Manha de Carnival! Remember the song? It is a Brazilian
song, very popular the world over, which celebrates the
return of joy: alegria voltou
The joy returns every year for less than a week-five days in
Brazil, four nights in Goa-before Ash Wednesday, the
beginning of Lent which was once a dreary season of penance
and abstinence-40 long week days preceding Easter Sunday.
It was a way to “put away
flesh” carelevvare in Old Italian.Carn meant flesh,
to remove. But levare could also mean to raise, perhaps to
raise the way the Brazilians seem to interpret it.
A playboy writer assigned the task of reporting on Carnival
in Rio de Janeiro, was stunned at the way it was celebrated.
Men, women, boys and girls went their own way, did their own
thing, remorselessly, unaccountably-without compunctions.
And at the end of it, no questions were asked and no lies
told. The cavaliers returned to their hovels in the slums,
the fazendiros to their gorgeous ranches, and at the samba
clubs the preparations started afresh for the next year’s
processions, balls and street dances.
History of Goan Carnival
Carnival in Goa was a great leveler. Early accounts-all of
them hearsay-are indeed educative. The white masters
masqueraded as black slaves and the latter-generally slaves
brought in from Mozambique-plastered their faces with flour
and wore high battens, or walked on stilts. For those three
ephemeral days, they were happy to be larger than life. And
while the whites and the blacks mimicked each other the
brown locals watched this reversal of roles in awe from the
In course of time, when the imperial regime mellowed and
inhibitions dwindled, Carnival, no more an excuse to be what
one was not—and often hoped to be—became a time for
bonhomie. The old crude mimicry blossomed into social
satire. In the villages, the playwrights pieced together in
Khel (Konkani for play) anecdotes, events and criticism. The
Portuguese Governor General, his family and retinue used the
occasion for a show of diplomacy. They showered the crowds
with poudre de riz and confetti, and were happy to be
showered back. At the Carnival balls, the governor-general
danced with whom he pleased-provided, of course the lady
agreed to the request. And anyone was free to ask the
governor-general’s wife for a dance. And if the tangoit was
the tango they danced cheek-to-cheek, hip-to-hip.
Once, Carnival was a mood. It had no spectators and it was
strictly for participants. From dawn to dusk and back to
dawn again, they sang and danced, changed costumes and
partners and serenaded their namorados, girlfriends,
escorted by their guardians, the debutantes giggled and
grouped their first masqued ball. Those who feel in love
during Carnival married after Easter.