22 Feb Guest #7: Natalina Fonseca
Is it possible to give to our daily life a new dimension? Some believe it is possible and live in a Universe tailored to their dreams during the 3 days of carnival revelry. D. Natalina Fonseca is a retired teacher at the age of 81 and has not missed any Carnival in São Nicolau! Our guest helped us to go through the history of this popular festivity and sharing with us some of the most delicious stories.
1.How did you start celebrating Carnival in São Nicolau?
Since I was a child, I celebrated Carnival. As a teenager, we all had our “little groups”. It was a simple Carnival. We made clothes out of scarves, put them all together or even a bedspread and made a skirt out of it. On Shrove Tuesday, we played with eggs and wheat, which we threw at each other. There was always someone who did this kind of pranks!
At the age of 16, I started to participate in groups formed by adults that organized the Ribeira Brava Carnival. At that time, the groups were: Sãojoanista (from the São João area); Ladeirista (from the Ladeira area); and Pia Baixante (from the center of the village). Despite being from Ladeira, I have always participated in Pia Baixante, which today is known as Copacabana.
Mrs. Natalina celebrating Carnival with her group
2. Are the anciently celebrations very different from the current ones?
Carnival with organized parades arrived in São Nicolau around the 50's. Mr. Negro Sarafe and Mr. Djandja were the promoters of São Nicolau Carnival, as well as Mr. Ferreirinha and Mr. Frank Retratista (photographer) who had a group called “Brothers United".
In the past, the Carnival didn´t require a great investment. Despite the parades in all the Sundays of February. We celebrated at night, and by 9:00 pm we were already at the Terreiro. The following morning, we would parade again in Ribeira Brava Center. There were no floats, the King, Queen, Ladies and extras all paraded on the floor! Lalache was, in fact, the first queen to have a "carriage ", which was pulled by a group of boys during the parade.
In the past, the “clothes” covered the body! Each one collected money for their clothes, we made the blouses in white satin fabric, all the props and costumes. We paraded many times with just a stick with two or three balloons.
Ferreirinha (first float author) & Cape Verde postage stamp in Negro Sarafe honour
3. What do you miss in the celebrations of the old times?
The rehearsals were secret, it was a great secrecy around the theme, the clothes, the songs that each group would present. This secrecy was very important to keep the surprise until the day of the party. Nowadays it is totally different. Carnival rehearsals are done with an open door, and anyone can jump from rehearsal to rehearsal, and from group to group, to find out what they will present on Carnival day.
Another difference is that the groups previously did not consider themselves rivals. It was customary on Sunday for Carnival groups to visit each other and offer a cake. Unfortunately, this tradition has been lost.
Carnival is now more pompous. So I miss the time when we played Carnival and celebrated until the sun came up. It was all so simple.
Carnival Parade (2019) | Photo credits: MCIC
4. Currently, how many carnival groups does Saniclau have?
The official groups are Copacabana, Estrela Azul and Brilho da Zona. However, there are other spontaneous groups such as those from Campinho and Talho. These groups come to play Carnival every year until Vila da Ribeira Brava. They come organized with their moves, and satirize the current society and politics affairs.
Official groups sometimes have around 300 extras. Not counting the king, queen, princess and ladies. The latter are nominated or titles are awarded upon request, on the last day of Carnival (Tuesday). On that day, the current queen crowns the queen of the following year. The process is the same for the rest.
Cheering Extras in the Carnival Parade (2019) | Photo credits: MCIC
5. Why is this festivity so important for the majority of the São Nicolau population?
Carnival in São Nicolau has gained great strength, and some say it is almost at the level of São Vicente.
People from Ribeira Brava and other parts of the island are available to help with food they offer to shipyard workers. Volunteers who are in the shipyards have no salary. Sometimes they start working every night for a month or two until the day of the party. It's a big hassle!
Who actually benefits economically from Carnival are hotels, restaurants, shops and seamstresses. Sometimes, a costume of a king or queen can reach 200 contos (about 1900 euros), and for that reason, many of the kings of Carnival are emigrants.
6. After so many decades, what achievements or stories do you have to tell us?
I always celebrated Carnival in São Nicolau, and when I was a child the parade was not rehearsed. For this reason, we improvised songs like “7 and 7 are 14, with 7 more are 21…” and later we sang carnival songs like “Alegremos os nossos corações”.
I have a funny story from when I was 16. My boyfriend didn't want to play Carnival at Copacabana (which was my group) because he didn't like it. He joined the “United Brothers” group. I got angry and we stopped talking. During this Carnival, each one of us played in their group room with their group! But the next day, we were fine and we made up.
Later, when I was already married, I had the opportunity to be a lady of the Carnival group “Puppets”. Unfortunately, my husband passed away in 2016 and since then I have stopped dancing at the parade. However, in recent years I have watched the Carnival parade from my house in Terreiro. When the three groups gather at the door of the Church, I throw flowers and streamers!
The groups arrival at Terreiro (2019) | Photo Credits: MCIC
7.What future do you desire to São Nicolau Carnival?
I wish you to continue playing Carnival with a lot of peace and love, and without rivalry. I would prefer to have Carnival with less expenses, because not everyone has the money to be a lady or princess. These experiences should be available to everyone.
8. After all these years of dedication, what does Carnival mean to you?
Carnival moves people. I really like Carnival. I love to see, I like to get in the middle of the other groups to give joy. For me, “Carnival was born in heaven, it was an angel who invented it!”.