Taste of Boi Bumbá Fest in Brazil

By Philip H. De Turk
This item appears on page 15 of the September 2019 issue.

According to a Brazilian legend, a rich land owner’s favorite boi (ox) was slain by a farmer whose pregnant wife had a craving for beef tongue. This led to a feud between families rich and poor, and the farmer was to be sent to jail, but a pajé (shaman) revived the boi and the farmer was forgiven, leading to a celebration.

Various versions of that story are manifested by sets of dancers every last weekend in June at the 3-day Boi Bumbá Festival, held in Parintins, northern Brazil. This city of more than 100,000 people is located on the Amazon River nine hours by speedboat east of Manaus.

Three months before the show in 2019, on a March 12 shore visit during Holland America Line’s “Grand South America & Antarctica Voyage,” those of us who had paid $100 for the “Boi Bumbá Festival Show” were able to watch an abbreviated version of the annual event.

Consisting of continuous dancing, floats, singing and general merrymaking by teams, one in red and the other in blue, the full festival takes place in a 35,000-seat venue called the Bumbódromo. The teams come from two competing samba schools, and a jury ultimately chooses the winning team.

The version we saw lasted one hour and occurred in the largest room of the Parintins Convention Center, about two blocks from where our ship, the Prinsendam, was berthed.

I left the ship well before the start of the show, since I intended to do some shopping and perhaps have a local beverage. Luckily, at the last minute, I decided to just go to the show’s location. This put me right at the front of the long line that soon developed.

I ended up being seated in the front row of the cramped theater holding over 400 guests. There were more than 50 people in the front row, with nine more rows behind. There was no stage; the performers were on the same level as we were. If I had stuck my feet out, I could have tripped one of them.

While we awaited the start of the performance, my gaze took in all of the floats that had been brought in for our show. As there was no curtain, I also could see the band, about 10 members strong, and other participants, particularly two men in horse costumes.

The event began with the beating of drums, which never ceased for the next hour. Two men began to sing in Portuguese as other instruments joined in a rapid-pace musical number.

Dressed primarily in red, the first surge of dancers came forth wearing colorful costumes inspired by indigenous Indians. They performed a delightful number with wild abandonment. Meanwhile, on the sidelines were their counterparts in blue, who seemed to me more dainty and dignified.

The drums kept beating and the singers voiced their laments. Each side did three 10-minute sequences, and both were wonderful.

At one point, out came a large manifestation of an ox, handled by an individual underneath, which pranced around both groups for the last 30 minutes. There were also seven horsemen attempting to capture the ox as still more floats moved into position. All moved rhythmically among each other as the music continued.

At the end, the entertainers moved into the audience, exhorting us to dance with them. Even with my somewhat ancient limbs, I managed to move about a wee bit, not enough to attract someone in the managerial capacity for a potential contract for the June event but enough to show I was more than a sit-downer.

Parintins is far away and difficult to reach. There are no roads to this city, but there is the Júlio Belém Airport (PIN) and a harbor. One can also fly to nearby Manaus and book passage to Parintins by boat. Places in which to stay are limited; some Brazilian visitors arrive from distant cities and sleep in their boats.

I thoroughly enjoyed the limited version of the big show. In truth, one hour of frenetic activity was all I could take. While it was wonderful to watch, I was not unhappy when it was over so that I could walk back to the ship for dinner.


Pinehurst, NC