How Carnival started we don’t have 100% certain, however we have mentions to it since the Greek and Roman period, where Goddess Isis of Egypt was present. From that time this moment have been present trough different civilisation to another, always maintaining a festive characteristics of excesses, music, dance and ways of hiding identities.
This action of disguising and assuming a new identity are two visual characteristics that we would like to highlight showing two different regions from the North of Portugal, where the Carnival is still very much alive with great revelry and where the traditional mask gain great importance!
Near Viseu, we find the small village of Lazarim with about 500 inhabitants, where they transform solid blocks of alder wood into masks of demons, grotesque zoomorphic figures or witches, with pointed horns, without applying any painting. They are called of Caretos and they complete their masks with a suit made of straw of braided corn beard, red of black capes with edging. Symbolically, these figures represent their cultural universe and imaginary. An important characteristic to mention is the difference between the female and the male masks, which are then used during the procession as a social critique between women and men in an ironic and hilarious way.
Further north, in the region of Bragança, we have the even small village of Podence, with around 250 inhabitants, where we can find one of the richest for Carnival. At Podence this tradition is called Caretos and due to the richness of its value, this event and all the rituals around it were elevated to the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2019.
It sets the end of the winter time and the beginning of spring, but also as a period that precedes the sobriety of Lent.
The typical costumes are know was Caretos which are Devil and Demons’s representations. Traditionally made of bedspreads and decorated with colourful wool fringes, in this case the masks are made with red zinc sheets. Finally, the last detail is a serie of rattles placed around the waist and a wooden stick on their hand.
Without identities, here are plenty of opportunities to have a more excessive behaviour and less approved by the society, always with typical music fro Trás-os-Montes with bagpipes and bass drums!