It is almost unimaginable to talk about the Carnival in Cabo Verde without referring to the island of São Vicente (the city of Mindelo). Yet, as the Carnival in Mindelo attracts for its attempt of reproducing the Brazilian carnival, although at the country´s dimension, it is at the island of São Nicolau where one can live the real Kriolu´s carnival.
In the Island of Chiquinho (named after the famous character from Baltasar Lopes Novel, Chiquinho) the carnival is played by its own criteria. São Nicolau´s carnival attracts for its unique characteristics which prevails after 80 years of tradition.
It all started with a modest celebration promoted by local youngsters transforming later into one of the main attraction of the whole island of São Nicolau. And in February, the number of visitors to the city of Ribeira Brava, where carnival is played on the city streets, rises significantly as a result.
The early years of Carnival at São Nicolau
The carnival tradition arrived in the Island of Chiquinho through an emigrant at the United States of America. Then, it was nothing more than a modest celebration of the festivities of King Momo. In 1952 the first official group was formed - The Copacabana. The group is still one of the driving forces behind the Island´s carnival.
People were pleased by the initiative that it influenced many youngsters into forming a second group, The «Estrela Azul» (Blue Star).
Back then the groups promoted a procession that started by day and would last up through the night. Each person was responsible for creating their costumes counting on their own creativity and the accessories and materials that were available to them.
The music and the traditional flavors helped boosting the event. But the procession took place under strict regulation. Being a member of the groups was a privilege only accessible to youngsters of impeccable reputation.
The organizers made sure personally that the festivities would occur without any incidents and at a familiar environment where respect was the watch word. No couple was allowed to leave the room while at a group party. The rules were clear. Everyone should return home together.
A unique carnival celebration
The absence of competition is the most distinctive trace of the carnival at Ribeira Brava. But the lack of competition does not diminish the light of the procession. With the sole purpose of reviving and reliving the tradition each year the groups spare no efforts in organizing a colorful and fully animated feast.
Here the procession happens at the rhythm of the Island. The challenging geography of the town (a valley marked by hills all around) is very imposing. The narrow alleys of Ribeira Brava demand a special attention to the size of the floats.
Besides being tailor-made for the small city of Ribeira Brava, the Floats of São Nicolau have other particularities. The artists responsible for the confection of the floats maintain a long tradition. Plaster, flour paste and water are the main ingredients of the material used to give form to the mythical figures that are born from the metal. The colors and the decorations will do the rest.
After everything is ready and the figurants organized the groups will follow the course through the narrow and inclined streets. They challenge nature on their way to the "Terreiro" (square) and show the work that is developed with secrecy and discretion. It is in this wide area where the central square and the mother church are located that the feast reaches its peak.
The drumbeat, a lot of dancing and animation mark the highest stage of the procession that start usually on Saturdays. This first presentation is only the beginning. On Sundays the groups are back on the streets taking a rest on Monday only to return on the Tuesday of Carnival.
Celebrating in a spirit of Unity
In this carnival where there are no winners and no losers everyone gather around for a collective feast.
From the figurants to the main characters such as the queen and the king, including the tailors and the artists that build the floats, they all work voluntarily for the sake of tradition.
The preparation start months earlier but they intensify in the week before carnival.
The expectation of the carnival invades the city of Ribeira Brava. When the groups go down the «terreiro» it is the culmination of twelve months waiting. In each year past the strengths are renewed in order to keep the tradition alive. The associations invest time, money but specially their dedication and full diligence only to surprise those who are willing to confirm up and close the so proclaimed beauty of the carnival of São Nicolau.
The feast still belongs to everyone and it has been embraced also by the national authorities which recognize it as a legacy to be preserved. Every year the promoters give their all to put on the streets the best carnival ever and welcome with open arms the visitors that fill the small city of Ribeira Brava with color and movement in those days of the carnival.