The Rio Carnival, which took place from February 25 to 28, 2023, was an occasion to celebrate the African roots of Brazil. The event featured giant elephants, baobabs, and black superheroes parading on majestic floats. The carnival was marked by the themes of racism and Afro-Brazilian culture and history, which hold significant relevance in a country where the current president has faced numerous accusations of racism. The Beija-Flor and Salgueiros samba schools organized a parade on the first night of the carnival that reflected these themes, but the irrepressible desire to party was also evident, given the enormous suffering that people have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ultra-Colored and Delirious Parade:
The Grande Rio school of samba presented a spectacular parade on the second night of the carnival, which celebrated the transgression and madness of the event. The parade featured monumental floats and dancers with shimmering costumes that enchanted some 70,000 spectators. The school highlighted Exu, the Afro-Brazilian deity of the party, who is often demonized by neo-pentecostal churches that support the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. The spirit of the carnival was evident in the sambodrome, where the school of Duque de Caxias, a poor suburb north of Rio, performed in a trance.
The Paraiso do Tuiuti school of samba paid tribute to great black figures from around the world, from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama, RuPaul, and Beyoncé, on the first night of the carnival. The school emphasized the need to approach this topic, given the complicated period of full of prejudices that we live in. A hairdresser named Felipe Cordeiro, who had traveled over 500 km from Vitoria to Rio to march, stated that the carnival was the right moment to emphasize black leaders. Camila Oliveira, a 32-year-old teacher, echoed this sentiment, stating that the carnival allowed her to affirm her identity as a black person.
Guarana and Natives:
The carnival also highlighted the natives of Brazil, who are the guardians of the Amazonian forest, one of the main ramparts against global warming. The Unidos da Tijuca school of samba chose the theme of guarana, a fruit with many nutritional and therapeutic virtues found in the forest. The carnival also reflected the burning issue of deforestation, which has reached record levels since the election of Jair Bolsonaro. The parade featured a huge float with charred trees and fire-breathing dragon heads, which represented the destroyers of the environment. Representatives of indigenous peoples held up signs demanding the demarcation of new reserves for indigenous people and protesting against a bill brought by allies of the Bolsonaro government to legalize mining exploration in these territories.
The Rio Carnival of 2023 was an occasion to celebrate the African roots of Brazil and to reflect on important social issues such as racism and deforestation. The event showcased the creativity and resilience of the Brazilian people, who have faced enormous challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. The carnival was a moment of joy and affirmation of identity for many people, especially those from marginalized communities. It is an event that brings people together, celebrates diversity, and highlights the cultural richness of Brazil. Despite the difficulties, the fact that the carnival was held in 2023, even if two months after the initially planned date, was already a great victory for those who live and breathe samba all year.