Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

La Comparsa Y El Concurso: Andalusian Carnival On-Stage

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

La Comparsa Y El Concurso: Andalusian Carnival On-Stage

Article excerpt

Wandering groups of costumed minstrels who sing bawdy and biting songs about local events have long been the centerpiece of carnival in Andalucia. These groups are called murgas. In this article I offer an ethnographic description of the murgas of Carnival 1993 in El Puerto de Santa Maria (Andalucia) and argue that the contemporary murga, and hence contemporary carnival itself, has been the result of the intense convergence of festival energies on the indoor contests held in nearby Cadiz during the general prohibition of the festival by Franco. Contemporary carnival exhibits a rich continuum of murga formats, some finding a home in the theater, some in the streets. Nevertheless, the function of the murga remains the enactment of social and political commentary by the lower socioeconomic classes of society. However, the nature of that commentary is affected by the institution of contests in El Puerto and throughout the region. This "regionalization" of carnival may both reflect and contribute to political consciousness of Andalusian identity. [Andalucia, Spain, carnival, ritual, politics]

For weeks before the arrival of Carnival those who had talents of that order spent their evenings composing these songs, and into them put all the scurrilous events of the year. Things which had been kept dark for many months came out in a couplet in Carnival sung hilariously by the masked figures as they danced down the street (Pitt-Rivers 1954: 176-177).

Julian Pitt-River's description of the carnival group called a murga was made from town people's memory. At the time of his fieldwork in Grazalema in the early 1950s, carnival had already been suspended for nearly twenty years. But neither the murga nor the carnivals in which it figured have died out. This article explores the fortunes of the murga in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria and offers a description of its current state in El Puerto's carnival of 1993.

Carnival disappeared in the town of El Puerto, as in Andalucia generally, after 1936 but re-emerged in nearby Cadiz in 1954 as a "festival of folklore" whose major event was an indoor contest of murgas. Like other surrounding municipalities, El Puerto sent its own murgas to the contest.1 As a result, when carnival was re-instituted in El Puerto after Franco's death, the murga had developed into a highlydefined, rule-governed, competition-oriented form which focused more on regional and national than purely local themes. However, the reorganization of El Puerto's own carnival and official contest in 1983 has also witnessed the re-emergence of the original street murga (described by Pitt-Rivers above) common to the carnivals prior to the Civil War. Both of these murga forms, the contest-oriented and the street forms, are the successors to their pre-Civil War forms as the political and social voice of the lower class, though in the case of the contest murgas, that criticism is written for a wider audience than before.

The perspective I take in this article on the murga's development from pre-Civil War years through a period of "incubation" during Franco's government and into the present era of multiple regional contests relies critically on the circumstances of El Puerto. From these data, I argue that the contemporary murga diversifies along a continuum of formal to informal, theatrical to street forms, which function as a range of outlets for the social and political criticism of the less powerful classes of society. This interpretation differs from Mintz's recent ethnography (1997) of carnival in the city of Cadiz in which he reads not a diversification of the murga along a continuum but a bifurcation of the festival into a carnival of the official contest and a People's Carnival in the streets. Carnival in El Puerto does not suggest this duality but rather a plurality of equally vital forms for different niches.

El Puerto de Santa Maria is located along the Guadalete River where it opens onto the Bay of Cadiz. …

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