I’m putting the final touches on a presentation on the festas juninas in São Luís (update: the video is already here) and found it appropriate to give some background information before I upload the presentation. The bumba-meu-boi from Maranhão is one of the most wonderful cultural manifestations of all Brazil – you can read more about it on the following Wikipedia article in Portuguese. It was recently listed as Brazilian cultural heritage. I’m more concerned here with practical information.
COULD YOU DESCRIBE IN A FEW WORDS WHAT’S THE BUMBA-MEU-BOI?: an artistic display that combines dance, music and theatre. The central character of the performance is the ox – or rather, a figure of an ox carried by a person.
IS IT THE SAME AS THE BOI-BUMBÁ?: no, it’s not. Although both share the same origin, the boi-bumbá es is typical from the states of Amazonas and Pará and differs greatly from the bumba-meu-boi.
WHAT ARE SOTAQUES?: if you want to make the most of festivals in São Luís you need to know that sotaques are different forms of performing the bumba-meu-boi. Each sotaque has its own characteristics, and is associated to different characters, rhythms, musical instruments and music. There is a sotaque de orquestra, sotaque da baixada, sotaque de zabumba, sotaque de matraca, sotaque de pindaré, and so on. On the very same night you can see performances of groups belonging to different sotaques. After two nights partying in São Luís you will be able to recognize right away the different sotaques!
WHERE?: an easy question: in São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão. Bumba-meu-boi is a truly popular festival, and performances take place at the end of the day, in public spaces such as squares, or at an arraial, a kind of fairground where the different traditional groups perform. All performances are free, which gives an idea of how popular the festival really is.
WHEN?: though many places (including blogs and websites) will tell you that the festivities begin on 13 June, the truth is that hardly anything goes on until June 23, when the ox is baptized. The festival goes on until 30 June. It is worth staying in São Luís until the 30th (São Marçal) as all the different folk groups gather together that day.
I’ve read in quite a few places that there is now bumba-meu-boi in São Luís during July. This is only partially true. Only recently the authorities realized how unfortunate they were, as their main festivities ended up in June, just a few days before the beginning of the July holiday period in Brazil. Many tourists arrived in São Luís in July only to find out that the party had just finished. The idea was born: let’s have an “out-of-season” bumba-meu-boi for those who can’t be in São Luís in June. Performances take place during weekends at the Convento das Mercés in the historical part of the city. But make no mistake, it’s a bumba-meu-boi for tourists – I’m not implying you shouldn’t go and see it should you find yourself in São Luís in July. But if the bumba-meu-boi is the main purpose of your trip, you have to find time in the second half of June. The “out-of-season” bumba-meu-boi is no substitute.
ANY OTHER ADVICE?: as there are performances every night running simultaneously at different venues, you need to get hold of a programme of events ASAP. In the programme you will find listings with information on who is appearing where and when. There are usually six performances per venue per night. There are a handful of important venues in São Luís and you can visit a couple of them on the same night. Last year the City Council of São Luís and the government of the state of Maranhão were in opposing political hands, so there were two different programmes of events…
The festas juninas in São Luís are not restricted to the bumba-meu-boi. There are also folk performances in the afternoons in museus, cultural centres and public squares, featuring quadrilhas, tambor de crioula and other forms of folklore. Don’t miss them!
WHERE CAN I SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE BUMBA-MEU-BOI?: That’s easy, check out my Flickr album of the bumba-meu-boi.
Don’t forget I’ve already published an entry on São Luís here.