The 1st attraction Ruth and I went to in Montevideo was the Museo del Carnaval. Entirely devoted to the biggest social undertaking of the year, this museum was fascinating but hard to understand. After looking at the colorful displays that reminded me of the Mardi Gras Museum in New Orleans but on a much humbler scale, I talked to the woman selling tickets. She tried to explain how important Carnaval was in Uruguay but only managed to further confuse me. As I left, I decided that the rituals surrounding Carnaval could only be understood by people who grew up in this culture. It was like listening to an Inuit in Canada or Alaska talk about the importance of the whale hunt.
Carnival in Uruguay is held on warm nights in February and reaches its height in Montevideo. The Museo informed me that around 40 ensembles perform shows. These ensembles “are divided into 5 categories: Murgas, Sociedades de negros y lubolos, Humorists, Parodists, and Revues.” Contests with “challenging competition” are held. The ticket seller told me that Carnaval actually begins in October and that lots of people participate in Murga. I asked her to explain what Murga is, and she tried her best but only managed to lose me. With growing excitement she spoke of tablados, 2 parades, samba, and contests. She told me that tablados were shows held in different neighborhoods. They went on for 40 days between January and March. As she reminisced, she spoke with a bit of embarrassment about beauty queens. She mentioned the importance of drums. She seriously tried to enlighten me.
My Footprint Travel Guide helped. It called murga “a form of street theatre with parody, satire, singing and dancing by elaborately made-up and costumed performers.” But then it added a new element to my confusion, Candombe with roots in slave days. This involved drumming and dance.
I picked up a Uruguay Natural brochure about Carnival. It told me that this country has the longest carnival in the world and implied that Candombe and Lubolo were the same thing. It raved about an inaugural parade with large floats and carnival queens in which all groups participate and added new elements for me to not understand, like the Drum Festival and the Parade of the Calls (Desfile de Las Llamadas) held in 2 barrios. The inaugural parade supposedly attracted “tens of thousands of spectators”, and I recalled that the ticket lady told me that cruise ships arrive in Montevideo’s harbor specifically for Carnaval.
Uruguay Natural told me that non-Carnival visitors are so captivated by its seduction, flashy Vedettes for example, that they are persuaded to return and “take part…as hosts”. Another tourist guide said that carnival here is different from others around the world and called it “a great outdoor theater festival”.
Want a more lively February?