January 14, 2012
The beginning of each New Year marks the time for a week of one of the most colorful celebrations, recognized as the largest and most important of their kind in Southern Colombia: The “Blacks and Whites Carnival”. The festivities attract thousands of Colombians and, increasingly so, foreign tourists as well. Due to the historic richness, the blend of traditions and multicolored displays, UNESCO proclaimed these celebrations, in 2009, as one of the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
The entire province of Nariño, and particularly its main cities of Pasto and Ipiales, on the extreme south of the country, burst into an explosion of dance, music, games, remembrance of antique rituals and jokes, on a several-day long feast which is currently based upon a concept of friendship, unity, merriness; a time to celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country and the entire region.
The name of “Blacks and Whites Carnival” has its historic origin on a slave rebellion occurred in the Antioquia region in 1607, during the Spanish Colony days. The uprising scared the authorities and led the Spanish Crown to give a one day “fully free” Holiday to the black, afro-descending population. The designated day was precisely the 5th of January, on the Eve of the “Holy Majesties” day, also known in the Catholic world as “Holy Kings Day”. To give a special twist to gain the sympathy of the afro-descending population, the Royal Proclaim decreed the 5th of January as the day to venerate the “Holy Majesty of the Black King”. This event prompted the black population to take over the streets, frantically dancing to the drums and sounds of African rhythms and started to paint the famous black and white walls of the city of Popayan.
Later, the celebration would take a stronger hold and a permanent seat on the southern Andean city of Pasto and its surroundings. In the 1800’s, an ingenious “mestizo” started the tradition of dispersing fragrant white talcum powder to the villages’ people, a custom that rapidly became popular and contributed to the configuration of the present-days’ festivities.
The celebrations begin with previous events, usually starting around the 2nd of January; a Children’s Parade on the 3rd and the centerpieces of the fiestas are the lively traditions, events and parades of Blacks on the 5th of January and Whites on the next day. Such is the importance and the artistic quality that these fiestas have acquired, that the Congress of Colombia declared the “Blacks and Whites Carnival” as a Cultural Heritage of the Nation. The event led to the construction of the Plaza of Carnival and Culture; the Carnival Path and the Carnival Museum.
The climax is reached on the 5th of January, designated as “Blacks’ Day”. Here, people dance in the streets and paint each other with black color, using cosmetic creams, especially made for the occasion. The motto for this day is “Hurray for the Blacks”….!! The Grand Finale occurs on the 6th of January, at “White’s Day” or Day of the Great Parade, when orchestras fill the squares and city parks, while the main game is indulging into a feisty party of smearing each other with white talc and fragrances. The main attraction this day is the Grand Parade which follows the respective Carnival Paths. Thousands of locals, residents and tourists crowd the streets to watch the parade, throwing confetti and streamers to the participants, who incessantly dance to typical tunes. An outstanding feature of the parade is the highly artistic “floats”, large platforms tugged by trucks of trailers and decorated as real pieces of art in motion, representing traditions, characters and historic events; rolling allegorical figures with articulated motion which draw the admiration and cheers from the joyful crowds. The motto this day, instead, is “Hurray for the Whites”….!!
As every year, large numbers of visitors from Colombia and many parts of the world, witnessed on this early 2012 a new and every year more lively and colorful Carnival of Blacks and Whites, a cultural event bound to become a real icon of South America’s popular fiestas.