Case Study: The Carnival in Rio de Janiero

Aim of the Project
        To enhance knowledge and promote understanding of the Rio culture

        In the Christian tradition, Lent is the period of when Christians are to abstain from all bodily pleasures. In the 1600’s Europeans had grand pre-lent balls as a means to bid farewell to these bodily pleasures for the period of time. The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro was imported from these Europeans for the same reasons. It was originally practiced by the Portuguese elite behind closed mansion doors. These celebrations then travelled out of the mansions and into towns and “favelas” or slums surrounding the region. It even came with its own unique tune, the Samba a song and dance form that was invented by the poor Afro-Brazilians. The word samba comes from the Angolan world ‘semba’ referring to a type of ritual music where one prays or invokes the spirits of the ancestors and the gods of the African Pantheon. When the 20th century came around, the parties along with the music that were once held within the tightly knit communities blew up to become the current phenomenon.

Programme Activity
        The carnival parade is filled with people and floats from a variety of samba schools. These Samba schools can either be composed of different schools or simply just a group of individuals from different neighborhoods. The climax of the carnival is when the different samba schools compete with fellow rival schools. Additionally, each school chooses a theme to attempt and portray in their entry. At this point, the samba schools then work to build the best floats and costumes to represent their themes, and to include the best music they can from their band. Each school can then have anywhere from six to eight floats and thousands of participants. Each school is fronted by a Queen and led by hundreds of drummers.
        Massive ranks of seating and barriers are constructed along the route taken by competing samba schools. Samba groups, businesses and the municipality plan months in advance to deal with the loud noises and overall flood of people. Samba schools start major dress rehearsals after Christmas after having been practicing since last carnival’s end. In the massive purpose-built buildings where the floats are prepared, preparations are underway months in advance and there are international volunteering organizations in existence to take people over to Brazil specifically to help set up infrastructure.
        Street festivals are very common during carnival and are highly populated by the locals. Elegance and extravagance are usually left behind, but music and dancing are still extremely common. Anyone is allowed to participate in the street festivals.
        With the combination of the parade, the balls, and the street carnivals, Rio’s carnival is said to be the greatest show on Earth. The Rio de Janeiro handbook states that, “The Rio carnival is probably the most famous party in the world.” There are around 700,000 foreign visitors each year. Even with the recent economic crisis, the amount of tourists are to Rio de Janeiro for their Carnival is large with an estimate of 719,000 international tourists expected in 2011, an increase of 705,000 from 2010.

        Rio’s global image is so closely associated with Carnival that the two are synonymous. Everything from the tourist industry to episodes of The Simpsons have found it hard to separate the two entities. Usually this is a huge boost for Rio’s economy but this year the global credit crisis has even taken the shine off Carnival. Materials for the parades have dramatically increased in price and many costume suppliers have gone debunk. More important, the big-name sponsors and donating companies, such as Petrobras, the state-owned oil company, aren’t able to contribute costing the parade millions. The Rio State government will donate several million, and tourist revenues, though likely to be down on previous years will still be significant. Carnival goers are expected to inject $521 million into the city’s economy, up from $510 million last year. Additionally, with such a high amount of tourism Brazil takes advantage of trying to conceal some of its raging problems that may have damaged its image. During Carnival, authorities give out millions of condoms as a means to demonstrate to the tourists that Brazil does its part to promote safe sex, however, the Aids rates in Brazil are among the world’s highest. Additionally, it portrays itself has having a very tolerant image with Gays and drag Queens coming out and being very involved with the Carnival. For everyone, this is a time to come together as a whole and have fun together.

Learning Point
         Cultural diplomacy does not always have to be defensive and festivals that have underlying themes that appeal to everyone, i.e. sex, can attract large audiences from around the globe.


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