Bull Fighting in Belém do Pará

Who said Belém isn’t a fun city? Between the daily rains, Belém is full of colour and joy. For the Brazilian it is impossible not to have large festivities between the one Carnival and the next. There has to be, at least, one large festival in between. And that is the month of June. The June Festival, or “Festas Juninas” as they are called here, finds, just like carnival, its origin in religion. As it is with so many (pagan) festivities the Roman Catholic Church stole the rituals of the pagans and transformed them into Catholic Celebrations. However, in these days, neither in carnival nor in the Festas Juninas you will find a lot of religious tradition, although the Festas Juninas are still in the name of three saints. But about that part of the June Festival later in my next article. First the Bull Fighting, or to be honest it is not a bull but an ox. It is the start of the festivities of the month of June.

The “Arrastão do Pavulagem” (arrastão is an orchestrated action of various individuals, often related to vandals) is the Festival of the Ox, although the word “Pavulagem” is a neologism originating from the word pavão (peacock), which signifies beautiful, handsome, and pompous and in popular parlance carries the meaning of showing off or bragging.

Although a well-known festival in several parts of the north and northeast, in Belèm it started as a playful event, almost as a joke, at the Praça da República in the centre of Belém and brought the most diverse artists together. What started as a joke turned into a long year tradition.
Singers and songwriters, among others, got the idea to attract an audience and thus create a space to publicize their work. At first, the ox was called “Pavulagem do Teu Coração”, but after 1987, the festival came to be called “Arraial do Pavulagem”. The change was initiated to create a broader cultural context and thus bring a universe of folk elements to the Festival, not limited to the culture of boi-bumbá only.

On the second Sunday in June a river boat leaves the port at the Praça Princesa Isabel, in the Condor neighbourhood in Belém, carrying the Boi Pavulagem (Ox Pavulagem, the Blue Ox) and its guests (Boi Malhadinho and Boi Orube) together with the “mast of St. John”, toward the pier at the Praça Pedro Teixeira, close to the square where the festivities are organised.  The mast of St. John will be stuck into the ground and will stay there till the end of the festivities, when it will be overthrown.

The folkloric dances the carimbó, the siriá and the toadas de boi, typical for the state of Pará, set the tone of the June Festival. (Note: See below for an explanation of the dances). In these days this folk festival attracts on a single Sunday some 40,000 people, including participants and revellers who join the procession. The apotheosis comes with the ceremony of the mast of St. John and the show of the Arraial do Pavulagem band, on a stage in the square.

The three saints of this time of the year (St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter), the ponies, the traditional “cabeções” (village idiots), and stilt-walkers, the June party props and the flags are part of the festival, highlighting the rhythms and the Amazonian culture.

Enjoy the photos. All photos are made by Tarso Sarraf – Portal ORM.

Bumba-meu-boi, boi-bumbá or Pavulagem is a popular Brazilian folk dance, with human characters and imaginary animals, which revolves around the death and resurrection of an ox.
The legend links the essence of satire, comedy, tragedy and drama, and always shows the contrast between the fragility of man and the brute force of an ox. This essence was originated from the legend of Catirina and Father Francis, both from the Northeast, who suffered adaptation to reality in the Amazon. In this form it refers to the free ox native to the Amazon rainforest, as well as the joy, synergy and strength of indigenous community parties.

The Carimbó is a typical dance of the State of Pará, located in the north of Brazil, and surrounding areas as Bragança, Salinas and Marajó Island. The name carimbó applies to both the dance and music.
The Carimbó is considered a musical genre of Indian origin. However, as with several other Brazilian cultural manifestations, it miscegenated and received other influences, particularly negroid. Its name, in Tupi, refers to the drum with which the rhythm is marked, the curimbó. Formed around Belém and on Marajó Island, it went from a traditional dance to a modern rhythm, influencing the lambada and zouk. In traditional form, the dance is accompanied by drums made of tree trunks. The drums were given the name “curimbó”, a corruption of the word Carimbó. Usually maracas are also present.

The Siriá is a folk dance typical of the state of Pará, more specifically the city of Cametá. It is a variation of the African drumming. Legend has it that the slaves, very hungry, found, one day, hundreds of Callinectes (crabs), which sated their hunger. They then created a dance to remember this day, and gave it the name “siriá”, a corruption of the word siri (Callinectes).

Until the late 80’s Toadas were songs with lyrics extolling the ox and other characters such as Father Francis, Sinhazinha (Missy), among others, and exalting the cabocla (a mix of white and Indian) culture.
In the early 90s, when indigenous issues were successfully introduced in Boi Bumbá, it gained more strength, especially with the advent of indigenous rituals, which became the highlight of the Festival.

More details about the folkloric dances in the next article about the Festas Juninas.