THE ADVENTURES OF DON-EDUARDO
& DONA SHARON, LA ARTISTA
ENTRY TWO BRAZIL JULY 2004
Foremost in the planning of our trip to Brazil was to synchronize our travels in the NE of the country with the “Festivals of June.” I hesitate to name them more specifically than that because it seems that every precinct, neighborhood, city and state seemed to choose a different name for the celebration.
In the more sophisticated, Euro-centric parts of Southern Brazil, people were envious of the those in the North because unlike Carnival, which shares many of the same attributes as these Festivals, they have not been commercialized, packaged and drained of their true “folkloric qualities.” We learned this from in-country tourists who had journeyed North to explore the wilds of their country and witness these festivities in person, having learned about them on the Brazilian Discovery Channel.
Dona Sharon in her research had come to believe that, “WE HAD TO BE IN SAO LUIZ,” by a certain date or else we would miss the “MAIN CELEBRATION” of something she called, “BUMBA MUMBA BOY!”
Well, she was close. In many places, the Festival is called, “BUMBA MEU BOI.” It is also called Sao Joao, Sao Pedro, and several other saintly names which apparently have little to do with what the Festival is about except for the desire of the Catholic Church to maintain the facade of control over the people’s lives.
“BUMBA MEU BOI” is a quintessential multi-cultural celebration. For it commemorates a “perhaps mythical" slave revolt, involving one slave, his wife or girlfriend, the master’s most favored bull, and the colonial baron who owned them all.
To offer a little background to remind those of you who once knew that legal slavery lasted for a quarter of a century after Lincoln ended the practice in the US. Although abolition came in 1888, it took till early in the 20th C. for the practice to disappear in the more rural areas of the Northeast. So there are still people alive whose parents were born slaves. It’s history, but not the distant history it is in this country.
“BUMBA MEU BOI,” is a peoples celebration. For weeks the streets are decorated with colorful banners, and numerous electrified images of the famous “BULL,” and the nights: filled with music & dancing, with extravagant “Las Vegas-style” costumes (that would meet or surpass anything you could find on “the Strip”) of hundreds upon hundreds of musical performance groups of all ages on ad-hoc stages created on street corners, public parks, massive public plazas across the Northeast. Some times the groups were only 20 or two dozen dancers, numbered were in the hundreds. And I mean every place in the Northeast, not just Sao Luiz for one night at the end of June.
The Dona got that part wrong. For, from the day we got off the plane in Salvador (our first stop) for the next three weeks, in every city and town we visited, every single night and all day long on Saturday and Sunday, “BUMBA MEU BOI,” or Sao “whoever” was being celebrated in musical performance all over town! With ad-hoc bars set up in the streets and food stalls and merchants selling folkloric trinkets (music and shopping was in the air and Dona Sharon, La Artista heard the call).
The music!?! The dances!?! The costumes!?! Incredible! Spectacular!
The Dona went crazy! She loved it , shooting many wonderful photographs capturing the visual flavor of it. If I remember correctly the Dona might have bought a trinket or two.
I loved it too. At least the first half dozen or so performances I watched outside in the plazas, in the suffocating heat of the Equatorial night…
(early on, we’d only just arrived in Brazil and I was still waiting for my internal cooling system to adjust to the heat and humidity – I was told it would kick in; however all that ever occurred was in my never-ending heat prostration and ever-present perspiration, the thought simmered that should I ever find myself back in NYC on a hot midsummer’s night; one of those killer nights when the air so heavy that the atheists cry out for, “God to make it rain!” I will remember , “BUMBA MEU BOI” on those nights and sigh, “This isn’t hot. This is delightful.”)
Despite the heat and sweat, monotony of the music and persistent humidity, witnessing “BUMBA MEU BOI” is great. It was authentic and the participants and audience’s enthusiasm genuine and ultimately a lot more fun than say, a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dancers and musicians of all ages from little kids to very old women and men.
Happily after one or two dance numbers, even the most athletic dancers were sweating bullets. Everyone was, musicians, audience members, bartenders, merchants, - so if they didn’t mind, neither would I. (The Dona will testify that my close observation of the dancing soon enabled me to do a fair imitation of the steps, which I entertained other Brazilians with, from time to time).
Some nights we stood watching for 2 to 3 hours as multiple groups took the stage to perform their “version” of the story. Sometimes the story was: the slave and his girlfriend were getting married and the bull was killed to serve at their wedding feast; others the slave was married and his wife pregnant, lusting hungrily for some cow’s tongue to eat; so the slave cut it out and cow nearly died; or died and was brought back to life by one of the Voodoo or Vuduns medicine people.
I could try to enumerate all the various other permutations of the story: How in different areas, because the tribal peoples are more culturally influential they save the day; or in the formerly slave dominant areas, the African tribal telling of the story has them playing the heroic role; or even how in some telling of the story as bad as slavery was, there was a forgiving and empathetic slave-owner willing to save the life of the slave despite the fact that he had stolen the most favored “bull/cow/whatever.” I will simply record that Dona Sharon has all the information you might ever want to know about the these Festivals of June. As she attended far more of them than I, she has become well-versed in “BUMBA MEU BOI” lore and can answer all questions.
I burned out after the third set of BUMBA MEU BOI performances in the third city we visited. In reality, La Dona eventually burned out too, on all the music and dancing. My complaints after a week or so were the observation that there were really only 6 or 7 pieces of music and perhaps only 3 or 4 different dance steps without few variations. So even though I might have only seen 10 or 12 groups in three cities the only difference was the costumes. And as spectacular as they were, they all shared sequins and feathers and skimpiness of Las Vegas costumes and after a while I don’t know if I was watching a show at the MGM Grand, The Bellagio, Luxor or Caesar’s Palace as all the costumes start to look the same - alternately beautiful and blinding.
But for the musicians and dancers, it was a marathon and their energy never flagged. Certainly, in the heat, the exhaustion gets to a dancer or two and they pass it, falling to the ground. But remember this is Brazil and they only fall on the beat of the music. As every group has its own ample number of handlers, and stage crew, the fallen dancers are whisked away before being trampled by the survivors.
To paraphrase a previous comment made when I was still only a Bobo, (the name change you may note for this trip comes after my continuing study of Latin American mores convinced me that calling myself a Bobo while traveling in these environs would never change its local meaning which at best is… a mentally retarded person…or a fool), without question, even based on the 2.3% of the country we visited, Brazil is someplace entirely different…
“Brazil is a party. A party that never ends, with a seat at the United Nations.”
In other words, we’re having a lot of fun!
Barreirinhas, Maranhao, BRASIL 14 July 2004