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The history of Carnivore can be can be traced hundred and hundreds of years ago when the Catholic faithful in Italy begun to hold a wild kind of celebration just a few days before the first day of Lent. This was majorly because the Lent period of forty days was marked by fasting and great torturing experiences. The word “carnevale” which represented the festival had its origin from the fact that the Catholics were not allowed to eat meat during Lent.  It meant “to put away the meat.” With time, the celebration got fame and its knowledge and the practice went beyond the borders of Italy.  Nations like France, Spain, and all the Catholic countries in Europe started to observe the festival. These nations then began to spreading this practice to the rest of the world in what was seen to be a competition leading to what is witnessed today, carnival everywhere. With special attention to Brazil, this write up seeks to explain the origin and the reasons behind the development of the Carnival Festival.

Key words: Carnival, Carnival festival, religion

The History of Carnival   

There has controversy over when exactly the Carnival festival began. Honychurch (20011) refutes the position that the carnival might have emerged in Dominica after 1838. According to its findings, the origin of festival the festival can be traced back hundreds of years of the Afro-European cultural background. Flecha et al (2010) noted that this is the time of the primitive European tribes who lived long before the rise of the Roman Empire.

Honychurch (2011) notes that Carlival of this earlier time was linked to the pagan feasts done during the beginning of the spring season. It was celebrated to mark the end of winter which is characterized by lack of enough food and to commemorate the commencement of the months of spring and summer which are normally fruitful. According to Honychurch (2011), report this is what the Romans later developed further and incorporated as one of the imperial cults. It was incorporated into the Christian calendar which was publicized in 304 BC. It is what later developed into what is known as the Lupercalia festival which is usually celebrated on the fifteenth of February every year.

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Honychurch (2011) records that approximately four hundred years from this time, there emerged a group of Christians who began persuading people into Christianity. Their work was mostly concentrated in Asia Minor and along the Mediterranean Coast. Their work led to conversion of a section of the population and hence the practice of different beliefs and customs in these areas. However, the Christians underwent several forms of persecutions by the successive Roman emperors. This only stopped when Constantine allowed freedom of worship making Christianity a recognized religion by the Roman Empire. Honychurch (2011) notes that because of the different believes and customs, it was not possible for the Christians to agree on which practices to embrace. Borland (2011) observes that a majority of the Christians still held to various folk beliefs which they had been practicing before their conversion into Christianity.  

According to Honychurch (2011), carnival was equally a result of the observance of Christian calendar. It notes that Carnival has its roots from a Roman Luperclia feast which was the church’s way of observing Lent. Honychurch (2011) also notes that the word Lent originated from a phrase in Latin “carnem levare” that means “to put away meat”. In Italian language, the word “carnevale” is commonly known as the Shrove Tuesday and its interpretation also connotes the fulfillment of the sexual desires of the flesh and not just of the eating of meet.

Rosenberg (2011) notes that such immoral forms of celebration were also part of the festival of Bacchus which was the Greek’s way of honoring Dionysus, the god of wine. It was a celebrated by the Romans. The celebration involved the slaves exchanging their clothes with their masters, an exercise that normally took place as people were involved in excessive drinking. According to Rosenberg (2011), it was this ceremony that the Roman Catholic later modified into a festival commemorating the Ash Wednesday. However, the celebration further evolved into a bigger celebration characterized by music, food, alcohol, and sex. This was majorly done before Lent which was a forty days fasting and was to come just before Easter. Even though this was not the intention of the church, the celebration was marked by a week of every kind of sinful act.

Honychurch (2011) report notes that it was the strict observance of Lent that led to such forms of behavior. According to its publication, the Christians had to go through sacrifices, denials and self torture that were perceived as the demands of salvation. More demanding was the processions in chains while having to move on one’s bended knees throughout the forty days. Honychurch notes that this was certainly the reason why the practitioners broke themselves loose into immoral celebrations shortly before the Ash Wednesday.

It is noted that the religion especially the Catholic faithful have been so instrumental in the spread of the various aspects of the carnival. Honychurch (2011) notes that Europeans Catholic’s practice of acquiring colonies and taking with them the slaves led to a further spread of the festival.  Honychurch records that carnival is now famous in Mardi Gras in Louisiana. In addition, their writing indicates that the celebrations are now common inseveral other parts of the world especially in the Caribbean countries which are currently immersed into the practice.

Brazil Carnival History

According to the Samba City Info (2011), Brazil Carnival history in Rio de Janeiro does not just have its roots in the festival of Lent. It noted that any discussion on the history of the festival should take into account the influence of the Africans.  Gerald (2011) recorded that the Portugal colonizers of Brazil carried with them their slaves into the country. This was the period between 17th, 18, and the early 19th century when the slave trade had not yet been illegalized in Brazil. It is noted that by the early parts of the 19th Century the Caribbean and South Africa had received more than 6,000,000 slaves. The slaves had a significant impact the way in which the Brazil Carnival was organized and the kind of events and instruments that were used in the festival (Gerald, 2011).

Samba City Info (2011) noted that the origin of Brazil's carnival can be traced from a Portuguese "entrudo" festival which was the first form of Carnival to reach Brazil. This was an event characterized with chaos. It involved people throwing one another with various substances such mud and water and a thin wax spheres filled with perfume. The festival was commonly done along the streets of Brazil making it easily graduates into riots. An example was in the year 1853 when the police had to step in. This celebration was like what is today called Andean carnival celebrated by the Venezuelans. Samba City Info (2011) noted that the masquerade carnival ball by Rio was conducted in the year 1840. This was then followed ten years later by the Carnival street parades. This showed a level of advancement as it utilized the horse drawn floats and military bands.

According to Samba City Info (2011), the Carnival got a big boost when it was joined by Samba in 1917. Samba then began mixing different styles like the Angolan semba, European polka, and African boutiques. It also included various touches of Cuban habanera. Samba City Info (2011) notes that the today’s samba has its origin from the arrival of black the Brazilians who had come from Bahia to the Rio slums. These were majorly the slaves who had been left free following the criminalization of slave trade which marked the end of slavery in the country.

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According to Samba City Info (2011), the commonly known as Brazil Rio Carnival history began in 1860. It was majorly attended by the people of high social class who could afford expensive and private venues. They normally dressed themselves in masks and expensive costumes.  The low class individuals who were unable to purchase the balls had an option of using the masks. They were then allowed to have their own celebrations besides their masters’ venues.

Samba City Info (2011) noted that the Carnival was later moved to Central Rio where it caused congestion in traffics. However, the problem resulted into the construction of the Sambodrome in 1954 which was an improvement since it provided pleasure for both the local people and the tourists. Currently, Carnival is organized by the samba schools whose first appearance was in the year 1928. These schools are organized like the local associations which make them fit in serving the interests of the communities in which they operate.

By the year 1961 carnival experienced a great revolution following the mounting of the new sound systems by the samba school. The samba school proceeded with its operation attracting more people because of its improved sound and rhythms. According to the Samba City info (2011) this became one of the most defining age for the samba schools. Today, the schools have advanced to a point at which they are involved in the provision of the basic resources like education and healthcare to the community. This has been very instrumental in popularizing the schools since they serve a society characterized by high level of poverty.

The Impact of African Religions on the Development of the Carnival

Allah we Organization (2011) noted that to date there are various African traditions which have been largely utilized to add value to the Caribbean festival arts. He identified a number of such traditions. First were the ancient African traditions of parading and moving in circles through villages in costumes and masks as those which have been of great influence. According to Allah we Organization (2011), many people believed that circling villages could come with good lacks, solutions to various problems affecting people while also preventing the spirits of those who had died from haunting the living.

Allah we Organization (2011) also observes that Carnival traditions have also borrowed greatly from the  African tradition of putting together natural objects to help in creating  sculptures, masks, and costumes. The objects include bones, grasses, beads, shells, fabric. Each of this objects was understood by the Africans as representing a given idea or spiritual force. Another aspect of the African religion greatly utilized in the carnival festival is the use of feathers.  The Africans had been using the feathers from the ancient time. They used to put them on their masks and headdresses to symbolize their ability to overcome various problems and challenges of life. These include: any form of pains, heartbreaks, and all kinds of illness. Apart from it significance in protecting the people the Africans also used the feathers as s symbol of spiritual groowth. Allah we Organization (2011) observes that the use of masks in Carnival has persisted to date where it helps in creating carnival costumes.

Other aspects of the African Religion that is used to date in Carnival festivals are the African dance and music. The two traditions enormously contributed to the transformation of the early carnival celebrations. The Samba City Info (2011) notes that the most frequently used aspects of African music in the festival are the rhythms of the African drum and the large puppets. The festivals are also increasingly attended by stick fighters, and the stilt dancers as is with the African celebrations.

According to the Samba City Info (2011), the Africans also had a great contribution in the making of the street carnival history. Samba city notes that while Carnival expresses an abstract kind of street theatre, the Africans on the other hand used costumes in their bands in their styles. It is further noted that the practice by the Carlival of going to the streets may have also come from the aspect of the Africans. Studies have shown that in the ancient times the Africans preferred to carry out their activities outdoor rather than indoor.

Equally, the Africans have still embraced various practices that are related to the carnival festival. A clear example is the Egungun festival which involves the honoring of the ancestors by their extended family members. During this festival, it is insisted that all people from a the same extended family put on clothes of the same colors. This is a sign of a "band," which is as well the basic aspect of the history of the Brazil Carnival. This is also the same case with the Rio de Janeiro festival.

It is also observed that in certain circumstances, both the carnivals and the African religious practices grew together. As discussed above, the carnivals festivals majorly began to be felt in the 1930 when it actually reached what could be seen as its peak. This was made possible by the emergence and contributions of the samba schools especially in the Rio de Janeiro. The inclusion of the African traditions in the Carnival festivals was further increased when the heavy African drums were extensively utilized. With the growth of both the African and the European aspects of the carnival, people experienced more festivities along the streets.

The Importance of the Festival

Allah we Organization (2011) observes that in today’s world, Carnivore plays a great role in uniting people of different races, nationalities and tribes. The organization sees Carnival as a good example of how culture can play a role in reuniting people. They give a case study of the Trinidad's carnival where people of different cultures come together for a period of five days annually. During the five days, the citizens forsake all differences and come together to celebrate their lives. Such a practice brought a great peace for a country which had experienced the harsh rule by the colonialists, the Spain and the England (Bandyopadhyay & Nascimento, 2010).

Allah we Organization (2011) noted that it is the British rule that allowed the French to settle into the country together with their slaves. The organization explained that due to forced labor and attack by different illnesses, the majority of the native peoples of this country died. Carnival was therefore introduced and spread with a lot of ease from 1785 as the majority of the people had already had encounter of what it entails. Allah we Organization (2011) observes that the country today provides an example of citizenry of the immigrants of every origin coexisting in peace. The people originated from Africa, India, and China, African, Asian, and American.  

Carnival has since been embraced in Trinidad and has continued to get sponsorship from many individuals and organizations. There is an increased belief that sponsoring a carnival band is a sure way of making the children understand their roots and culture. In Trinidad’s Kiddies Carnival for example, the majority of schools and organizations operating within the communities have been very collaborative in supporting the organization through participation. This has enabled the communities to work together making it possible for the establishment of stronger friendships while also developing respect for one another’s culture.

Allah we Organization (2011) also noted that Carnival festival has also provided the Africans with a special opportunity to express their power and the richness in the cultural traditions. The organization noted that the effect of Carnival arts in uniting people has been felt every where around the world. Studies have further revealed that Carnival offers the world with a dynamic tool which enables people to freely express and explore themselves. Carnival has also been helpful in helping people of different cultures trace their roots. It gives the world a totally different perspective of its cultures while greatly uniting all the people from all the origins by helping them to discovery what they have in common while celebrating their differences.

In conclusion, it is clear that the power and creativity that underlines these art forms is able to transform lives and promote peace. However, questions will still be asked over who is owed the credit of the origin of the carnival. Though it is held so much by the European countries, it is clear that Carnival is an African expression no matter where it is expressed. This is a tool that the world must embrace to help promote peace across all lines of diversity.

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