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Brazilian Carnival, but not the one you're thinking of

by Elizabeth Willoughby

For most of the year, tiny Santana de Parnaíba lies slumbering in nearby São Paulo's shadow. But one Friday night each year, on the eve of Carnival, tension mounts until, near midnight, a long awaited giant paper mache skull appears in the centre of town carried on the shoulders of the anonymous procession leader.

Scream Night percussion

Behind him shuffle thirty or so torchbearers, all disguised in white gowns, with flames held high to light the way through dark streets towards the cemetery. Then a horizontal line of charmed players with tube-shaped rattles stretches the width of the street stamping backwards in time to the beat. Facing them are the percussionists — an identical line of beating bass and snare drummers. The musicians, also clad in white gowns, have their heads painted red. Forty more brethren with paper mache heads on their shoulders follow. Most of the heads are skulls, but they also include the likenesses of famous personalities such a former president, a beautiful witch or even Saddam Hussein. Last comes the rest of the congregation: five thousand ghosts, phantoms, lifeless skulls and other creatures of the living dead.

Noite dos Fantasmas was a religious tradition in the 17th century when once a year townspeople, shaking rattles and other exorcising instruments, wandered the streets praying for souls in purgatory or hell. After the abolishment of slavery, blacks joined the cortege to celebrate their liberty, adding drums and chanting to the ceremony.

Scream Night walking dead

In Brazil's vivacious way, the people of Santana de Parnaíba have continued to modify the ritual, turning this age-old tradition into a fun-loving celebration. Today, the percussionists beat out a samba and thousands of high-spirited, costumed revellers dance together through the packed streets. The lead singer calls out the verses of the traditional Scream Night samba song, pausing after each line to allow the congregation to repeat.

He stops at the threshold of a tavern and poetically (it rhymes in Portuguese) calls out: "Path of the paca, path of the hare, Bring us a pinga that we drink."

If the proprietor of the tavern sends out a bottle of pinga (sugarcane rum) to be passed among the cheering crowd, he is praised with: "For this litre so beloved, thank you my friend."

But if no pinga is offered, he is cursed with: "The pinga that you denied I no longer want. I want that this pub closes and never opens again."

Scream Night hunt for pinga

On the fervent procession moves in a harmonic motion to the next establishment, be it house or eatery, where the rite is repeated and blessings or curses afforded to the owner accordingly. Winding through the streets, drinking, singing and dancing, the torches, masks, costumes and musicians move as one. Like a long, vibrant snake undulating with the pulsating rhythm resonating into the night, the crowd frolicks its way to the cemetery and then back again to the town centre where it had begun many hours before.

That's opening night. Scream Night. Carnival has begun.

Images ©Savio Barletta

This article was published at ©WorldGuide.eu 2009

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