Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Flag Bearer Or Porta Bandeira Element in the Carnival of Brazil

In this article, we will describe a marvelous element within the parades and Brazilian Carnaval festivity: the "Porta-bandeira", pronounced (porta bandayeera) and translated here to Flag-Bearer. Below, you will understand why this magnetic parades figure is able to symbolize the essence and honor of the Carnaval culture. The porta-Bandeira, along with the Mestre-Sala figure, can definitely represent the highest distinction to individuals who have devoted their career and lives to Carnaval and Samba in Brazil.

First, let us take a look at some of the main functions, attributes and characteristics of the "Porta-Bandeira" which in brief, has the delicate task to present to samba enthusiasts and judging panel, the Samba-Schools banner during an official carnival parade. For the benefit of new samba fan readers, lets us first recall what is a samba-school banner. Each samba-school (just like any country) has a flag which ultimately symbolizes itself in rehearsals, official events and the parade. (The flag - bandeira in Portuguese, is also sometimes referred to as Pavilho, in Portuguese). As an example, traditional Mangueira Samba-School has a green and pink colored looking flag, with its full name "Primeira de Mangueira" written on it.

During every carnaval contest in Brazil, each samba-school must obligatorily have a person which will carry its banner during the official carnaval parade in February /March. This person (woman by definition) is the Flag-Bearer. The Porta-bandeiras specific duty is then to wave and swirl the samba-school banner in graceful but determined way through the runway, while the Mestre-Sala, her escort, offers 'protection'.

The "Porta-Bandeira element" is a class of its own in a samba-school parade. She is the focus point, the icon figure where everyone looks upon (and certainly never forgets). The first major differentiating aspect of a Flag-bearer amongst other samba dancers / elements in a carnaval parade is her dressing. The Flag-bearer has extremely exuberant and luxurious Carnaval costumes. Sometimes a single flag-bearer costume can cost up to US$ 40,000. In terms of carnaval costumes, the area where carnaval directors invest the greatest amount of money, time and detail, is surely the Porta-Bandeira. They definitely want to impress and show how the samba-school is not economical. The logic behind is that if the general look of the Porta-bandeira is impoverished, second-grade, this could be a synonym that the samba-school is also deficient, below par. In exchange, if the Flag-bearer costume is extremely glamorously done, with precious items etc; the samba-school would be prosperous too. The wealthier the samba school, greater is the investment done in the development and creation of this specific costume in a parade.

Another distinguishing point to observe in Porta-Bandeira (but also the Mestre-Sala); is the fact she does not dance the traditional samba-dance, but perform a smooth ballet-kind of choreography at the parade. As some samba-dance experts' note: "As example, they spin around each other in systematic swirls combined with elegant gestures." During the official parade, the Flag-bearer earns points for her lightness, grace and presumptuous attitude. The Flag-Bearer must carry the banner all through the parade, which in Rio de Janeiro lasts for 90 minutes. Also, the Flag-Bearer kisses the Samba-Schools Flag a few times during a parade, in a sign of honor and pride for being the fundamental representation of the samba-school. All of this ritual though, would be incomplete without the presence of the second element we will describe here: the Mestre-Sala, or Samba-Host.

Both "porta-bandeira" / mestre-sala roles in the carnival culture can really mean the top of a career and life devoted to samba. Most couples you see at Rio de Janeiro and So Paulo carnaval parades have probably been dancing and practicing samba for at least 15-20 years. They usually start practicing for that specific function very young, at the ages of 8-10 years and gradually move up the samba-school hierarchy. Many of them are direct descendants of the true founders of carnaval and samba in Brazil. The couples develop their skills and experience, hoping one day to belong to become the "couple number 1", from one of the 12 most important samba-schools of Rio. The achievement of these positions would naturally bring them fame and glory.

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