Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

The Carnaval de Blancos y Negros (Carnival of Blacks and Whites) happens every year from January 4 –January 6 in the city of Pasto, department of Nariño, Colombia. This festival actually has its roots in the celebrations and festivals of the Pasto and Quillacingas Indians of the Pasto region, who would hold a celebration to ask the God of the Moon to watch over and protect their crops. Over time, their festivities united with the holidays of their Catholic Spanish conquerors (Day of the Immaculate Conception 12/8, Christmas 12/25, and Three Kings Day 1/6). Later these celebrations were joined by a holiday, the Día de los Negritos (Day of the Blacks) that was celebrated in Popayán.

Día de los Negritos was a holiday that had been declared by the Spanish crown. The holiday was declared after a rebellion of slaves in Remedios, Antioquia (1607) caused a panic among colonial authorities. Upon hearing about the rebellion in Antioquia, the large population of black slaves in Popayán began to demand a day of rest. The King of Spain, in order to keep the peace, decided to grant the black slave population of Popayán a legal holiday, January 5th. This holiday was celebrated by dancing in the streets and painting black the white walls in the city.

Eventually, the celebration of the Día de los Negritos spread to other areas including Pasto. However, in Pasto, the Día de los Negritos, was celebrated by the white and mestizo population as there were very few black people in the area.

Though there were always celebrations, the Carnival didn’t really take off until the 20th century. It eventually evolved into a three day plus celebration. The Carnival actually begins with the Pre-Carnival celebrations which commence on December 28. December 28 is the Día del Agua – Arcoíris en el Asfalto (Day of Water – Rainbow on the Asphalt), where people enjoy a giant water fight. December 30 is the Serenta a Pasto (Serenade to Pasto) where Trios perform. December 31 is the Desfile de Años Viejos (Parade of Years Past) – a Parade of Old Cars. January 2 is the day where each neighborhood shows off their culture and there is a big horse parade (La Cabalgata). January 3 is the Carnavalito – the Mini Carnival for the Family where the focus is on children.

The actual Carnival begins on January 4th with the Desfile de la Familia Castañeda (Parade of the Castañeda Family). I have read several different explanations for the name, but it appears to have started in the 1920’s when a family arrived in Pasto during the Cabalgata (Horse Parade) of the festival. This family came into the city accompanied by pigs and sheep and several children. The father of the family started waving to the crowd that had gathered to see the Horse Parade and a shout went up, “Viva La Familia Castañeda!” Eventually, the Parade of the Castañeda became institutionalized as part of the Carnaval.

January 5th is the Día de los Negros. Everyone paints themselves black to show that there is no distinction between races.

January 6th is the Día de los Blancos. This day everyone covers themselves in talcum powder or corn starch. There is a huge parade with displays of giant heads.

Here are some interesting links to see more about this unique Colombian festival.

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