Carnival of El Callao, a festive representation of a memory and cultural identity

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Inscribed in 2016 (11.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Centro de la Diversidad Cultural, 2015

The Carnival of El Callao, practised in communities of Venezuela, is associated with cannes brulées emancipation celebrations in French-speaking islands of the Caribbean. Running from January to March, the traditional practice features parades of people dressed as characters from history and fantasy, as well as calypso music, dancing and concerts throughout town streets with up to 3,000 people taking part. The parades are led by the madamas (the pillars of Callaoense identity representing Antillean matrons considered the communicators of values, who dance and wear colourful dresses); the medio-pintos (young people that entertain audiences by smudging charcoal on people who do not give a donation); the mineros (gold miners); and the diablos (people who wear masks, dance and carry a whip to maintain order). Other adults and young people wear costumes and also join in. The carnival highlights Callaoense history and diversity honouring its Afro-Antillean links and other community influences, reinforces its cultural identity, promotes unity and encourages younger generations to discover their heritage. Intergenerational transmission of the practice occurs mainly within families and schools run by tradition bearers where children learn skills so they can participate in the carnival like writing tunes, playing an instrument, singing, dancing or making masks.

The Madamas, in their role as communicators of values, are seen as pillars of the Callaoenses
The carnival is a time to play and reinforce in the Callaoenses the 'sense of belonging' when they partake in the enjoyment, the singing and the dancing
The element is open and inclusive, and favors understanding and dialog between cultures
Bearers encourage, among the younger ones, the skills required to participate in the element, either by singing, dancing, playing an instrument or making costumes and masks
The carnival, as a social practice that summons the Callaoenses, allows for all sorts of people to enjoy, regardless of the gender, age, public or private nature
Historical figures are represented as a means to understand and re-signify the past, renovating the community's sense of belonging in the process
Through generations, women represent Antillean matrons from long time ago, sport colorful dresses with ample skirts and long necklaces, while dancing Calipso rhythmically
Calipso in El Callao has acquired an innate quality thanks to human ingenuity, which allowed rhythmic and technological innovations, which have made possible the manufacturing of musical instruments out of recycled objects
Children begin to participate in the comparsas at a very early age, thus allowing the Callaoenses families to recover their heritage and reinforce their identity
The semilleros de Calipso promotes creative skills among the young