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Carnival of Black’s and White’s

Every year in early January Colombia’s southwestern city of Pasto comes alive and gives its artistic gift to the world. Pasto’s Carnival of Black’s and White’s is an exceptionally creative and colorful event. Its roots date back to the time of Spanish rule, when one day African slaves were permitted to party and in good spirit the slave’s masters painted their faces black. The following day the slaves responded by painting their faces white, and so began the legendary Festival of Black’s and White’s. Nowadays the 3 day festival is primarily a celebration of the rich cultural diversity of the region, a mixture of European, African and Indigenous people.

 

Day 1: The Castaneda Family Parade

The festival kicks off with the comical re-enactment of a family who came from the East to settle in Pasto in 1929. Thousands of people parade the streets dressed in colorful old fashion attire. Characters include the flamboyant grandmother; the daughter who is ready to be married though shows visible signs of pregnancy, the drunken priest and men dressed as burlesque girls. Confetti and streamers are thrown; people dance, sing and get into the carnival spirit.

 

Day 2: Blacks Day

The beautiful carnival queen travels through the city in a convoy handing out silicone black paint and black cosmetic creams. In addition people arm themselves with an arsenal of soot, grease, shoe polish and whatever else they can get their hands on. The black masking not only represents the historic day when Negro slaves were allowed to celebrate, but also today homogenizes all social classes and ethnic groups. On top of this it acts as a disguise for people to freely vent their suppressed desires and party free of inhibitions. Gigantic paper mache floats that take all year to sculpt roll down the center of the action, blasting out traditional music to which fantastically costumed dancers do their thing. Stages are also erected on the street for orchestras and bands to play. The party goes into the night and the scene is eventually engulfed in total blackness.

 

Day 3: Whites Day

The festival reaches its peak on this day as freshly cleaned carnival goers re-stock their arsenals with white silicon paint, foam, flour and talcum powder. Those who are serious about making mischief protect their faces with a carnival mask. A new array of floats hit the main street swarming with dance and music ensembles, many of which have travelled from remote indigenous villages. Most of the floats and costumes are based on mythological figures and have history much older than the Spanish rule. The Grand Parade led by the Carnival Queen takes place on this day for which many tourists hustle themselves onto a float. The event culminates with an award ceremony in which desirable prizes are given for the best floats, costumes and dance groups. The following day it is custom to lunch on the local Cuy fish and many locals visit nearby natural beauties such as Cocha Lagoon and Galeras Volcano.

 

Pasto’s Carnival of Black’s and White’s is one of the oldest festivals in South America and certainly one of the liveliest. The local people of this region are remarkably friendly and are known to welcome foreigners with open arms. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia around the New Year, a great itinerary could be to go to the Cali Fair in late December, then down to the spectacular World Heritage Site of San Augustin before arriving in Pasto for the dazzling Carnival of Black’s and White’s.









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