Oct 10

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Awesome Barranquilla Carnival

The city of Barranquilla

Barranquilla is a port at the North Coast of Colombia, a city with a little more than a million people and fourth in size after Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. For many years, especially during the 18th Century,  Barranquilla was a very important trading port and therefore, as most big harbors around the world, lots of those traders decided to settle down there.

As a matter of fact, I think you may have heard about a certain Colombian musician of Arab origin from Barranquilla, her name is Isabel Mebarak Ripoll but some also call her Shakira.

Shakria’s hips are reportedly some of the most honest in showbusiness

Above all, Barranquilla is where the biggest Carnival in Colombia is held. Due to its amazing cultural display, El Carnaval de Barranquilla was proclaime  by UNESCO, in November 2003, as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It’s second only to the Carnival in Rio in terms of size and, of course, fun!

El Carnaval de Barranquilla is the best example of our triple cultural fusion (European, African, and Indian) in which the Catholic festivities brought by the Spaniards from the Europe blended with aboriginal ceremonies and the musical heritage of African slaves to become a spectacular folk festivity. Although there are four main Carnival days, you can feel the ambiance changing weeks prior to it, when the Caribbean rhythm of carnival music fills the air in anticipation of the festival.

The colorful costumes of Barranquilla  Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ottonassar/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Carnival of Barranquilla begins four days before Ash Wednesday and reaches its climax the following week during the Batalla de las Flores (Battle of the Flowers), where the gaiety and color of the Colombians come face to face in a unique battle of color, flowers, beauty, and peace. But, the “pre-carnival” officially starts with an opening ceremony in which the mayor gives the key of the city to the queen of the carnival on behalf of the people of Barranquilla and from there every weekend from mid-January to the beginning of carnival they have the right to celebrate on the streets as they please. I would never end if I start describing the dozens of pre-carnival parties, so I’ll just mention one of the main preliminary parades that starts two days before, early in the evening and is called La Guacherna.  “Guacherna” is slang for “Rumba”, “Fiesta”  or “Big mess” in English. As all the other pre-parties aside from the “official” carnival, La Guacherna is free to the public and consists on one big dancing, drinking street party with a high concentration of people of all ages…

On Sunday, the parade continues on  Vía 40, but this time the traditional Grand Parade  (El Desfile de la Gran Parada) takes over the main street. Here you’ll have the chance to see and hear to traditional folk bands and dancer; an amazing mixture of afro and local vibes represented by the sound of cumbias, guachernas, mapales, and others. The two most characteristic dances of this parade are:

  • Cumbia, a rythm that’s  afusion of indian, black and white elements simulating a couple courting were the woman dances subtly moving her hips to the rythm of the tambora (drum) and flauta de millo (a typical kind of flute)
  • Garabato, which symbolizes man’s victory over death

On Monday, we have the Fantasy Parade and the Festival de Orquestas. Both start at 4 pm, but it’s at the Festival were you’ll be able to dance all night long until  7am on Tuesday. During this enormous party, you’ll see the best bands in many different categories such as traditional folk music, salsa and vallenato. The winners in each category are awarded the Congo de Oro, which is one of the most sought after music awards in Colombia.

As a closing ceremony and as a symbol of the end of the festivities, Joselito Carnaval is burried on Tuesday night. Joselito Carnaval symbolizes joyfulness and festiveness, and dies after four days of intense partying. His body is cried upon and he is symbolically buried by the merry widows who shared his days of festiveness, his funeral is a symbolic farewell “to the flesh”.

Next morning, the whole city rests and get ready for Ash wednesday which is the first day of Lent, a time of repentance before eastern. Very good timing to, eh?

Now’s a better time than any to begin planning for the Barranquilla Carnival, and if you’re looking to come you’ll get all the help you need over at See Colombia Travel.

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