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Carnaval à la Havane

The Havana carnival, like the Rio carnival, is an opportunity for Cubans to parade for several days and nights through the city streets while dancing. Less prestigious than that of Brazil, this festival nevertheless retains an essential value of social unification. Once a year, black, mixed race and white people get together to the beat of the “comparsa”. Claude Santiago reproduces here its energy and emotion.

The Cuban “comparsa”, equivalent to the Brazilian samba school, designates both the dance and the group of dancers performing it. People organise themselves by district, and each “comparsa” represents an episode from Cuban history or a small play. The colours and traditions derived from varied ethnic heritages merge and the differences fade to let the party begin. In the 18th century, these processions grouped slaves who paraded in various ceremonial outfits for Epiphany. Today, the festival takes on the appearance of an exorcism of the island’s slavery past. Enrique Nunez Rodriguez analyses this phenomenon with delicacy: “In periods of plenty as in hard times, the common denominator is joy. This people has always resisted difficulties.”

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