Giants Carnival Dolls of Olinda

Maria do Carmo Andrade
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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Olinda is a city traditionally known for its street carnival, for the participation of its population in carnival street parties, clubs and groups. However, it’s the giant dolls that are the stand-out attraction of the Olinda Carnival.

According to Bonald Neto, the participation of the giant dolls at the Carnival goes back a long time. Back in 1919, the figure of Zé Pereira, created by the Carnival-goer Gumercindo Pires de Carvalho, enlivened the Belém de São Francisco Carnival, a town in the semi-arid region of Pernambuco. In 1929, Gumercindo created a giant doll to partner Zé Pereira, which he called Vitalina.

Over the years other dolls appeared. In Olinda, the popular Homem da Meia-Noite (Midnight Man) appeared in February 1931, when a group of associates, unhappy that they hadn’t been nominated for the official list of directors of the O Cariri group, created what would then be one of the most famous giant Carnival dolls of Olinda: the Midnight Man, made by woodworker and carver Benedito Barbaça and by the wall-painter Luciano de Queiroz, who was known for his skills in handling paints, plaster and brushes.

The original Midnight Man weighed 50 kilos and was 3.5 metres tall. Its base was made of wood, the head, chest and hands were modelled in papier-mâché and finished in wall plaster and painted the skin-colour. The arms were filled with mattress straw and its fists and hands contained the right amount of sand to keep them in place while dancing frevo.

A person gave life to the doll by carrying it on their head, using a cushion on the wooden base for support. The waist of the doll is situated at the eye-level of the carrier, who is able to see through a small opening in the fly of the doll’s pants, which are fixed at the waist below the jacket.

Many years later, a partner for the Midnight Man appeared. In 1967, the Carnival-goers Rodolfo Medeiros and Luiz José dos Santos had the idea to create the ‘Mulher do Dia’, or ‘Day Woman’. Artisan Julião das Máscaras then modelled the smiling doll known also as Mona Lisa, which measured 3.4 metres tall and weighed 40 kilos. To make its dress, on average, 24m of fabric, many necklaces, earrings and hair clips and bands are used.

In 1974, Ernane Lopes and Odival Olbino decided to form a Carnival group and teamed up with Julião das Máscaras to make a doll that represented the group. From this came the ‘Menino da Tarde’, or the ‘Afternoon Boy’, which hits the frevo party on the Saturday of Carnival, rocking thousands of Carnival-goers until night-time, when it retreats.

Also in the 70s, through the instigation of Dalma Soares and making of Sílvio Botelho, another giant doll appeared: the ‘Menina da Tarde’, or the ‘Afternoon Girl’. From then on, in the 80s, the giant Carnival dolls multiplied not only in Olinda, but in Recife and other cities and towns in Pernambuco. Nevertheless, it was in Olinda where the true demographic explosion of giant Carnival dolls took place: artists, politicians, intellectual personalities, popular types or traditional fantastic figures.

Among the giant dolls reported by Bonald Neto, the ones that stand out are: Zé Pereira, Lampião, Barba Papa, Seu Malaquias, Fofão, Tabaco, Boneco pé inchado (Swollen-foot doll), Tarado da Sé (The Pervert of Sé), Gilberto Freyre, Carlitos, John Travolta, Alceu Valença, Manuel Bombardino, Gonzagão, o Guarda noturno (The Night Watchman), o Carteiro (The Mailman), D. Olinda Olindamente Linda, Mãe Olinda, Maria Bonita, Homelhada, Galega de Olinda (Olinda Blonde), Nordestina, o Perequito, o Urso (The Bear), o Jacaré (The Alligator).

Giant dolls have also appeared on stamps. The Brazilian Company of Mail and Telegraphs issued, in 1991, the first series of stamps commemorating Brazilian Carnivals, including reproductions of Midnight Man and Day Woman, among other Carnival elements from Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.

The charismatic giant dolls exert a grand fascination amongst Carnival-goers. The artists of Olinda, through their art give life and souls to so many of the giant Carnival dolls that are the face of the Pernambuco Carnival.

Recife, 14 July 2004.
(Updated on 9 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, January 2011.


ATAÍDE, José. Olinda, carnaval e povo. Olinda, PE: Fundação Centro de Preservação dos Sítios Históricos de Olinda, 1982.
BONALD NETO, Olímpio. Gigantes foliões no carnaval de Pernambuco. Olinda, PE: Fundação Centro de Preservação dos Sítios Históricos de Olinda, 1992.
BONECOS gigantes foliões em Olinda (fotos neste texto). Disponível em:  <www.onordeste.com> e <www.carnavaisdepernambuco.blogspot.com>. Acesso em: 28 fev. 2011.


Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Bonecos gigantes foliões de Olinda. Pesquisa Escolar On Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: >. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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