Except for 3 days out of the year, Parintins is another quiet city in the middle of the Amazon forest. Ok…so maybe it isn’t any ol’ city since it is located on the Tupinambarana island, the second largest group of fluvial islands in the world (it used to be one giant island but four natural channels of water now run through it). The island is also known for the Sateré Mawé tribe who are famous for their initiation rites ritual in which a soon-to-be warrior places his hand into a glove of angry ‘bullet’ ants…repeatedly.
As for those three non-quiet days, they occur in late June with the start of the Parintins Folkloric Festival which celebrates the carnivalesque retelling of the Bumba Meu Boi legend. The story tells of a wealthy rancher, his bull and the peasant worker named Pai Chico (aka, Pai Francisco) who stole the bull and killed it to feed its tongue to his pregnant girlfriend, Catirina. The couple, upon being found out, were to be killed, but that changed when Saint John came to the rancher in his dreams and warned against it. Pai Chico and his girlfriend went to the traditional healers and magically brang the bull back to life with their drums. The legend is said to have originated in Piauí, been popularized in Maranhão and later adopted in the state of Amazonas.
The Parintins festival is the second largest annual party of its kind, falling just behind Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. The celebration, though, serves a purpose different from that of Carnival. The folkloric festival is unique in that it positively recognizes and gives value to indigenous culture, both by the very location of the event and the floats, depicting local legends, which are woven into the tale of the resurrected bull.
The idea behind the competition is that two teams, Garantido and Caprichoso, go head-to-head to retell the legend of the bull in the most exciting and fanciful way. They do this with oulandish dances, giant dolls, singing and drumming and the parading of alegorical floats in a place called the Bumbódromo. The competition is fierce and it goes so far as to where one team won’t even utter the name of the opposing team’s bull, choosing instead to refer to the other as the “contrário” (contrary).
The Bumba Meu Boi tale itself goes back to the 19th century and when it started the elite considered the popular manifestations to be a result of the locals’ ignorance and lack of knowledge of the arts and sciences. As time went on, scholars began to identify the charm and spontaneity of these manifestations and today people from all over the region and the country come to discover it for themselves, too.