Carnival of Santiago de Cuba - Winter Carnival Vs. Summer Carnival

Winter Carnival Vs. Summer Carnival

Mamarrachos were held well after the end of the zafra (sugar cane harvest) which runs from January to May. This meant that unemployed sugar cane workers, most of whom were African and mulatto slaves and freedmen, were able to participate, and probably had done so from a very early period in the history of Santiago. “Summer Carnival originally was intended as a period of rest and divertissement for the laborers (the Blacks) and was eventually nicknamed ‘Carnaval de las classes bajas’ (or Carnival of the lower classes)…” (Bettelheim 1993:105). Pérez (I 1988:21) states that the Spanish colonial authorities (in response to pressure from plantation owners) permitted the growth of the mamarrachos in order to distract the slaves (and freedmen, who were typically in sympathy with the slaves) from more subversive activities.

Today in Havana, Mantanzas and Santiago de Cuba, Carnival is celebrated on July 18–27, in honor of the Revolution, with the final complete Carnival parade held on the 26th. This date commemorates Castro’s assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953, which had been planned to coincide with traditional Carnival in that city. Until the 1920s there were two types of Carnival celebrations in Santiago. When it was celebrated in relation to the Catholic calendar, carnival was held in February or March, during the several days prior to the Lenten period. It was called Winter Carnival and was private in nature, supported by certain organizations and their clubs like the Philharmonic Society, the Club San Carlos, the Club Catalonia, or the Club Galicia. These clubs were firmly rooted in Santiago social life by the 1860s. Membership was restricted and most of these organizations had their own buildings where members could meet, rehearse, and sponsor galas. Winter carnival was nicknamed “Carnaval por los blancos cubanos” (Carnaval for white Cubans), meaning Cubans with more Spanish than African heritage.

There was also a summer carnival, a Carnaval Santiaguero that originated during the slavery period. Held after the sugar and coffee harvest, it originally was intended as a period of rest and was eventually for the black laborers. And it nicknamed “Carnaval de las clases bajas” (Carnaval of the lower classes) or “Carnaval de los mamarrachos” which also coincided with the celebration of Santiago day on July 25.

By the 1920s Winter Carnaval celebrations were abandoned, and Summer Carnaval remained the only Carnaval in Santiago de Cuba. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the month of June, everyone in Cuba knew one could go to Santiago to party. The major patrons of these summer festivities were local industries: Polar, La Cristal and Hatuey beers; Bacardi rum; and Eden tobacco. Many of the participants in Summer Carnaval were the newly unemployed sugar and coffee workers, who were quite willing to remain in Santiago after the harvest and work for their commercial patrons in the jobs that the festival season created. This combination- the unemployed and the commercial sponsor- contributed to the popularity of Summer Carnaval. During the 1940s and early 50s, Carnaval in both Santiago de Cuba and Havana became more commercialized.

A pre-Lenten carnival celebration is attested in Santiago from at least the first half of the 19th century (Pérez I 1988:38), but it was “private in nature, supported by certain organizations and their clubs, like the Philharmonic Society, the Club San Carlos, the Club Catalonia or the Club Galicia (Bettelheim 1993:105).” It was celebrated only by the well-to-do minority: “…Cubans with more Spanish than African heritage (Bettelheim 1993:105).” This carnival had all the elements that the purifiers desired (such as European-style masquerade balls) and fewer of the elements they disliked (such as Afro-Cubans, noisy percussion ensembles and “indecorous” dancing).

Carnaval de Invierno (“Winter Carnival”) is first recorded in 1904 (Pérez I 1988:167). This celebration, like the old pre-Lenten carnival, was held in February. In 1907, a Winter Carnival was celebrated with a “parade of carriages, an iridescent rain of flowers and confetti, noise in the park and crowds in the streets…”(Pérez I 1988:171). Winter Carnival continued to be promoted as a popular alternative to mamarrachos. It was held throughout the 1920s, but is mentioned no more after 1929 (Pérez I 1988:373-6). According to Pérez:

“The Winter Carnivals were created as ‘civilized’ counterparts to the traditional summer carnavales, in addition to which they adhered to the world-wide custom of celebrating carnival four days before the beginning of Lent. This was one more attempt to ‘civilize’ the traditional festival, but they did not last long because their nature was not collective, among other reasons (Pérez I 1988:168, note 2).”

The invention of the expression “carnaval(es) de invierno” to signify a revived or popularized pre-Lenten carnival led to a trend of referring to the mamarrachos as “carnavales de verano” (“Summer Carnivals”- see Pérez I 1988:171) in contrast. “Carnaval” eventually replaced other terms such as mamarrachos or mascaradas (Pérez I 1988:163, note 4). One angry Santiagueran complained about the change thusly;

“We have never called our traditional masquerades by the name “carnavales,” an improper name, the name of a religious festival which, according to the Catholic Church, is a period of time from the Day of the Kings until Ash Wednesday. Accordingly, it is incorrect to call them by the name carnavales; they should be called what we have always called them: Los Mamarrachos.”

In spite of the efforts of “writers, journalists and many traditionalist citizens,” the successive mamarrachos of July 24-6 became referred to as the “Carnaval of Santiago de Cuba (Pérez I 1988:31, note 3).”

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