The celebration of Carnaval in Uruguay is the longest in the world. The Uruguayan Carnival is often overshadowed by the celebration in Brazil, but it has a unique flavor that stems from Uruguay culture and history.
Carnival lasts for about forty day from January to March every year. Uruguayans do not take that entire time off to celebrate, but it is during that period that special performances and parades are performed and awards are given for the best acts. One of the prominent elements of Uruguay’s Carnaval is the Desfile de las llamadas (Parade of the Calls). The llamadas are drum parades and it’s called llamadas because the different parade troupes would “call” to each other with their drums. The llamadas consist of drummers, dancers and special dancing characters such as gramillero (herb man) and mama vieja (old woman). Gramillero and Mama vieja are important figures that represent the old doctor that use herbs to cure and the grandmother matriarch figure. These two characters represent figures from early colonial slavery in Uruguay.
The most prominent theme in the Uruguay Carnaval is that it is a celebration of history and identity, specifically black history and identity. The dancers, music, and characters all represent the slave struggle and resistance, the fight to hold on to their culture and memories. The candombe plays a very prominent part in Carnaval and as I mentioned in a previous post, the candombe was brought to Uruguay by slaves and mixed with European music elements to create a style unique to Uruguay and the slaves brought there.
Carnaval is so obviously a celebration of black identity that there are Negros Lubolos, white men who paint their faces black. In a role reversal the Lubolos sings songs about missing the African homeland, loving their white mistresses, and the hardship of pleasing their white masters. The Lubolos take on the role of an African slave in order to experience Carnaval like a black man. The white and black participants and observers of Carnaval have two different experiences of the event. For the African descendants, Carnaval is a declaration of their identity and a revival of their protest.