Here’s Parintins. A place of magic and mystery.
We felt something special right from the
It’s a bustling city; people have cell phones and computers,
but retain a deep attachment to
culture that surrounds them.
Rita Shannon Koeser
I was surrounded by a sea of yellow T-shirts all saying "English School". They were worn by teenage girls with
friendly faces and sweet smiles who were laughing and joking. The music and dancing were almost about to begin, so I didn’t
have too much time to spend talking to Gláucia and her friends.
It was a rainy, humid April night in the Amazon town of Parintins, and I was one of several tourists for whom the
local people were putting on a small sample of their famous folklore festival (Festival Folclórico de Parintins) with takes place
in June. This was the "Boi Bumbá" Festival of which we had heard so much, a festival in the middle of the Amazon that is
now almost a rival in popularity to Rio’s Carnaval in Brazil.
I had arrived that morning aboard the cruise ship Caronia. We had been on the ship for almost 2 weeks and this was
the highlight of the cruise, sailing on the mighty and legendary Amazon river. The cruise would wind up in Manaus, a city
known as the Paris of South America in the 19th century because of the elegant houses of the wealthy rubber barons and the
stunning opera house they had built in this city located in the heart of the Amazon forest.
For the past few days we had been stopping at several river towns to explore, see local entertainments, meet the
people and buy some of their colorful handicrafts. We were also learning about the local flora and fauna. Santarém and Alter do
Chão had been fascinating and the people were welcoming. In Santarém there were many beautiful parrots, and it was in Alter
do Chão that we saw our first sloths.
Many of the citizens were walking around the town with these animals and it seems they had made pets of them. I’ll
never forget when some of them made Andrew, our cruise director, take a picture with a sloth. He wasn’t sure how to hold it,
so both tourists and local people had a good laugh at his expense!
But now we were in Parintins (pop. 80,000) a town located on the right bank of the Amazon river on the island of
Tupinambarana about 420 km (261 miles) east of Manaus. Parintins, a place of magic and mystery. We felt something special right from
the beginning. It’s a bustling city with busy shops, a beautiful cathedral dedicated to the city’s patron saint, and many
motorcycles, bicycles, and scooters.
The people have cell phones and computers, but they retain a deep attachment to the indigenous culture that
surrounds them. There is an immense pride in their city and their festival. It was a place that, through its festival, would introduce
us to some of the legends, rites, and rituals of the indigenous people of the Amazon forest.
Thus in the evening I found myself at an outdoor rehearsal theater sitting with the other tourists surrounded by
colorful scenery, listening to the beating of the drums, and waiting for the show to begin. Some of the young entertainers who
would take part in the show and were wearing fantastic costumes with feathered headdresses were serving us fruit drinks and water.
At one side of the theater local people were selling handicrafts like the feathered headdresses the entertainers wore,
necklaces, and statues. As we had a little time before the start of the performance, I thought it might be a good idea to look over
some of the crafts and see what I could buy for souvenirs. Little did I know that this decision would introduce me to some
charming people who would become lasting friends, and I would be gaining an enduring attachment to this enchanted place.
Talk, Jokes and Laugh
Now as I was heading for the craft stand, I saw those girls in the yellow shirts with the words "English School"
written in red and blue. As an ESL (English as a second language) teacher of many years, I was intrigued, so I went up to them
and starting talking, forgetting about the crafts and never buying the souvenirs. But what I gained was much more valuable
They were students at the English School, an English language school run in the town by Catarina Picanço, or as
she would tell me later, "they call me Kathy". The girls were Kathy’s students and studied with her three times a week in her
one room school equipped with a video, computer, and air conditioning. This school supplemented their English classes at
their regular school. Kathy’s method stresses every day situations, and having lived and studied in the U.S., she teaches her
students about American culture and lifestyle.
They were here at the performance hoping to meet some Americans and practice their English. Gláucia, her cousin
Ynessa, and their friends Paola, and Simone were happy to talk to me. Before we knew it we were all talking, joking, and laughing
as if we had known each other for years.
Gláucia and I established a special rapport right away. They told me about the English School and how they liked
learning English and practicing it with the tourists who come on the cruise ships during the season. Their English was
impressive, and they were eager to speak to an American. We talked about American music (Gláucia let me know that she loved the
Backstreet Boys immensely!!), the USA and Brazil, and most importantly they told me about the Festival and the performance I was
about to see.
I learned that there is an intense but goodhearted rivalry in the whole town on the last three days of June when the
festival takes place. Some people root for one team and some for the other. The performance revolves around the story of the
killing and resurrection of a bull. There are two teams telling the story in music, dance, and song. Gláucia, with her brilliant
smile, told me she is a fan of Caprichoso, the blue bull and her cousin Ynessa is a fan of the red bull called Garantido. We had a
good laugh about the cousins’ rivalry. Now I knew why the words "English School" on the shirts were in red and blue. I took
pictures with the girls and wished I had more time to spend with them, but the performance was about to begin, so we said our goodbyes.
The performance was spellbinding. It lasted two hours. Two hours of music, dance, beating of drums, fireworks,
fantastic costumes, chanting and song. And this was just a small sampling of the great festival that takes place every year on
June 28, 29, and 30, a festival that has been described as "an outdoor opera in the middle of the Amazon forest". This is a big
celebration of the indigenous culture of the people of the Amazon.
The performance tells the basic story of a young peasant couple, Catarina and Francisco. Catarina being pregnant
has a craving for the tongue of a bull. Francisco kills his master’s favorite bull, cuts out the tongue and gives it to his wife to
eat. Scared that his master would have him killed for this, he asks the local priest for help. The priest brings the bull back to
life with much drama, spectacle, drumming and fireworks, and Francisco’s life is spared.
The story has evolved over the years, and now the play incorporates many Amazonian legends and myths. The
church priest is now an Indian sorcerer and the story takes place inside the forest. Amazon animals, forest gods, and shamans
all have their parts to play.
One of the legends is of an enchanted boy named Norato who became an enormous snake when he grew up. At
night he left his snake’s body and became a man. He was well loved and had many friends in the forest, but at dawn Norato
transformed into a snake again. He could only become a man at night. Many Shamans and others tried to help him break the
spell but nobody ever could. They say that Norato is still roaming the rivers of the Amazon. The great snake legend comes
from the real huge snakes like anacondas that live in the Amazon region.
Even the beautiful giant water lilies of the Amazon river have a legend. This one is about an Indian girl from one of
the Amazon tribes who falls in love with a warrior who lives on the moon. When the moon was full she tried hard to reach
the warrior. Her friends tried to convince her that this was hopeless, but she wouldn’t stop hoping.
Then one night deep in the jungle she saw the reflection of the moon in a lake. Thinking her loved one had come to
earth at last, she jumped into the lake and drowned. But the warrior did exist. Taking pity on the poor girl who had fallen in
love with him, he transformed her into the giant water lily, known as Vitória-Régia. These legends and many others are part of
For six hours on each of the three nights in June there are the beating of the drums, chanting, fireworks, singing and
dancing of beautiful young people in incredible costumes. There are giant floats and decorations. Everything is made locally.
The dances and songs, called toadas are conceived and worked on during the year.
The artistic creativity of the people of Parintins is known throughout Brazil. The competition between the two rival
bulls, Caprichoso (Capricious, the blue bull) and Garantido (Guaranteed, the red bull), is before a panel of judges who will
judge each team on its singing, dancing, costumes, and the chanting of their fans.
The island, at this time, is surrounded by the boats of the tourists who have come for the festival. The performance
is held at the Bumbódromo, the huge purpose built stadium that holds 40,000 spectators. The fans of Caprichoso sit on
one side of the stadium and the fans of Garantido on the other. Each side of the stadium is awash in either blue or red. The
boi-bumbás ( people dressed in bull costumes) dance to the beat of the drums and the chanting of their team.
The whole town and the tourists are caught up in the spirit of the festival. They dance in the streets during the day
and go to the Bumbódromo for the performances at night. Everyone roots for either the blue bull or the red. Though the
competition is mostly in a spirit of fun, sometimes fanaticism takes hold. People in the town even paint their houses blue or red.
They tell of one lady, a fan of Garantido, who painted her house red. Not being happy with this alone, she then went
on to paint her pool red, too. Then there is the other lady, a fan of Caprichoso, who painted her house blue, and during the
time of the festival won’t let her husband park his car in their garage because the car is red!!
I’ll Be Back
After our performance at the rehearsal theater, I looked for the girls to tell them how much I enjoyed it and how much
I’d like to come back in June to attend the big festival, but to my disappointment, I couldn’t find them. I got back on the
ship and continued the voyage, but I couldn’t forget Gláucia, the other girls, Parintins and the festival.
After I returned home and developed my photos I knew I wanted to try to contact them again. I didn’t know how
because I didn’t know their last names or addresses. Then I remembered the English School. Not having the address of the
English School or knowing the name at the director at this time, I sent a letter with the pictures to: Director, English School,
Parintins, Amazonas, Brazil. I had no idea if my letter would ever reach the correct destination.
To my surprise and delight eight days later, I had an e-mail from Gláucia. She told me that she and the other girls had
been thinking about me, too and were glad we were back in touch. Shortly after that, I heard from, Kathy, the director of the
English School, her daughter, Carol and some of the other students. Now I have been in contact with all of them for almost 2 years.
Gláucia and I have a very close and special relationship. She will come visit me, and I will go back to Parintins to visit
her, Kathy and the students at the English school. I’ll go back to Parintins for the festival soon. Gláucia asked me recently,
"Are you Caprichoso or Garantido?" Well, I’ll have to think about that one! Oh, by the way, Kathy sent me one of those
yellow t-shirts for Christmas last year!
Rita Shannon Koeser is a freelance writer and an ESL teacher who loves traveling and meeting and writing about
people in foreign countries. She has traveled widely and speaks French and some Spanish. She has lived on a remote island in
Scotland and in Paris. She has a special love for Brazil and her Brazilian friends and is now learning Portuguese. In the preparation
of this article, she would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, the help of her friend, Gláucia. Rita can be reached
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