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PARINTINS BRAZIL BOI BUMBA FESTIVAL

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Parintins is located on Tupinambarana Island, in the Amazon River, halfway between Santarem and Manaus, Brazil. Accessible only by air and boat, the city of 115,000 is a 25-hour Amazon river boat trip from Manaus.

Caprichoso Bull Club dance
Caprichoso Bull Club dancer
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

But Parintins is no isolated third-world community. In 2006, the Intel World Ahead Program brought in computers and connected two schools, a hospital, a community center and Amazon University to the WiMax broadband wireless Internet service.

The population of Parintins doubles for three days on the last weekend in June, when the digital city celebrates Boi Bumba, the second largest annual festival in Brazil, after Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The folkloric festival is also known as Festival Folclorico de Parintins, Festival do Boi-Bumbá and Bumba Meu Boi.

Riverboat hotels

Because there are not enough hotels in Parintins, out-of-town visitors either rent bedrooms from locals or sleep in hammocks in the Amazon river boats, which brought them from Manaus. Most people don't sleep at all, preferring to sing, dance and party around-the-clock.

Boi Bumba means "bull dance." The Parintins festival combines Brazil's Portuguese, religious and indigenous heritage. The bull dance is a comic re-enactment of a legend based on a resurrected bull.

Most action takes place in the bumbodromo, an open U-shaped dance stadium, similar to the sambadromo, where Rio's samba schools compete during Carnival. The bumbodromo seats 35,000 people.

Men from Caprichoso Bull Club in blue and white horse costumes
Men from Caprichoso Bull Club in blue and white horse costumes
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Boi Garantido

In Parintins, the competition is between two bull clubs or teams, Boi Caprichoso, whose flags are blue and white, and Boi Garantido, which flaunts banners of red and white.

Each club has about 4,000 members and a band, comprised primarily of drummers. A panel of judges awards points for number of participants, artistic merit of their costumes, choreography, rhythm and music. There are no trophies or cash prizes. It's the glory and status of winning that counts.

Costumes and songs correspond to the annual theme. Participants are divided into three groups: witch doctors or shamans, Indian tribes and square dancers.

The overall result resembles a combination of Carnival and a country and western hoedown, with hoop-skirted Southern belles thrown in, for good measure.

Boi Caprichoso

A man, dressed as a black Brahman bull, dances like a Chinese lion dancer. A cowboy emerges from the center of a "horse" which he wears around his waist. Garbed in a Stetson and fringed jacket, he carries a lasso and the blue and white banner of the Caprichoso club.

A barefoot girl, regally garbed in a full-skirted gown of blue sequins and feathers, carries a similar banner. It's an honor to dance with the club's flag. The flag-bearer is often the most beautiful girl in the bull club, or the club president's daughter.

Diverse costumes

The sheer diversity of Boi Bumba costumes is overwhelming: leather chaps and dresses, bikinis of feathers and shells, peacock feather bustles, hoop-skirted dresses woven from reeds or covered with tufts of colored nylon netting and silk roses. An egg-headed character wanders between dancers, flapping his oversized hands in the air.

If the repetitive beating of drums and booming of fireworks doesn't raise the decibel level sufficiently, observers take red and blue blocks of wood and clap them together in time to the music.

Boys wear headdresses and body paint.
Boys wear headdresses and body paint.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Amazon food

The party continues in the streets with more music, dancing, fireworks and a parade of giant legendary creatures. Food stands sell barbecued meat and fish, and sweets made from graviola fruit (also called soursop and guanabana), as well as cupuacu, a relative of cacao.

Cachaca (sugar cane liquor) feeds the frenzy, either mixed into caipirinhas, lime daiquiri-like drinks, or diluted with fruit juice and condensed milk to make creamy batidas.

After Boi Bumba, Parintins once again reverts to a quiet island of fishermen and ceramic-makers. Behind closed doors, however, Garantido and Caprichoso club members are dismantling their costumes and reassembling them along new themes for next year's event.

Boi Bumba Festival, as well as Boi Garantido and Boi Caprichoso, have their own websites. It's just as you would expect in a digital city with broadband wireless Internet service, even though Parintins is in the middle of the Amazon River.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Boi Bumba Festival: www.boibumba.com

More things to see & do in Brazil:

Manaus Amazon Hotel

Amazon Jungle Tour

Ariau Amazon Towers Tree House Resort

Amazon Piranha Fishing

Iguacu Falls Brazil