Presenting and Interpreting Culture / Spotlights

Carnival Costumes

Social Commentary in Celebration

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Las pilanderas

The dance of Las pilanderas is a dance that refers to the practice of women gossiping with one another as they work on grinding corn. The center piece is the pilón, or wooden mortar, used in many Afro Colombian communities for grinding corn for traditional specialties such as arepas, mazamorra, chicha and bollos. However, the dance uses this domestic scene to comment and poke fun at colonial as well as today’s society. The pilanderas are portrayed by men costumed in fashionable dresses and parasols which were likely to be worn by society ladies in colonial times. The “gossip” voiced in the lyrics may incorporate remarks on contemporary social situations.

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El son del negro

El son del negro is also a dance that airs grievances, but the characters depicted are of African descent who mock and criticize Spaniards for oppressing them during the period of Spanish rule. According to Don Abundio, the focus of their criticism is on Spanish women, who they ridicule with an exaggerated European style of dancing. The main characters in this dance are the Spanish woman, the nymph, and the African dancers. With Don Abundio y sus Traviesos, the Spanish woman is usually played by one of the female group members, Dania Felizolla. The nymph is a man dressed as a woman, and the remaining members dress as the African dancers.

For this dance, the performers wear elaborate hats and black pants with red, yellow, and green bottoms. Since this is a dance of African descendants, Don Abundio y sus Traviesos use carbón vegetal, or charcoal, mixed with water to create a black paint-like mixture that they apply to make their skin appear darker. They also apply a bright red food coloring to their tongues to exaggerate the contrast with their dark skin. In addition, they use bright red lipstick to make themselves appear more feminine, mocking Spanish women.

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La cacería del tigre

The last dance, La cacería del tigre, like El son del negro, is also based on African traditions. It depicts a time when African descendants were free from slavery, but were still ruled and oppressed by the Spanish. The former slaves developed new lives farming on the land of Spanish landlords who required them to hunt for tigers that were a threat to their livestock and land. While hunting the tigers, they made up songs to pass the time. This dance illustrates one of those songs. One dancer plays the tiger while the others play the hunters. Props are carried that depict the machetes the Africans used to cut down the grass in search of the tigers.

The masks and props are the key elements of the dancers’ costuming. One dancer wears a mask resembling a tiger that Don Abundio made from papier-mâché. The machetes the other dancers carry are also made from papier-mâché.

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Coffee Production

The costumes of las pilanderas consist of parasols and bandanas. According to Don Abundio, the loose dresses keep the women cool while cooking, the parasols help block the sunlight, and the bandanas absorb the sweat that falls into their eyes while preparing the bollo. Photo by Jeanette Gaida