Tupinambarana Island used to be one island, then the Amazon River, doing what rivers do, split it into four islands. Parintins is located on this island in the Amazon and is only accessible by boat or a tiny airport. The town was founded in 1793 and is a sleepy, tiny little city of 100,000 people in the middle of the Amazon Basin. Yet this tiny little town has become world famous because of the Boi Bumba Festival that happens over three nights every year in June.
Boi Bumba is second only to Carnival in Rio in terms of the world-wide attention it draws to this folk festival that has its origins at the beginning of the 20th Century when rubber was king in Amazonia. Blending traditions and legends that came from Europe, Africa and Indigenous peoples, it is a folk festival, which although it has music, elaborate staging, tons of feathers, and sweating, half nude in-shape boys and girls dancing, has nothing to do with Carnival.
The festival is a competition which has grown out of the traditional competition between the families of two samba schools, the Garantido and Caprichoso. The Garantido has the colors of red and white, and the Caprichoso the colors of blue and black. The competition between the two is so intense, that Parintins is one of the few places in the world where you will find Coke logos in blue as well as red!
The competition takes place over three nights in June with each team having 3 hours each night to tell the traditional story in music, dance, floats and fireworks. The competition takes place in a specially constructed Bumbodromo which seats 35,000. Reserved ringside seats cost a small fortune, but you can stand in line all day long to get one of the free seats. Half of the Bumbodromo is blue and half is red. The structure is specially designed on rubber footings that are designed to absorb the shock of over 15,000 people all dancing and jumping up and down at once.
The story is an adaptation of a European legend which has been combined with African and Indigenous elements. It seems the wife of a poor peasant farmer is pregnant and develops a midnight craving for bull tongue. The poor farmer, anxious to please his wife, goes out and kills the bull of a neighbor. It turns out that this is the neighbor’s prize bull. (I know . . . it sounds like a lot of bull, but it is taken very seriously!) In the end, through the help of a local witch doctor, the bull is miraculously resurrected and everyone lives happily ever after!
We are fortunate that last year’s winning team, the Caprichoso, puts on an hour-long summary of their winning performance for guests of ROYAL PRINCESS. This is a very popular show with over half of our guests spending $100 a person to view Boi Bumba, and they always come back raving that it was the best show they have ever seen.
Each year, everything is new . . . all new music, songs, dances, costumes, sets . . . everything. So life in Parintins revolves around Boi Bumba. As soon as the Boi Bumba Festival closes, July 1st work begins in earnest on preparing for the next year’s presentation. Many of the props involve giant animals with appendages that move realistically, so it takes a lot of engineering talent. Unlike the Pasadena Rose Bowl float engineers, none of the folks in Parintins have engineering degrees from Cal Poly. No one has training in costume design or set design, yet just using their traditional skills handed down from generation to generation they create this wonderful show. And their talents are gradually achieving world-wide recognition. Dubai flew a plane load of folks from Parintins over just to design a special show for the royal family.
I have seen the Boi Bumba show each time we have been in Parintins and I’d love to get back here for the real thing. Since there are no roads into Parintins and no hotels to speak of, the 100,000 guests who will descend on this city in June all come by the Amazons ubiquitous river boats and sleep, just like they travel, in hammocks on the open decks.
One of the fringe benefits of Boi Bumba is free caipirinhas, the national cocktail of Brazil. It’s a potent mix of local white rum, sugar cane juice and lime. My record is four during our special hour-long Boi Bumba show . . . and this time I’m going for my all-time personal best . . . FIVE caipirinhas!