery consisting of a wetting or dirtying people passing by on the street.

The game was so popular that even the Brazilian royal family was adept at entrudo. Despite its popularity, it did not please most of the elites in Brazil, so much that, throughout Brazil’s history, several decrees against the entrudo were issued.

While the game was suppressed in the streets, the Empire elite created carnival balls in clubs and theatres. The emergence of carnaval associations contributed for the popularization of the party amongst the poor.

From the 20th century onwards, the popularization of the party contributed to the rise of samba, a musical style very influenced by African culture, and the parade of samba schools, which ended up being made official part of the Brazilian culture, with government support.

During this period, Carnival assumed its position as the biggest popular party in Brazil and it remains until today, spreading all over the country, not just in Rio and Sao Paulo, with many different styles (street, salons, organised parade) according to the local costumes of each State.

Samba Parades – what really goes on

Samba schools emerged on 1920’s. The parades of the samba schools then gained breadth and were forced to comply with authoritarian guidelines with the requirement for permits taking effect in that decade.

Today, there are 13 samba schools in the special group in Rio for example. Each school presenting circa 4,000 people on the parade.

They practice the music and dance all year around at huge square-compounds (“quadras de samba”) associated with the favelas, aiming at the big day, the Carnaval parade.

What many don’t know is that the Rio and Sao Paulo parades are a in fact a serious and organised contest showcasing each of the main samba schools.

In addition to lavishing joy, glamour and samba on the feet, those in the parade need to follow strict rules that will be assessed by a pre-selected judging committee of 40 members chosen by the President of the Independent League of Samba Schools. The results are always announced on Ash Wednesday.

These judges are divided into groups of four for each of the ten items assessed such as the plot-theme chosen, the song, progression and harmony, drumming, floats and props, are some of the items.

The rules determine, among other things, that each school must end their parade within maximum 80 minutes.

The battery (drums) must have at least 200 rhythmists and the baianas wing, 100 members (the school loses half a point in each item if those numbers are lower).

Five to eight floats must parade and the front committee must consist of ten to fifteen people.

A serious fault is to disobey the item that prohibits master-room, flag-bearer, battery master, handle and front committee from participating in another parade, even outside the state. The blunder can take up to 2 points from the association and suspend the offender for three years.

All schools must chose a plot each year.

The written text of the music and the sequence of wings, groups and allegories are assessed, so that there is a satisfactory understanding of the theme.

Creativity is a very important factor when judging the plot which often is a current or historical subject relevant to Brazil’s culture or to the world

A Parade of Champions takes place among the top schools on the Saturday following Ash Wednesday. This parade has no competitive character, it is a celebratory festival to crown the year’s best schools.

We hope you enjoy Carnaval in Brazil  even more now that you know what is all about!

Source: SILVA, Daniel Neves. “History of Carnival in Brazil”