Carnival of Santiago de Cuba - Origin of The Carnaval: Mamarrachos

Origin of The Carnaval: Mamarrachos

Carnival (Spanish “carnaval”), a pre-Lenten festival commonly held in Roman Catholic countries, became popular in Spain from the middle of the 16th century, was presumably brought to Cuba by Hispanic colonists (Pérez I 1988:15) and has been the basis for traditional celebrations in Cuba ever since (for example, Carnaval habanero). However, what is today called the Carnaval of Santiago de Cuba is not a manifestation of pre-Lenten carnival, which would be celebrated in February or March, but evolved out of the summer festivals formerly referred to as the (Fiestas de) mamarrachos (Brea and Millet 1993:193). Mamarrachos were held on June 24 (St. John’s Day), June 29 (St. Peter’s Day), July 24 (St. Christine’s Day), July 25 (St. James the Apostle’s Day) and July 26 (St. Anne’s Day).

“Celebrations based on a religious pretext were always, at least in the case of the larger festivals, lacking in the liturgical character they were originally intended to have. From the written and oral sources, it seems that the so-called Days of St. John, St. Peter, St. Christine, St. Anne and St. James the Apostle were merely generic names which stood for days of public jubilation and diversion, totally lacking in the theological or liturgical meaning which it was convenient to feign, above all, during the days of the colonial government.” (Pérez I 1988:22)

The main activities were music, dancing and consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages. (Pérez I 1988:24, note 1)

The precise age and origins of the mamarrachos are unknown. The word "mamarrachos" itself does not appear in records until 1757 (Pérez I 1988:28). The festivals themselves are recorded as early as 1679, but certainly date from earlier on (Pérez I 1988:24). There are two theories about the origin of the summer festivals of Santiago. One is that they resulted from a gradual extension of more traditional European festivals, including carnaval (Pérez I 1988:21) Another theory is that the mamarrachos of July 24-6 had their genesis in the procession of St. James the Apostle, who is the patron saint of Santiago de Cuba (del Carmen et al. 2005) . The two theories are not mutually exclusive (see also below "Winter Carnival vs. Summer Carnival").

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