Maracatu and the Alagoas Warrior: Afro-Brazilian festivities

Afro Brasil Museum

Kings, queens, "caboclos", cowboys and "bois-bumbá." Get to know more about each tradition and the context behind its clothes.

Maracatu, festivity and tradition
Created by the black population of Pernambuco, the "maracatu," with its "gonguê" beat and distinctive "zabumba" rhythm, accompanied by the high-pitched "cuíca," the "ganzá" rattle and the playful, rhythmic movements of bodies, is one of the most colorful carnival festivals in Brazil. Its origins date back to the coronation of the Black Kings. It easily overlapped with the Catholic celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary but without ever making any secret of the close involvement of many of the "maracatu" participants in their own Afro-Brazilian religions.


Video produced by Wolfgang Besche Fotografia and embedded from YouTube to showcase the colors and music of Rural Maracatu in Nazaré da Mata.


Parque dos Lanceiros, where the biggest Maracatu Rural festivity in the country happen. It is possible to see statues in the center of the park which represent the celebration.

As part of this tradition, alive since the turn of the 19th century, their kings and queens are crowned with much pomp and ceremony, and publicly revered on feast days.

King of Maracatu Elephant Nation

Artificial suede, brocade, polyester and jacquard fabrics, metal, beads.

A similar event is also found in some regions of Africa (especially in the Kingdom of the Congo and the Kingdom of Dahomey—now Benin), involving the king and queen, shaded by majestic parasols, walking in procession with a retinue of princes, princesses, and other finely attired dignitaries.

Queen of Maracatu Elephant Nation

Artificial suede, brocade, polyester fabric, jacquard fabric, metal and beads.

Caboclo de Pena do Maracatu Piaba de Ouro

Straw, vegetal fiber, sequins, beads, glass beads, mirror, feathers and metallic plastic ribbons.
Date: 2003

There is a wide range of costumes, rhythms, and instruments, as well as differences between "maracatu" nations, or groups, over the ancestral groups that protect the magical knowledge of these popular festivities. However, the "maracatu" itself is unique in its originality.

The festival was born from the yearning to preserve their African and Brazilian esthetics. An entire system of solidarity built around the "Calunga" (the decorated doll that symbolizes the protector of each "maracutu" nation) and the "maracatu" ensures that the imagery of African royalty, with their processions, reverential dances, banners, parasols, and lavish clothing, is safeguarded in this Afro-Brazilian reinterpretation.

Calunga Doll

Wood, cotton, organza, metals

The Africanist and Brazilian ambassador Alberto Costa e Silva drew attention to the influence of the "Calunga" cult among the Ambundu tribe in Angola. According to legend, the civilizing hero of the Ambundu, Angola Inene, brought the sacred wooden relic (which often takes a human form and is called "lungas" or the plural "malunga" in Kimbundu) from the lands in the northeast, although others claim the figure originally came from the sea.

This latter version stemmed from the Europeans mistakenly translating "Calunga," which actually means "the great waters," as the Atlantic Ocean and their interpolation contrasts with the role this wooden sculpture plays in farming and its links to rites involving prayers for rain and fertility

The Europeans, moreover, saw "Calunga" as a high deity and may even have contaminated Ambundu beliefs with this new conceptual interpretation. (...) Consequently, the "Calunga" has long been (from the beginning of the 13th century?) a source of political power—a social organization rooted in the land and grounded in a specific place, rather than based on a kinship structure.

She is linked to the name of numerous ancestors and to founders of kingdoms, as well as titles held by several "sobas" (chiefs) (...) The doll bearing her name crossed the Atlantic and survives to this day in Brazilian "maracatus."

One of the most famous "maracatu" nations in Brazil is the Maracatu Elefante, whose main queen was Maria Júlia do Nascimento, the legendary Dona Santa (1877–1962). Equally famous are the Porto Rico do Oriente and the Estrela Brilhante.

'Cabloco spearman of Maracatu Piaba de Ouro' Garment

Vegetal fiber, cotton thread, metallized plastic, wood, sequins and synthetic fiber ribbons.
Date: 2003

Particularly interesting are the banners used in "maracatu" parades. These bear the emblem of each "maracatu" nation, some featuring an animal, such as a lion, tiger, or elephant, which can sometimes identify the group. These animals are embroidered onto the banners using red or golden thread, along with motifs and initials that express and synthesize each group's visual identity.

They are carried at the head of the lively procession by the nation's standard bearer.

The Alagoas Warrior
Popular festivals in Alagoas bring together different expressions of the state's Afro-Brazilian legacy, set in the context of Catholic traditions and popular legends. Originating in the State of Alagoas, the "Auto dos Guerreiros" (or Warrior Play) is a popular theatrical performance held in the open air, usually as part of the Christmas festivities. Groups of up to seventy people become actors for the day in a play that is based on Christian traditions. However, it also mixes the traditions of the "Reisado" and the "Bumba Meu Boi" (telling the story of Christ's birth and resurrection) with other folkloric influences, popular dances such as the "Caboclinho" dance, and even references to the popular "Chegança" play, with its battle between Moors and Christians.

Treme Terra Canoense Warrior

Part of the video produced by Wagner Barbosa and embedded from YouTube to showcase the Alagoas' festivity. Watch the full video.

Lagoa da Canoa, in Alagoas
The city of Lagoa da Canoa, where the tradition of the Warrior has being kept alive.

The costumes worn are based on the role played by each performer and so the clothes worn by the King and Queen are an adaptation of what people imagined royalty wore in the 19th century.

Bumba-meu-boi Cowboy Garment

Satin, velvet, feathers and beads.

If the performer is an Indian, a herdsman, or a "Catirina" (the pregnant woman in the "Bumba Meu Boi" play), the features of their costumes take on a role of their own in both the play and the merrymaking. The costumes are mainly bright shades of red, yellow, and blue.

Besides that, the garment includes large, heavy hats, usually embellished with colored ribbons and traditionally decorated with small, glued-on mirrors.

Alagoas Warrior Garment

Cotton fabric, glue, vegetable fiber, styrofoam, laminated paper, plastic, mirrors, beads, sequins and glitter.

The most common shape for the hats is based on Portuguese colonial-style churches, with two side towers and a larger central dome surmounted by a cross. But hats in the shape of crowns to represent the Three Wise Men coming to worship the baby Jesus, or other shapes depicting Christmas scenes, are not uncommon.

Litanies, hymns, and dances are part of every festival.

Bumba-meu-boi "Saint John Glory"

Satin, velvet, beads, wool, resin (eye), wood, bone (horn).

The instruments used by the musicians to reproduce the traditional rhythmic music of the northeast, with its mixture of Afro-Brazilian heritage, indigenous music, and melodies from old Portuguese hymns, include fifes, accordions, guitars, drums, and tambourines.

Credits: Story

Museu Afro Brasil

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