Has Carnival been a tradition twenty five years ago? Of course it has, and with quite some different twists too. Let’s first talk about the “comparsas” or street dancing. Even though there was a population of only some 700 persons, there were about ten comparsas each day on the average. The dance groups ranged from five years of age to 8, 10, 14, teenagers, older girls, and the adult men. Some groups were all girls, others all boys and others were mixed. There were the Chinese, East Indians, Japanese, Cubans, Americans, Red Indians, Mestizos, Caribs, Negroes, Students, el Torito, to name a few. Every day there were ten comparsas and they participated for the three days. Acoustic guitars, maracas, accordion, harmonicas, and a lot of percussion produced their music. Each group danced for a special cause like Lions do today. They danced for the church, the school, etc.
How about painting? Painting had its rules. On the first day or Sunday, only white could be used, either body powders or flour. On the second day you could use blue or red. On the third day only, black was permitted. Never was water paint used. The black stuff at the bottom of frying pans and cooking pots was used. It was rubbed unto the hands and mixed with water. The rude boys used the oil in which fish had been fired to mix the black stuff. How awful! Boys only painted girls and vice versa. People were only painted on the streets and nobody ever entered a home or business place to attack anyone.
One of the biggest arts of fun that we had was hiding behind a house and casting eggs into the air unto a crowd of people following a comparsa. Sometimes up to twenty guys would cast a dozen eggs each unto a crowd. The next day you can imagine the conversations and complaints that came from the ladies following a comparsa. Also eggshells were filled with colored water or perfume and those were cracked unto people’s heads. Girls actually came to the boys for them to crack a perfumed egg on their heads. The rude boys filled the eggs with castor oil, but that was usually some form of revenge. Others allowed eggs to rot and would use those on people they hated, perhaps from a previous year’s activities. Oh yes, revenge was sweet. One usually would use a rotten egg on someone on the last day so that revenge had to wait for a whole year.
One of the best parts of carnival that is not done today was the building of an effigy or figurine of a man that was said to be Don Juan Carnabal. He left his inheritance to all his sons, grandchildren, stepsons, etc. The names of all the teenagers (boys only) would be used for this inheritance game. Say for example this person was lazy. Well, Don Juan Carnabal would leave this person all his energy so that he would go look for a job. Or if a boy could not get a girl, Juan Carnabal would leave his good looks or his good ways so that this boy could find a girl. If a boy was very boastful, for example, Don Carnabal would leave his humbleness to him or would leave a roll of masking tape to cover his mouth so that he would not talk and boast too much. Every teenage boy would be hit in this inheritance game and the entire village came out to Central Park to listen to the reading of the inheritance.
I believe it can be safely said that Carnival 25 years ago had more organized comparsas, safer painting, and a lot of creativity in the inheritance game. Today the enthusiasm of the kick off parade and show is fabulous, and the Brazil style carnival should be encouraged more as a tourist attraction. Twenty five years ago Carnival was for the fishermen and village only.