In the weeks leading up to the official weekend there are countless parades, coronations, lecturas, and basically any other excuse to get people together to have a party.
First up (and probably most common) The Marimonda. This is the only character that has its roots in Barranquilla and resembles either an elephant or a giant penis (depending on who you ask).
This character is supposed to represent the jovial jauntiness of carnival which is exemplified in their traditional dance of bouncing across the ground on their butts.
Next up, El Congo. This character is one of the oldest and has roots in the African culture (who were originally taken to Colombia as slaves in the 1600s).
Normally the El Congo men carry a stick or machete and their costume is meant to represent the history, culture, and music of their homeland.
Third is La Negrita Puloy. What would pass as somewhat racist in the states, is one of the most popular costumes here.
Women paint themselves in blackface and dress in the typical red and white polka dress of the Negrita. This costume was inspired by… A BRAND OF DETERGENT. Yep. An Ecuadorian detergent in the 70’s had this woman as their mascot.
It’d be sort of like having Mrs. Buttersworth as a traditional costume for… Easter. Or something like that.
Second to last… El Monocuco!
Quasi-Arab-Sheik, this masked outfit has its origins in the Inquisition! The executioners in Cartagena wore similar garb, except they did a lot more beheading and a lot less be-reak dancing.
Traditionally, the Monocuco wear a mask so they can speak out against the government without being recognized, and they carry a stick so they can beat back anyone who attempts to take a peak beneath it.
On top of that, you’ve got the Carnival royalty! Every year a king and queen are chosen to represent the city. The king really doesn’t do a whole lot, but the queen, well she’s got her hands full with appearances all over the city, coronations, dance battles, and who knows what else. Last year, the sister of one of my students was elected queen, here’s a few videos of her in action and you can see some of the traditional dances:
Espuma is basically a spray can of foam. Sort of like silly string but…foam. It’s a staple of carnival and it’s impossible to go to any Carnival event and not end up covered in it.
On top of that they’ve got mycena (corn starch) which they love to throw in the air and rub on everyone’s face. So, by the end of every day you wind up looking like a ghost that just got out of a bubble bath.