The Amazon River town of Parintins is famous for its annual Boi Bumba festival. But we found its street art more interesting.
Here is what Parintins looks like from the river:
One of the excursion options offered by the cruise line was a performance similar to what happens each year in June for the big festival. We weren’t that interested in going to a tourist show. But it wasn’t clear what else there was to experience in Parintins. We decided to visit the town on our own.
The town has about 100,000 people. Near the river, its streets are modest, filled with motor bikes.
We thought we’d use the opportunity of being in a small city to go to an ATM to get some Brazilian cash. On the main street, we found a bank with a vestibule with eight ATMs. People were lined up before all of them. We were there on a Friday, so perhaps it was a pay day. There was no problem finding an English screen and getting some cash. Imagine: You can stop in the middle of the Amazon and get money from an ATM.
Mike spotted some pedicabs, powered by young men. We watched some of them head off into the town, carrying old cruise travelers just like us. Looked like a good way to explore Parintins.
Gently, the pedicab driver took us along a shopping street, to the local cathedral, to the giant arena for the Boi Bumba festival, to a silent Boi Bumba training stage, and to a city park with the most remarkable series of relief art panels.
The relatively new cathedral and the giant arena speak of how the Boi Bumba festival has brought prosperity to this little city along the Amazon. We learned that the festival started in 1965. It has grown to be the largest city festival, competition and party in Brazil other than Rio’s Carnival. Everyone in Parintins belongs to one of two teams, Garantido and Caprichoso. As a child, you are assigned to one team or the other. Families can have members on each team. During the festival, the teams compete to retell the local legend of a resurrected ox with the most spectacle. This is the local legend:
Catarina, a young pregnant newlywed, is craving ox tongue. She begs her husband Francisco to bring her the tongue of his bosses’ prize oxen bull. Since Francisco cannot resist his beautiful wife’s desires, he kills the bull and gives her the tongue. His boss is furious and vows to punish the person who slay his favorite prize ox. A worried Francisco consults with a priest and a shaman and begs them to bring the ox back to life. After much praying and dancing, the priest and the shaman succeed, and everyone lives happily ever after.
We’ve read that over half of the town’s annual revenue comes from the three-day festival. The arena for the main performances is visible from the river. It is an outsized monument in this modest town.
The cathedral, while large, is very simple. The ceiling of the nave is exposed metal trusses. To us, this expresses the rural remote situation of this river town, and the opportunities that the famous festival has provided.
We stopped at the training center for the Caprichoso team. Off-season, the stage and surrounding building sat silent. Only two open chambers, full of trophies and costumes, hinted at the festival’s extravagances.
Outside the main arena, we found a series of exuberant relief panels. After our visit to Miami’s Wynwood Walls, we seem to discover brilliant street art wherever we go.
After the visits to the cathedral, arena and training center, our pedicab driver stopped in front of an unassuming town park. In the middle of the park was a curving wall with more art panels. Once we reached the wall, and followed it through its circuit, we realized that the panels related the history of Parintins, from ancient, through the arrival of Europeans, to modern Brazil and the city today.
Little plaques noted the name of each artist and sponsorship.
We recognized a few stories: Arrival of the Westerners, slavery, and the rise of sugar cane, as well as the Boi Bomba festival, the new cathedral, and modern Parintins. We really enjoyed “reading” the long history of this place. What a great way to celebrate the place you and your family live, and share your heritage with visitors from around the world.