Bumba Meu Boi: a guide to the festival of the ox in Brazil
Location: São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil
Dates: late June to the second week of August
Level of participation: 3 - heckle the farmer
The second week in August is your last chance to catch this wild, folkloric festival. Derived from African, Indian and Portuguese influences that mingled in colonial times, the event revolves around the story of the ox’s death and resurrection. Accompanied by much heckling, a stream of street performers, many dressed as oxen or mythological creatures, tell the tale through song, dance, theatre and capoeira.
A satire of plantation slave masters, the story begins with a pregnancy craving. Desperate to eat the tongue of the best boi (ox) on the farm, Catrina persuades her husband, Chico, to kill the animal. When the deed is discovered, several characters track down the hapless Chico, who is brought to trial and sentenced to death.
In a denouement worthy of Shakespeare, the ox is magically resuscitated and the farm owner is forced to pardon the people’s hero, who is reunited with his love. The story takes various forms throughout northeast Brazil, where performers start rehearsing, often publicly, as early as Easter.