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Maracatu, an Afro-Brazilian dance procession performed during Carnival in Recife, Pernambuco. The maracatu originated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when plantation owners allowed slaves to elect kings and queens and parade during holidays—singing, dancing, and drumming—while dressed in the costumes of European royal courts. These groups, which were then known as Congadas and were linked to black religious brotherhoods, mixed Catholicism with African religious practices. After the abolition of slavery (1888) this tradition was incorporated into the Carnival celebrations of Recife and given the name maracatu. These groups now parade during carnival dressed in elaborate Louis XV costumes of various stock characters: king, queen, princes, princesses, ambassadors, Roman soldiers, baianas (Bahian women), and slaves. A central figure is the dama do paço (court lady), whocarries a small doll representing an ancestor of the group.

Accompanying the royal court is a large percussion orchestra of double-headed drums, metal shakers, and large iron bells. The rhythms are elaborate, interlocking, and highly syncopated, with large bombos (bass drums) taking the lead role. Toadas (songs) are sung by a lead singer and chorus in a call-and-response form that typically combines Portuguese and Yoruba words. In the 1940s, the maracatu rural, a new type of group combining Afro-Brazilian and mestizo traditional patterns developed in the sugarcane area around Recife.

See alsoMusic: Popular Music and Dance .


César Guerra-Peixe, Maracatus do Recife, 2d ed. (1980).

Katarina Real, O folclore no carnaval do Recife, 2d ed. (1990), esp. pp. 55-82.

Additional Bibliography

Galinsky, Philip. "Maracatu Atomico": Tradition, Modernity, and Postmodernity in the Mangue Movement and the "New Music Scene" of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. London: Routledge, 2002.

Real, Katarina. Eudes, o rei do Maracatu. Recife: Fundacão Joaquim Nabuco, 2001.

                                         Larry N. Crook

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