We spent a relatively short day anchored in the Amazon outside Parintins, a small town of about 115,000 people located about halfway between Santarem and Manaus. No roads lead here so most visitors and commerce arrive by water. We had seen the town from across the river shortly after leaving Boca de Valeria on our way to Manaus.
Founded in 1852, Parintins sits on Tupinambarana island, which had earlier been inhabited by cabocios (indigenous or mixed race people escaped from Portuguese slave traders). It is famous for the Boi Bumba festival that takes place over 3 days in late June. The third largest festival in Brazil, after the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, the town is so packed with people that many sleep on hammocks on the boats that bring them here. We weren’t there in June, but when cruise ships stop here they put on a much smaller version, lasting only an hour or so, in the town’s convention center near the docks. Although the tickets are expensive (you can only buy them through HAL), this is pretty much the only reason to stop here, so we went.
After breakfast we took a tender to the town dock for a walk around the town before the performance It’s a pleasant town for a walk, if you disregard the oppressive heat.
The Boi Bumba is about a bull that is killed and later resurrected. On the streets were decorations reflecting this story.
We are still in Brazil so there were mosaic sidewalks and we also saw nice flowers in bloom
The most prominent building in the central district is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Carmo atop the hill, which can be seen from the river. It was built in the 1960’s and is pretty simple for a Catholic cathedral in South America.
The Boi Bumba show has open festival seating and you don’t want to arrive at the last minute. So we headed back toward the auditorium with our tickets. On the way we happened past a store with a number of colorful life size (or larger) animal sculptures, possibly papier mache, on the sidewalk. Two of them, the bull and the jaguar, resembled ones we saw later as part of the show. When we got to the auditorium we were surprised at the long line that had already formed down the street, which was lined with vendor stalls. But it turned out that the doors opened shortly after we got in line.
Once inside we found a seat, without much difficulty but about 6 rows back. Our friend Al was smart enough to arrive earlier and was in the front row, taking pictures of the crowd. The painted scenery and some large figures were in place awaiting the show. Finally, our port guide Heather stepped up, dressed in Amazonian attire, to introduce the show.
There are two teams of performers who compete at the festival for the best rating from the judges, Garantido (Red) and Caprichoso (Blue). The audience is divided in half as well, with one side supporting each team (and wearing red or blue team colors). Over three days each team gives three performances of 2.5 hours of continuous music, dance & singing. As we understand it, the story is always the same but each performance presents a different take on it. During each performance that team’s supporters in the audience join in, dancing and singing and waving flags while the half of the audience supporting the other team sits silently (sounds like an American State of the Union speech). In the end, the winning team and its supporters get to have a huge parade through the town and a huge party. This all takes place in the Bumbadromo, a 35,000 seat stadium built in the 1980’s just for the festival.
We got only a taste of all this, with fewer dancers (the festival performance involve some 80 performers each) performing in a much smaller indoor venue for a much shorter time. Our show was presented by members of the Blue team, Caprichoso. Nonetheless, even this truncated version was pretty spectacular. The costumes, makeup and the lights were all very colorful, the music (played by about half a dozen musicians on a stage behind the dancers) was loud and rhythmic and the dancers were extremely energetic. We understand that the dancers are all high school age or a year or two older. It was dark during the performance and everyone was moving constantly, so the pictures aren’t very sharp. But they still give an idea of what this was like.
There were several featured performers, mostly beautiful young girls. How does a small town like this turn out so many beautiful girls in this age group year after year? Most of the time they entered the stage over the top of one of the giant animals puppets; it was quite an effect. You can see in the pictures below that the dancers have changed into different costumes, this time looking like farmers. As we mentioned above, we were seated several rows back so you will see spectators’ heads at the bottom of many of these pictures.
While there apparently are a number of variations, the Boi Bumba story is about a poor ranch hand whose pregnant wife develops a craving for bull’s tongue. To satisfy it he steals and slaughters an ox bull, but it turns out to be the prize bull of the ranch owner. He flees into the forest to escape arrest, where he meets up with a shaman. The shaman invokes all the forest spirits and together they resurrect the bull. The ranch owner is overjoyed and stages a feast to celebrate the return of the bull and the ranch hand. No explanation was provided us about how the parts of the show we saw were related to the elements of the story. But we assume that the scenes with the dancers in straw hats have to do with the ranch and the giant animal puppets represent what happens in the forest. The featured dancer with the white half-mask in the next set of pictures may be the shaman.
From what we have read, Boi Bumba may date back to the mid 18th century in northern Brazil when it was a sort of defused form of social protest in which the poorer classes mocked the wealthy. It may have been brought to the Amazon area in the 1870’s by people escaping a drought to seek work as rubber tappers. There are boi bumba festivals all over Brazil but the one in Parintins is the biggest and best known. The Parintins festival began in 1965 and moved into the Bumbadromo two decades later. The music of the festival is a fusion of European, African and Indigenous styles.
It was explained before that this story centers on a bull that is resurrected from the dead. So in these next pictures you will see him, alive and dancing. The bull enters the stage in a boat.
You will notice that the women have donned fancy dresses, presumably for the final celebration of the return of the farm hand and the bull, and now another featured performer enters the stage underneath a giant butterfly puppet. She kisses the bull and sings to him.
After some more dancing in what looked like indigenous costume, another featured performer entered under what appeared to be giant insect wings, but we didn’t see the insect (maybe she was supposed to be the butterfly). A couple of the other featured performers returned to the stage and there was a loud standing ovation for the final bows.
When the show was over the dancers invited the spectators to come up and dance with them, which some of them did. Apparently this is also how the festival performance ends, with everyone in town joining for a huge party. Altogether, a great time was had by all.
Our departure was set for early afternoon, and there was really nothing to do after the performance that wouldn’t have been an anti-climax, so we headed out to the tenders and returned to the ship. We waved goodbye to Parintins in early afternoon and sailed on down the river toward our last stop on the Amazon river.