The New Year in Colombia starts in Pasto

· Culture
Stories of black and white in the oldest Colombian Carnival.
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

A family in the Carnival of Pasto. Picture by tito_lol.

If sources are agreed in the year of the beginning of many Colombian feasts and carnivals, there is one that is unknown however. Are we in front to a cultural manifestation that revels our identity? Here some reasons why the Carnival of White and Blacks of Pasto is a living national patrimony.

By Albeiro Rodas

It is easier to trace the archaeological patrimony history of the Walls of Cartagena de Indias and even the one of a natural patrimony like the Macarena Mountains Park, but it is real difficult and interesting to do so with what we call living cultural patrimony like the Carnival of White and Black.

Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

Carnaval de Negros y Blancos Picture by Andrés Bulla.

Although we are late for the Carnival this year, we can not let to pass to mention it with a deep appreciation. Moreover, it is the oldest Carnival of our country and it opens the annual calendar in one of the world countries with the longest lists of feasts and carnivals. It is calculated that Colombia celebrates 3,000 feasts in 3,000 different places of its huge territory, another reason to understand why it is considered one of the happiest countries of the world. In this way, if you want to enjoy all those feasts, one after other, moving from city to city and town to town, you will be 8 years and 21 days in Colombia and you will start in Pasto.

History of an ancient carnival

The Carnival of White and Black has as center a region settled by an aborigine community that links itself to the ancient Incas. But it is not only centered in San Juan de Pasto City, but the Carnival has its versions in many other towns around Pasto and in the neighbouring states of Putumayo and Cauca. The year when it started is unkown and mysterious, but it seems to be a long process of traditions before the arriving of the Spaniards to the continent. If that is true and it seems to be, we could be in front to one of the oldest aborigine ancestral feasts of the Americas.

Certainly what we see today as the Carnival of Pasto is a real modern version developed during the 20th century. Before the Spaniards arriving, it was a traditional way to adore the local divinities in their own religiosity and cosmogony. The importance of the festivities for the aborigines is proven in the fact that they were forbidden by the Spaniards at the beginning of the 19th century as a way to prevent rebellions from the locals. Once more, Carnivals and Feasts are proven to be of religious origins.

Gabriela Díaz del Castillo, Miss Happiness 2008, the Queen of the Carnival of Pasto. Picture by Ipiales Times.

Therefore, the white and black element is posterior to the festivities and it becomes an excellent model of how the three human races interchanged during the Spaniard colonization of the Americas. The Carnival is not other thing that the space of harmonization of the encounter or crush of the three races and many cultures.

The black element is integrated to the feasts since the 16th century thanks to the exaltation of rebellious Africans to the Spaniard oppression. How it came to be that the aborigines included an African element to their ancestral festivity? It was then a sharing sentiment before the oppressor. The adoration festivities to the American gods were joined to the claim for freedom of the African slaves.

The white element came by the obvious influence of Europeanization of the American peoples with the Catholic traditions, music and European cultural elements. The Carnival of White and Black would become along the years a profound expression of our Colombian and Latin American identity.

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