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SPAIN: Carnival (carnaval) in Spain



John Heelan says: "I have been particularly interested in the role of "carnaval" in Andalucia over the last few years. [For good reading on this topic I recommend the book Carnival & Culture- sex, symbol & status in Spain by David D. Gilmore published by Yale University Press, 1998]. Some people say that the original realpolitik of carnival was as a short-term safety-valve releasing pent-up emotions of a population feeling some degree of repression, at that time mainly religious. The period of carnival has sharply defined start and end dates, the latter being particularly important as they highlight the point at which the repressing power re-establishes strict control often with external symbolism (such as the religious daubing of foreheads with ashes the day after Mardi Gras followed by 40 days of abstinence.) During carnival, the normal mores of a strict society about status, sex and gender are relaxed for a short period and then re-imposed after carnival time is over. This relaxation allows emotions pent up over the year to be safely released with major risk to the holders of power. (Franco banned carnivals during and immediately after the Civil War but allowed them when the situation was more stable and the risk of insurrection somewhat less)

On a field trip to Sevilla and Cádiz earlier this year, over the end of carnaval and the start of the preparations for Semana Santa, it was interesting to observe the change in atmosphere between the jollity and irreverence of carnaval and the austerity of the preparations for the multiple processions of Semana Santa. Further, a colleague suggested that the major difference between carnaval (before Easter) and the Feria de Abril (after Easter) is that the former is enjoyed by the hoi polloi whereas membership of moneyed and bourgeois classes is necessary to gain the most enjoyment from the latter.

So Ronald's analysis "One hope is that the 'life is a carnival' mentality is the expression of the wishful thinking of desperately poor people." is perspicacious as the carnival is preceded by a long period of preparation and eager expectation and followed by pleasant recollection during which the plebes fall back into the role of being subject to the powers-that-be. However, Ronald's comment that "As they rise out of their poverty, the carnival spirit will disappear" might not be quite so correct. Although the plebeian irreverent aspects of carnival might weaken or disappear (although the current resurgence of the power of the Church in Spain,, it is probable that the age-old realpolitik need for a safety-valve will continue). If religious hegemony does not triumph, then perhaps the jollity part of carnival might start to demonstrate more bourgeois aspects. Thus in the future both Cádiz and Sevilla might hold only "Ferias"?

Given the US' inexorable rise of fundamentalist Christianity (faced with the perceived challenge from Islam) and increasingly draconian measures of governance (justified by the war on terrorism), perhaps Andalucia gives some hints on the potential impact of these two measures on "life is a carnival"?"

RH: The fact that Rio's poor blacks stage the most spectacular carnival in the world suggests that they feel especially oppressed. That prosperity does not kill carnival is apparent in the Rhineland. Any excuse for a party.

Ronald Hilton - 7/30/03


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