Thursday, January 28, 2010

Grand Carnaval slated for Saturday, February 13th

El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro is a unique tradition to this island and one that has been passed down from generation to generation. Although, it seems that with time, some of these wonderful customs are slowly disappearing, many people are striving to keep our traditions alive. Let us travel back to a time when long-time residents of San Pedro, Felipe Paz Sr. (Tio Pil) and Lucio Guerrero (Don Lucito) celebrated this event. The following is what was learned as they reminisced and recalled their fondest memories of carnaval.

In the early 1940s, El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro was one of the most anticipated events of the year. It was a time when Sosimo Rodriguez, Pepe Cardenez, Asita Lopez de Aguilar, "Chequete," Isabel Reyes, Luis Aguilar, and others were the "Kings" and "Queens" of carnaval. They were the most well-known "carnavalistas" (carnaval organizers) of the village, responsible for writing and composing comparsas, and getting everyone in a festive mood.

Carnaval is celebrated annually, on the three days before Ash Wednesday (miercoles de senisa) when Catholics begin the forty-day season of lent. In the early days of carnaval, the program for the grand event was officially announced on Saturday, known as "sabado de bando." In those days, there was very few means of entertainment. Carnaval organizers would paint their faces and/or wear colorful costumes and then stand on different corners of the village accompanied by musicians. They would announce the schedule of events to passers-by using cardboard megaphones, as no electronic amplifiers were available then. Carnaval was basically divided into two activities - comparsas (street dancing) and painting.

Comparsas, in those days, was a very special part of the celebration and it was taken quite seriously. The entire process of planning the comparsa was, in itself, a big deal. First the words of the song were written, next the music composed and finally the costumes created. Then the practicing commenced and continued for the next two to three weeks prior to the beginning of carnaval. The comparsas usually depicted an ethnic group such as Negritos, Gringos, Chinitos, Cubanitos, Inditos and so on. But it would not be carnaval if one of the comparsas groups did not perform the always-entertaining "Torito" (bull fight dance) and La Estudiantina, a village favorite. La Estudiantina was a potpourri of songs and dances that included the Waltz, Danza, Shotish, Zapateado, Danzon and Corrido.

Providing the rhythm for the comparsas were many talented musicians who were always willing to perform lively music with their violins, trumpets or harmonicas. Those who did not own an instrument were satisfied to be part of the "band" by beating a steel pan or tin can. Since vehicles, in those days, were almost non-existent, the entertainers had the streets to themselves as they made their way around the village performing from house to house.

To show support for those participating, the villagers would rise early during the three days of carnaval, do their household chores and patiently await the comparsas. The villagers would join and follow the first three to four comparsas who came out. Those who were a little more shy opted to stay home but supported the "carna-valistas" by using their hard-earned money to pay a whopping 25 to 50 cents as a tip for the entertainment provided by the comparsas. For three days the streets of San Pedro were filled with fun, wonderful music and colorful costumes

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