Carnival on Madeira; Portraits of the Parade in Funchal
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This page is a photo essay about the carnival which takes place every year in Funchal, the capital town of Portugal's Atlantic island territory of Madeira, in the week before Ash Wednesday.
The origins of the Madeira Carnival are clear. The nation of Brazil - a former colony of the historic European power - is home to the most famous of all of these events, the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, and many Portuguese regions have adopted the style and extravagant parades of Rio for the streets of their own towns and cities. Of these, few are as colourful or exuberant or as friendly, as the island carnival on Madeira.
All photographs were taken by the author during the week of Carnival in 2011
The Carnival Schedule
Carnival in Funchal is not a one-day event. It starts on the Friday when school children parade in fancy dress. Saturday night however, sees the big event, the Allegoric or Main Parade in which hundreds of local people will take part in flamboyant costumes on a succession of organised, decorative floats. During Sunday and Monday, and indeed all throughout the week, artistic groups perform impromptu dances and concerts, and musicans can be heard at venues in the town, including in local bars and restaurants. But then on the Tuesday afternoon, the second large parade takes place - a very different, much less formalised affair known as Trapalhao, or the Slapstick Parade - and the culmination of this marks the conclusion of the Funchal Carnival.
Main Parade ParticipantsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Main Parade
The Main Parade on the Saturday is organised, colourful and spectacular. Mostly it features young girls in gaudy dresses and feathery headdresses, but participants of every age, people in animal costumes and make-up, and also young men dressed in outfits which they wouldn't be seen dead in at any other time, will all join in.
This is a night time event, with people gathering on the sea front road at about 8.00pm for the start at 9.00pm, and the atmosphere among the participants at this time is one of anticipated fun. Over the next three hours, the colourful procession will wend its way through the streets of Funchal, lined three to four deep with spectators.
The Parade Route
The Main Parade on Saturday, and the Slapstick Parade on Tuesday, follow the same route. The starting point is on the coastal road near the Praca da Autonomia, from where the floats go west for maybe 1500m before turning right, and then around the ornamental Infante Roundabout, before heading back east along the Avenida Arriaga and north up Avenida Zarco. Eventually the route takes the participants to their finishing point - the Praca do Municipio, the main square of Funchal where the town hall stands. Here there are small grandstands provided for spectators, but the vast majority along the route just sit or stand at the roadside behind flimsy barriers which are designed to keep some sense of order, but without restricting movement too much.
The next batch of pictures of Carnival are taken at the daylight Slapstick Parade.
Chamber of HorrorsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Slapstick Parade
On Tuesday the Trapalhao Parade, also known as the Slapstick Parade, starts at 4.00pm. Carnival can never be exactly regimented, but this is the most care-free of the parades, characterised by costumes which may be inventive or shabby, and face masks which may be home made or bought in the local shops in the weeks leading up to the festival.
Anyone can take part - there are groups and floats, but many people seem to just 'do their own thing'. Some will present caricatures of local politicians and celebrities to poke fun at the high and mighty in society, but certainly in the carnival witnessed by the author, the predominant theme seemed to be ghouls and grotesques. Look at the photos and see what I mean!
The end of the Slapstick Parade, as with the Main Parade, is in the Praca do Municipio, but unlike on Saturday when the participants tend to just drift away, people today hang around afterwards, to listen to music and to talk, to see awards handed out for the best costumes, and just to prolong the last day of carnival for as long as possible.
Spirit of Slapstick - A Bunch of Clowns, A Squaw and a BananaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Carnival for Everyone
All kinds of people take part in the Madeira Carnival, and the Tuesday Parade in particular is accessible to everyone because of its daylight start, the lack of choreography, and simplicity of costume design. And even if some of the costumes are a bit risque, the pleasure is innocent. No section of the community is excluded - toddlers and children and teenagers, young adults, and the old. The whole island unites for the event.
In the photographs opposite, the three clowns are not part of the officially organised parade. They are just local children. Children (and adults) will dress up in a very un-self-conscious fashion to watch, and to feel a part of the occasion. The other two photos show participants. The squaw was a member of a local group with learning disabilities. The banana is - well - just sitting on the kerbside taking a rest. As bananas often do. This carnival is for everyone. Even bananas.
For the last batch of pictures, we return to the glitzy and spectacular Main Parade.
Girls in Their Carnival DressesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Is the Funchal Carnival Worth Seeing? A Personal View
We will finish with a few more photos from the Main Parade on Saturday, and my personal view of this carnival.
At the time of writing, I have never seen carnival in Brazil or Trinidad, perhaps the two best known events of this kind. Nor have I seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or even the Nottinghill Carnival in my home country. So I cannot begin to compare these or other big parades with the event on Madeira. Madeira is a small island and Funchal is a small town, so I guess the parade is much smaller, but it puts a very big effort into these festivities each year. Perhaps most people who are considering a visit to Madeira would come to see the island's best known attractions - the mountainous landscapes, the gardens and the flowers. In February or March, when the carnival takes place, the weather is mild but not always hot, and rainfall is always a possibility. But the carnival makes this a really good time to visit. Whatever appeal is offered by Rio de Janeiro or Trinidad, or New Orleans, Madeira offers colour and friendliness, and it offers a very safe environment in which the locals come out and just enjoy themselves with innocence and warmth.
Travel Guide to Madeira
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Additional Pages of Interest
- Funchal, Madeira
Most tourists go to Madeira for the landscapes, the gardens and the flowers. But most will be based in Funchal, and their experiences here will largely determine their enjoyment of the island.
- My Travel Pages and Travel Links
It's a well known saying - travel broadens the mind - but it is so true. Travel provides some of the greatest experiences one can have in life. This page includes my thoughts on travel, and links to all my travel-related articles
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