February 18, 2012

Caretos de Podence, oldest Carnival in Portugal

The next days are dedicated to Carnival celebrations all over the world. So I bring you the oldest Portuguese Carnival. Its origins go back in time. It’s the Carnival of Podence a small village in the northern Portugal. Men you’ll watch in the video are known as Caretos. They become superior beings, they are magical figures when they wear tin masks with a hooked nose, coloured wool bangs and a stick. Only men and boys can wear these masks and suits and they are like devils that chase women on the streets. They grab women, especially single women, and then they shake the body. The belt has cowbells – chocalhos - attached so the dance is quite noisy. The gesture of beating with chocalhos is related to the beating  Pan priests gave women in the Spring festivals. They believed women would get pregnant with such beating. Caretos has its origin in those fertility rituals and Spring announcing festivals. Each year more people go to Macedo de Cavaleiros to watch Caretos’ flirting!! They flirt women on Sunday and Thursday. This is the tradition. I hope men and boys can prevent this tradition from disappearing. That region has lost most of its population. In the town I live Carnival is a mere copy of what happens everywhere. A few years ago a samba school was founded in the city and now it joins the parade also. I have nothing against the school, of course, but our Carnival is more and more a small copy of what happens in Brazil. Even the music played is from Brazil. I don’t remember the last time I assisted the parade. It got silly. In February we still have low temperatures here. So imagine the poor girls dressing only bikini, crowns and feathers! They aren't moving and dancing all the time. The parade stops. One year the Queen of the Carnival, an invited star – actress, singer, public figure, I don’t remember who she was –got so cold that she demanded a jacket. The organization did not like it. But the woman must have suffered while standing on the top of the decorated vehicle just smiling and waving at the crowd!I understand the growing curiosity that Podence's Carnival and Caretos are causing as people are getting tired of getting more of the same. Why not starting something new but with some local meaning? More and more we want to escape reality but to experience genuine and traditional festivities, not a poor sample of what Brazil is making. For that I rather stay at home.

Caretos take the streets of Podence!
A longer video about Podence and Caretos. The man explains that Caretos is all about women and how they are meaningfull to men, no matter how ugly or old, women are always beautiful. He says that in the old days there were dances in the houses all night long. Now that's gone. Then the woman remembers when Caretos did practical jokes that were not so nice as just chasing the girls and beating them with chocalhos. They got inside the houses through the windows and  by force because those days  women weren't on the streets. Everything was turned upside down, the food once on the table ended on the floor. Probably because they were already very drunk (my opinion!). Wine is what keeps men going, the young boy says in the video. You must know that this region is a very cold one.They also used to collect donkey shit and throw it to women. I can't imagine that as a very sucessful flirting technique!They were pretty nasty indeed!

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