In the parish of Podence, in Macedo de Cavaleiros, Portugal, there is a tradition that delights Portuguese´s and foreigners. It´s secular, it has faced extinction but survived by the hands of a youngster’s group that realized that rural is beautiful. We are talking about “Caretos of Podence”.
Every year, there´s a festivity in Portugal (and around the globe) that celebrates the end of winter, which appeals to exaggeration, diversion that strongly contrasts with the period of peace and fasting that follows. The festivity is known as Carnival and just like Halloween is part of Anglo-Saxon countries the Carnival is part of western Christianity.
The carnival of Macedo de Cavaleiros is, although, special, because of it´s uniqueness and being characteristic of Portugal. While many cities import the Brazilian carnival ( also trying to attract the hot weather), in the Trás-os-Montes region the caretos* are on the loose, looking for prey, young and single women to dance and chocalhar*. Besides them the facanitos* follow, children who will keep the tradition alive.
It´s a boys only allowed type of festivity. A long time ago, there was a belief that the masks had supernatural powers. With the passage of time, people realized it was only a myth.
Academics say there is also an erotic and sexual idea associated to the party due to the newly formed relationship between two strangers, the careto and the young woman.
The origin of these figures is still confusing to a lot of academics. Some say it was in the Middle Ages, some say Roman Empire, others speak of Neolithic time. It´s difficult to know when these mysterious figures emerged, due to the multiculturalism of the people that inhabit Europe thousands of years ago.
The truth is that the tradition has been gaining fame in the past years. It hasn´t always been like this, though. In fact, the caretos faced danger of extinction. In the 60´s, when Portugal send thousands of men to the colonial war, the caretos almost disappear. It was with Noémia Delgado, after the Carnation Revolution, that Trás-os-Montes appear for the first time in video. This filmmaker, on a documentary titled “Masks” (1976), where three young men appeared as the only survivors of the ancient tradition.
The documentary helped to bring a new paradigm, highlighting the importance of the rural, as well as its traditions, that should keep existing. We then go through a phase when there is pride and recognition for the good things that exist on the countryside. We are in the 90´s, in the climax of tourism, a revolution that also affects the interior of Portugal. Besides that, there are also immigrants that return to Portugal just to portrait caretos on Carnival.
The caretos were targeted with strong attention from the media, which also helped their success. The uniqueness of the celebration could be considered (in the future) as World Heritage of Humanity, recognition that will help to preserve the tradition for the next generations.
It´s the perfect example that demonstrates the richness of Portugal in terms of traditions, of mores, as the importance of originality, of exclusivity of ancient traditions that should be kept, as this are the main pillars of the Portuguese identity and that could be shared with the rest of humanity.
*caretos – men wearing the costume in Trás-os-Montes region
*chocalhar – swinging something like cow bells
*facanitos – small knives