Carnival is the festival of imagination, laughter and disinhibition in which the impressive Venetian masks, sumptuous parades of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and rhythms of the sambodromos of Rio de Janeiro monopolize half of the world´s television and newspapers year after year.
However, despite the spectacular famous epicenter of international carnival, there are other places that do not attract attention for their feathers and dances but in which the party has a history and an importance unrivalled. One of those cases is Ourense in the Spanish region of Galicia.
The Galician province has the longest-running carnival in Spain and an amazing variety of festivals across its landscape. Eight of its parties are recognized as a ‘National Tourist Interest’ and three of them, known as Triángulo Máxico, or Magic Triangle, and conformed by Xinzo de Limia, Verin and Laza, have special relevance and greet thousands of people every year.
The Galician carnival is known by the name of ‘entroido’. Its origins can be found in the Celtic world and still retains many of its oldest traditions. Its rhythm is marked by the sound of blows emanating from dried cow bladders, swollen with air and hit to make noise. It is also marked by the sound of the cowbells carried in the costumes of some of the most famous characters.
It is impossible to imagine the entroido without thinking of its gastronomic side. The party marks the apotheosis of the flesh and the great banquet before the start of Lent. As in any good Galician party, the carnival of Ourense is intrinsically linked to an impressive culinary variety, which provides apt refuelling for the many people joining the celebrations. Typical dishes such as lacón con grelos (pork with turnip tops), the cachucha, the cabrito, the bica, the orellas or the filloas followed a good coffee-liqueur or augardente, become the costars of the entroido.
Subversion and the world upside down
Although over the years the entroido has lost some of its religious emphasis, the party is still held each year and attended by just as many, if not more, of its faithful participants. Its meaning of world upside down, marks an opportunity to laugh at social conventions and the sacred, in an atmosphere of party and debauchery, starring by different characters according to each locality.
Thus, vergalleiros in Sarreaus, the felos in Maceda, the charruas in Allariz, the boteiros and foliones in Viana do Bolo or fuliones in Manzaneda, along with the famous peliqueiros at Laza, cigarróns at Verín or pantallas at Xinzo are some of the characters that preside over the different parties in each locality of Ourense. The various masks and costumes are different in each part of the province and become the symbols of each of these particular carnivals.
The Magic Triangle
Despite the festive atmosphere and the apparent chaos, carnival is incredibly important for those born in these places in the province of Ourense. For them, wearing the costumes of pantallas, peliqueiros or cigarrons is a tradition; something that is in their blood and is transmitted from generation to generation, taught in families and is inherited.
The masks, made in carved wood and hand painted in many cases, are usually over a century old and retain enormous value.
It is in the famous Magic Triangle formed by Laza, Verin and Xinzo de Limia where the entroido, more than a celebration, is a feeling that unites thousands of people willing to enjoy a unique show, the oldest carnivals in Spain.
Xinzo de Limia holds the longest carnival, with festivities beginning three weeks before Carnival Sunday and lasting until the Piñata Sunday that marks its end.
In this locality the pantallas are the stars of the party. The characters represent the religious, judicial and social powers and are responsible for ensuring that no one is allowed to stroll undisguised. Their law is absolute; anyone who dares to walk without costume is marched to the nearest pub and ordered to buy wine for all the pantallas. In this way, the sound of their dried bladders becomes a warning for attendees not wearing a costume, who flee to avoid being punished.
In another corner of the triangle is Verin, where the whips of their cigarrons greet or punish anyone who gets in his way. The costumes of these characters with their arched eyebrows and rosy cheeks weighs up to 15 kilos, due to the cowbells being carried around their waists. The sound of these bells and the cynical and toothed smile of their mask dominate the entroido of the town.
The last point of the Magic Triangle is in Laza, where is located one of the most ancient entroido of Galicia. Its peliqueiros are the protagonists. Their costumes are very similar to the cigarrons, and they are in charge of leading the party from its appearance after the mass of Entroido Sunday.
This celebration has preserved better than any other party ancestral rites as ‘a saída da morena’, represented by a villager who wears a bull's head made from wood and a blanket. He spends his time lifting the skirts of women while his entourage throws raging ants to the crowds.
Ourense holds the entroido from year to year with great aplomb and affection, and its importance and tradition meant that the province was one of the few places in Spain that resisted its specific prohibition during the Spanish Civil War. In 1937 the Spanish Official Gazette vetoed carnival in Spain, claiming that thought must have its ‘heart beside those who suffer the rigors of war.’ Once the conflict ended, the ban was maintained and the persecution of the party continued for most of the Franco dictatorship.
It is perhaps for this reason some of the infinite varieties of ancestral entroido of Ourense were lost. However, many places throughout the province are currently working on recovering the most traditional aspects of their celebrations. In the others, the entroido's flame continues to burn as vibrant and alive as ever.