Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
The ‘papangus’ of the Carnival in Bezerros, a city in the Pernambuco countryside (107 kilometres from Recife) are a centenary tradition.
According to Prof. Ronaldo J. Souto Maior, founder of the Bezerros Institute of Historic, Art and Folkloric Studies, the origin of ‘Papangus de Bezerros’ dates back to 1881: “‘papa-angu’ was born from a game played by the sugarcane factor owners’ relatives who went out masked and badly dressed to visit friends at the Shrovetide parties – the old carnival of the 18th century – and ate ‘angu’ (polenta), a traditional food from the Northeast Pernambuco countryside. Because of this, the children began to call those wearing masks ‘papa-angu’”*.
There are popular versions on the origin of these characters at the Bezerros Carnival. One comes from a very old story: two brothers who ate too much polenta, decided to cut their trouser-legs and cover their faces with hoods so they wouldn’t be recognised, but the disguise didn’t work. They were discovered by their greediness. Another is that in the 19th century, the mask-wearers were given this name after a woman decided to prepare polenta from corn starch to feed them.
In older times, the ‘papangu’ had a mask made from ‘coité’ (a fruit gourd), whose painting was done with black olives, saffron and broad been leaves. They had whips around their clothes which were decorated with banana leaves and carried a maraca made from a dry coconut with a stone inside.
Today, the prime material used for the masks is glued paper and papier-mâché. The ‘papangus’ wear long tunics, from head to toe, putting on the masks to be completely covered, as the goal is to be hidden, winning the game without being identified.
Before joining in the fun, the custom is to eat polenta usually supplied by the local residents.
When the period leading up to Carnival arrives, the partygoers try to make their costumes in secret so as not to run the risk of being de-masked before the party.
In Bezerros, the ‘papangu’ culture is lived throughout the whole year through the mask workshops, the rich cuisine with various dishes made with polenta, as well as the dance and Carnival music workshops.
On the Sunday of Carnival, from 9:00am the BR-232 highway is packed with ‘papangus’. The ‘papangu’ groups are accompanied by ‘frevo’ orchestras and automobiles with huge speakers, parading through the main streets of the city until Plaza da Bandeira, the Carnival headquarters, where other ‘papangus’ join in the party.
The tradition of ‘papangus’ is common to almost all the interior of Pernambuco, but it remains strongest in the municipality of Bezerros.
Recife, 2 September 2003.
(Updated on 31 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
* Prof. Ronaldo José Souto Maior is a historian for the Pernambuco municipality of Bezerros. His information source was the Transcripts from the Bezerros Chamber of Councillors, as well as 50 years of research. The data registered here was sent by the professor through email to the coordination of the online ‘Pesquisa Escolar’ (School Research) project.
BEZERROS tem a cara dos papangus. Suplmeneto Cultural D. O. PE, Recife, a.15, p. 26, fev. 2001.
LACERDA, Ângela. Papangus fazem de Bezerros um dos pólos da folia. Acessível em:http://www.estado.estadao.com.br/edicao/pano/99/02/cid/56.html Acesso em: 26 ago. 2003.
PAPANGUS de Bezerros (foto de Renato Luiz Ferreira). Disponível em: <http://www.flickr.com/photos/renatoluizferreira/2342872765/>. Acesso em: 3 mar. 2009.
HOW TO CITE THIS TEXT:
Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Papangus de Bezerros, PE. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.