Carnaval culture

If you read my last post explaining what the hell Carnaval is, you know that it is the ultimate expression of the Caribbean coastal culture.  This can be seen easily through the music, dance, and costumes that are seen in the many parades and events, but also in the way spectators dress.

What to wear

When it comes to what to wear for Carnaval events, attendees lean towards bright and flashy.  Neon colors are huge, as is a black/yellow/red/green color scheme.  There are particular materials (which I don’t know the name of) that are used over and over again.  The way that Carnaval impacts the economy is incredible.  People buy specially-made or specially-printed shirts, costumes for their kids, headbands, and purses, all used specifically for Carnaval.

Music, dance, and costumes

The parades that happen throughout Carnaval are filled with diverse styles of music, each of which has its own dance and accompanying costume.  Listed below are some of the ones I saw most commonly.

  • Danza del Garabato – a dance which represents a confrontation between life and death, accompanied by a style of music called champé.

  • Danza de las Marimondas – supposedly this costume came about when a dude didn’t have money to get a nice costume, so decided to put his shirt on backwards, throw on a tie, and place a sack over his head, and went out to make fun of the rich citizens of Barranquilla. Nowadays it manifests as a strange mixture between a clown and an elephant – the ears on the masks are big, and there’s a trunk-like thing for a nose (actually represents a penis).  The dance includes some very risqué moves…I was shocked when I first saw them to see them put their hands in their pants to mimic erections and do a lot of pelvic thrusting that way, as well as some floor humping.  This is accompanied by a style of music called fandango

  • Danza de los Monocucos – The costume worn by monocucos is similar to that of a jester, but with the addition of a scary mask/face flap combo. Apparently the costume is frequently used by famous people who want to attend events without being recognized.  I think they’re kind of frightening.  The rhythm used for this dance is porro paliteao.


  • Danza de las Negritas Puloy – all right, first edition of blackface (although I think for this one I didn’t actually see a lot of faces painted). The Negrita Puloy is a character who came about in the 60s, apparently inspired by a Venezuelan detergent commercial.  She wears a dress that is red with white dots, and has a matching hair bow in her kinky curls.  She wears gold earrings and a gold necklace, and bright red lips.  This outfit is a very common one for young girls to have when they go to watch parades.  The music accompanying this dance is merecumbé.

  • Son de negro – the other blackface. But like, black body.  With big red lips and a hat.  Colombians say that it’s a representation of slaves making fun of their owners, but with its characteristics of really jerky body movements and exaggerated mouth and facial expressions, I think it’s a pretty awful representation of a population.


  • Mapalé – one of my favorites! It’s an afrocolombian dance that is filled with big movement, bright colors, and very small clothing.  I joke that I am starting to go to the gym so that I can be in good enough shape to dance mapalé (and more importantly, wear one of those tiny costumes).  The music has the same name.


  • Cumbia – this is a very important dance to Colombia because of its history and influences, where all three cultures that compose Carnaval intersect in a dance/music. The dresses are traditionally of red and white checkers, and the men wear white shirts and pants with sash-like things around their waists.  Various props are used – the men’s hats, big bundles of candles, bottles of booze on top of women’s heads… It’s both boring and fascinating at the same time.  The music is also called cumbia.


Other costumes

Besides what you see on the people watching the parade and the people dancing in the parade, there are some common costumes.  Dracula, for instance.  And pirates.  And gorrilas.  There’s also a character known as descabezado, which is a costume that turns a body into a beheaded one, while the head is carried in the hand.  María Moñitos is a sexy burlesque lady.  I have come to believe that the people who wear these costumes love Carnaval and want to be a part of making the festivities happen, but maybe aren’t dancers or musicians, so they wear these other costumes that put them in the game.

Popular music

Another big industry borne out of Carnaval is the music industry.  Every year new songs about Carnaval come out.  They feature name-drops of the various municipios, which is fun.  Reference this 4-hour compilation (feel free to skip about!).

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About the author

Mountain View

A little about me!

Hey! I'm Brianna Hope, a born & bred midwesterner embarking on an adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia. I am clumsy, I spill a lot, and I share most of my interests with 6 year-olds.

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The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Colombian Government.


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