Attending the craziness of the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Blacks and Whites’ Carnival) in Pasto, Colombia has been one of the best experiences I’ve had here. I’m going to make a completely uninformed statement and say that this annual Colombian carnival would blow the Tomato Throwing Festival (La Tomatina) in Spain, Holi Festival in India and even the infamous Rio Carnival in Brazil, completely out of the water…if only the world knew about it! Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating…but it is THAT GOOD!
To describe the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos is difficult. The incredibly colorful parades, the non-stop celebrations and the extent of the intoxicating foolishness that grips the town without fail, every January, was hard to imagine, despite Andres’ multiple attempts. It was only when I arrived in Pasto and experienced it for myself that I really understood what he was talking about. So, I’m sure that I won’t be able to do this carnival justice through my words, pictures or video (coming soon!)…so I’ll try with a combination of the three!
The carnival is utter pandemonium; an explosion of colour and a ruckus of sounds, amid a never-ending stream of festival music, 8am to 3am (aguardiente) drinking, dancing, and of course, the ridiculously fun street wars of foam, paint and powder. Overlooked by the majestic and active Galeras Volcano (Volcán Galeras) and surrounded by one of the most stunning mountainous landscapes I have ever seen, it is the perfect place to celebrate one of the oldest festivals in South America.
The locals literally call it ‘playing’ and it’s not surprising, as for 6 days of the year, the small city of Pasto turns into a giant playground. Kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents all join in the fun and embrace their inner ‘child’, ambushing and covering strangers in mountains of foam and powder as they try to defend themselves. No one is safe. No one is a stranger. Anyone that steps outside their door is automatically game for attack.
Not only is the carnival amazingly fun and beautiful, but the local ‘Pastuso’ people are too. With the best (and funniest) Colombian accent I have ever heard, it is hard not to love these extremely welcoming and hospitable people. Pastusos are so proud of their carnival and they love to see foreign people coming to enjoy the festivities. They will be the first to offer you a shot of aguardiente…even if it is 8am and you are sleepily waiting for the parades to start; everything they do is with a smile.
The carnival has been named by UNESCO, as a one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity….oooh, fancy! This has been the second time I have attended such a renowned cultural event in Colombia.
The Carnival celebrates the different cultures that have existed in Pasto since the Spanish colonization of the area. The Blacks and Whites’ Carnival celebrates a time when the African slaves were set free for the day and they celebrated by dancing in the streets. The story goes, that there was a slave rebellion in a town called Remedios, in Antioquia. News of the rebellion made its way to the town of Popayán and the black slaves of the town demanded a day off. The King of Spain agreed to January 5th as the day of freedom for the slaves, and celebrations erupted in the street, when the word came back to Popayán. They celebrated by dancing to African music and painting the walls of ‘The White City’ with black coal. The festivities were brought to Pasto in 1854 and the ethnic diversity of its people has been celebrated ever since. That is why, on the Blacks’ day, everyone paints their face black with paint, while on the Whites’ day, everyone covers their face with white powder.
The carnival takes place every January from the 2nd to the 7th, although the town unofficially starts celebrating well before Christmas time. Each day has a different parade, or theme, such as the Carnavalito (Children’s Carnival) on the 3rd of January, the Arrival of the Castañeda Family on the 4th of January, the Blacks Day (January 5th), the Whites’ Day and the spectacular grand parade (Desfile Magno) on Januray 6th. January 7th (Cuy’s Day) is spent celebrating the popular local cuisine of Cuy…guinea pig.
While I could go on talking about the madness of the carnival, the spectacular craftsmanship of the floats and the heartwarming hospitality of the Pastusos, I will let the (MANY) pictures do the rest of the talking…Enjoy!
PHEW! That was my most photo intensive post yet…but I couldn’t resist! Thanks for staying with me…if you did!