A tradition is given by those practices that are perpetuated over the years. They are transmitted from generation to generation with a high degree of recognition and identity.
Everything that detracts from the essence of the ingrained cultural legacy makes it a shadow of the past, an unfaithful memory of the traditions of our grandparents, according to the considerations of Ercilio Vento Canosa, Historian of the City of Matanzas.
“Every tradition that is interrupted loses structure and what risks is that the renewal of that tradition, which already becomes the almost archaeological recovery of it, will become a caricature of what was. It is rescued as a tradition that is not, because it is not inserted in a conscious way within the population. “
This is the case with carnivals, ancient traditions referring to a stage of supreme liberties, after religious days of abstinence and before Holy Week.
“The carnival is a party that has a relationship with the beginning of spring, therefore NEVER have to be done in summer. They change dates in Cuba when the harvest of the ten million is produced, when it was necessary to make a year of 18 months and moved the festivities for the month of August.
“It used to be a family party. Before starting the ride itself, the car owners followed the route that would follow. “
Formerly, the different commercial entities prepared their floats, which led to a large number of them, adorned from the good taste of their creators.
“The carnivals in Matanzas had an essence where the economic weight of merchants and the bourgeoisie of the time was decisive. I remember the Arechavala, the Polar, the Crystal, the Hatuey. As associations disappeared, guilds, trades, and comparsas became more popular phenomena, and the structure was maintained for some time until certain distinctive elements disappeared.
“Generally one of the bands that opened the carnival was the one of the School of Commerce, under the direction of Francisco Alderete. It was a huge ensemble, dressed in amazing costumes with grenadier drums, drummers …
“Then the carnival is dismantled due to the complicated economic situation that affected Cuba in those years. The floats were greatly simplified as well. “
As recalled by the researcher and teacher, the comparsas did not serve as the center of attention of carnivals because “they had an ethnic and union component, but separated from the structure of the carnival; for example, coiling behind the comparsa was marginal. “
Other distinctive elements of popular revelry gradually disappeared due to prejudices and conceptual deviations from their original purposes. In that case is the queen of the carnival.
“It was understood that the word queen was referring to a petty bourgeois concept and that it was confined to women to an issue in which only the purely aesthetic was appreciated. That is not true, because the people who were selected had to demonstrate culture, refinement, education. It was not just any gossip who danced with little clothes. It was an activity of an impressive popular participation.
“Then it is changed by the Star and the Luceros and that too, unfortunately, disappears.”
Thus, the celebration, from multiple causes, from misinterpretations and economic inadequacies to the variety of conceptions of those who organize them, has been lost in the dawn of the past becoming popular festivities that sometimes clash with vulgarity.
“Carnivals were made in Matanzas with a very great light and I could refer to the first after the triumph of the Revolution, which was extraordinary, one of the largest and most beautiful. I even remember one leaving from the Tirry Road, turning around to America Street.
“In 1969 Carnival was not made, but a walk along the Causeway of San Luis and there was a period when they are not realized and they become something that, for me, has nothing to do with the matancera culture, which is the trail of the edible.
“In its beginnings this one had a purpose of popular amusement with the confetti, the serpentina, the whistle, the rattle, the mask, the disguise that also disappeared, that were part of the popular revelry.
“If we want to talk about traditional carnivals then we have to talk about that, but then it has become a basically ethyl-gastronomic activity with shows that are really painful.”
Undoubtedly, the popular celebrations today contribute to strengthening the weak economies of municipalities by concentrating the gastronomic, cultural and recreational offerings, even coming from other territories.
It is not a question of extolling lifestyles or economic strategies of the Cuban past, but of not allowing oneself to blush with the violins of the disguised festivities, or getting drunk with the supposed ambience of joy produced by popular entertainment.
Although the entertainment of the population remains a priority of these festivities and in some matanceros places are dedicated to the rescue of practices and beliefs, popular festivals, no longer carnival, are far from those that really responded to a tradition rooted in the imaginary of a nation where carnivals were the biggest and most lavish feast of society.
Original text byon Sept 4th, 2017