The History of Carnival in Brazil 

The History of Carnival in Brazil 

The History of Carnival in Brazil 

The History of Carnival in Brazil 
Painting by Jean Baptiste-Debret (1768-1848) showing a joke of the entrudo among the slaves (The History of Carnival in Brazil )

Note from BW of Brazil: Well, once again it’s on. Everyone in Brazil and even millions of people around the world know what time it is. Carnaval has arrived once again and the madness and mayhem is already in full swing. You can tell its Carnaval time not only because of the tens of millions of people actively participating in the festivities, but also by the millions who who are flocking to get the hell out of dodge. I’m one of those people who regularly chooses to get the hell outta dodge, so as I know the drill, I know I have to book whatever reservations I may need at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time, otherwise, everything’s gonna be booked up.

I reserved a rent-a-car a full nine days before the beginning of Carnaval yesterday. Good thing too. On Thursday, I went to the Localiza-Hertz website just to see if there would be any chance of upgrading the size of the car I reserved. Not only were the SUVs all rented out, EVERY car group size was listed as “esgotado”, meaning, out of stock!

Localiza-Hertz São Paulo rental car agency: All rented out!

But I’m good. The Toyota sedan size car I managed to rent was good enough to get my crew out of São Paulo for four days of relaxation. Let the party roll, I’ma do me. 

Anyway, everyone is familiar with the images, the music, the costumes and the masses of people, but how much do you know about how Brazil’s biggest party got started? I’m not gonna get into the full history in one post, but the piece below will give you an introduction. In reality, Brazilian Carnaval has something for everybody. I’m not big on being in the middle of masses of people, but the history, the themes of the parades and the history of the samba schools is a gold mine of information for people like me. Even looking at Carnaval from the perspective of race has been the topic of a number of books and dissertations. 

So, while you may see Carnaval as just one big spectacle, the history, politics and corruption go MUCH deeper into explaining Brazil than you think. 

The History of Carnival in Brazil 
19th century painting representing the entrudo in Rio de Janeiro. (The History of Carnival in Brazil )

The History of Carnaval in Brazil 

By Me. Tales Pinto

Carnival in Brazil has its historical roots in the colonial period, becoming a lucrative commercial activity in the twentieth century.

The history of carnival in Brazil began in the colonial period. One of the first carnival manifestations was the entrudo, a party of Portuguese origin that, in the colony, was practiced by the slaves. They went out into the streets with their faces painted, throwing flour and balls of scented water on people. Such balls were not always scented. Entrudo was still considered a violent and offensive practice, because of the attacks on people with the materials, but it was quite popular.

This may explain the fact of the wealthier families not celebrating with the slaves, staying at home. But in this space there were jokes, and the young girls of reputable families stood at the windows throwing water on passers-by.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, in Rio de Janeiro, the practice of entrudo became criminalized, especially after a campaign against the popular demonstration by the press. While the entrudo was repressed in the streets, the elite of the Empire created the carnival dances in clubs and theaters. In the entrudo, there were no songs, unlike the dances of the imperial capital, where the polkas were played.

The elite of Rio de Janeiro would also create the societies, whose first was the Congress of Carnival Summits, which began to parade on the streets of the city. While the entrudo was repressed, the imperial high society tried to take to the streets.

But the popular classes did not give up their carnival practices. At the end of the nineteenth century, in an attempt to adapt to attempts at police discipline, cordões and ranchos (see note one) were created. The first included the use of the aesthetics of religious processions with popular manifestations, such as capoeira and zé-pereiras, players of grandes bumbos (large bass drums). The ranchos were parades practiced mainly by people of rural origin.

Drawing by Angelo Agostini (1843-1910) showing the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, published in Revista Ilustrada, 1884.
Painting by Angelo Agostini (1843-1910) showing the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, published in Revista Ilustrada, 1884. (The History of Carnival in Brazil )

The carnival marches also appeared in the nineteenth century, whose best-known name is Chiquinha Gonzaga, as well as her song O Abre-alas. The samba would only emerge around the 1910s, with the song “Pelo Telefone”, by Donga and Mauro de Almeida, becoming over time the legitimate musical representative of carnival.

In Bahia, the first afoxés appeared at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, in order to recall the African cultural traditions. The first afoxés were the Embaixada Africana (African Embassy) and the Pândegos da África (African Merrymakers). Around the same period, frevo came to to be practiced in Recife, and the maracatu took the streets of Olinda.

Afoxé is a musical rhythm created from elements of African culture and is part of Brazilian Carnival

Throughout the twentieth century, carnival became even more popular in Brazil and experienced a diversity of forms of achievement, both among the ruling class and among the popular classes. Around the decade of 1910, the corsos appeared, with the convertible cars of the Carioca (native of Rio de Janeiro) elite parading along Central Avenue, now Rio Branco Avenue. This practice lasted until about the 1930s.

Among the popular classes, samba schools emerged in the 1920s. The first schools were Deixa Falar, which would have given rise to the Estácio de Sá school, and Vai como Pode, the future Portela. The samba schools were the development of cordões and ranchos. The first dispute between schools occurred in 1929.

The marchinhas lived in notoriety with the samba from the 1930s. One of the most famous songs was “Os cabelos da mulata” (the hair of the mulatto woman), by Lamartine Babo and the Valença Brothers. This decade would be known as the era of the marchinhas. The parades of the samba schools developed and were forced to conform to the authoritarian guidelines of the (President Getúlio) Vargas Age. The operating licenses of schools appeared in this decade.

In 1950, in the city of Salvador, the trio elétrico emerged after Dodô and Osmar used an old truck to transport the musical instruments they played and amplified by loudspeaker, parading through the streets of the city. They became a huge success. But the name would only be used a year later, when Temistócles Aragão was invited by the two. A new vehicle was used, with the inscription “Trio Elétrico” on the side.

The trio elétrico  was transformed in 1979, when Morais Moreira added the batuque of the afoxés to the composition. New success was given to the trios elétricos, which began to be adopted in several parts of Brazil.

Cena do carnaval em Olinda, Pernambuco
Carnival scene in Olinda, Pernambuco.

The samba schools and the Rio carnival began to become an important commercial activity starting in the 1960s. The  jogo do bicho (“animal game”)gambling entrepreneurs and other legal business activities began to invest in the cultural tradition. The City Hall of Rio de Janeiro started to put bleachers on Rio Branco avenue and to charge admission to see the parade. In São Paulo, there was also the development of the parade of samba schools from that period.

Passista (Carnaval dancer) Pinah and Prince Charles during Carnaval in 1978

In 1984, the Passarela do the Samba, or Sambódromo was created in Rio de Janeiro under the mandate of former governor Leonel Brizola. With architectural design by Oscar Niemeyer, the building became one of the main symbols of the Brazilian carnival.

The Sambódromo, founded in 1984, is the place where the parades of the samba schools of Rio de Janeiro take place

Carnival, besides being a Brazilian cultural tradition, has become a lucrative business in the tourism and entertainment sectors. Millions of tourists go to the country at the time of this celebration, and billions of reais are moved in the production and consumption of this cultural commodity.

Source: Brasil Escola


  1. Cordão carnavalesco was a type of recreational association linked essentially to Carnival celebrations. Very popular at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century in Rio de Janeiro, and until the sixties, in São Paulo, the cordões after that went into decadence, being replaced by the samba schools, carnival blocos or transforming themselves into them. Some samba schools, especially in the State of São Paulo, had their origins in cordões, among them Vai-Vai and Camisa Verde and Branco, from the capital, and Bambas, from Ribeirão Preto. Rancho carnavalesco was a type of carnival association typical of the city of Rio de Janeiro, between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in its golden phase, existing until the 1990s.


About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


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