Music and dance ensemble Don Abundio y sus Traviesos, from Mompox, Colombia, entertained a capacity crowd with a Carnival workshop at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on Saturday, July 9.
The group processed through the Festival grounds, then performed a dance re-enacting a tiger hunt by Colombians of African descent. After the end of slavery, Momposinos who had been enslaved developed a reputation as fearless hunters. Armed with wooden weapons, the hunters in this carnival workshop wore colorful tissue paper hats; their faithful dog flushed out the tiger from the tall grass. Although the tiger wrestled with the dog and almost won, at the last moment Don Abundio ran the tiger through with a spear; victorious dancing ensued.
While Festival visitors familiar only with blackface traditions from the United States might wonder about the makeup worn by Don Abundio y sus Traviesos, it is worn in a completely different spirit than the blackface once worn by white performers in minstrel shows. The population in Mompox includes people of African, indigenous, and Spanish heritage; many Momposinos are of mixed descent. Carnival provides an opportunity for people to celebrate and carry on their heritage (in this case, their roots in Africa), to resist those who have historically oppressed them, and to do so in a spirit of fun.
There will be a carnival workshop and procession on Sunday, July 10, and a final carnival workshop on Monday, July 11.
Ariel Fielding is a Fellow at the Folklife Festival working to increase online and community engagement. She is also a producer of culturally diverse performing arts and educational programming, with an emphasis on South Asian and Afrocentric work, and holds a M.Mus. in Ethnomusicology from the University of London.
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