Haitian Rara and Cuban Congas and Comparsas

Held during Lent and culminating during Holy Week, Haitian Rara is a series of multifaceted celebratory events that feature mobile musical bands, religious rituals, exuberant dancing and songs that range in subject from satire to obscenity, and public displays of cooperation and conflict. (Largey) McAlister points out that “while the ‘tone,’ or ‘ambiance’ of Rara parading may seem secular, the festival should more properly be understood as a synthesis of carnival behavior and religious practice.

Cuban Comparsas

During colonial Cuban history, the comparsas were known as “the black people’s carnival.” Originally, the Latin Catholic feast of Epiphany was the only day when the members of the cabildos de nacion were permitted to parade through the city in a march to the governor’s residence to pay homage to the colonial authorities. This exotic pageantry was a combination of costumes, songs, dances, and instruments from both traditional and ritualized traditions that, to an outside observer, appeared as a carnival extravaganza. In reality, under the conditions imposed upon them, the slaves had reconstituted, on Cuban soil, the ancestral rites of purification of expulsion of evil spirits. (Ortiz) In 1884 these carnival processions were abandoned. After the abolition of slavery, and then under the Republic of Cuban, the tradition of street processions was revived in the form of carnival camparsas.

Comparsas traditions varied in Havanna and in the eastern region. Many Cubans frequently state that the only real carnivals are those of the eastern Oriente region, especially those of Santiago de Cuba.