Colombianos lead the way of what it means to truly integrate and celebrate unity in cultural differences with the “Blacks and Whites Parade.” The parade is also known as the “Carnaval de Negros y Blancos.”
This six day long event is celebrated in the city of Pasto, Colombia from January 2nd to the 7th.
Raizes del Carnival
Origins of the “Blacks and Whites Parade” trace back to two historical occurrences. The first one is with indigenous ties and the next is with African cultural influences.
The indigenous ties of the parade come from both Andean and Hispanic traditions of giving thanks for successful harvests. This event is a commemoration of the day that African slaves who were brought to Colombia were granted a free day.
Before the free day, riots were happening. One particular rebellion in 1607 caused authorities from a town in Antioquia to panic. In response, the king of Spain granted their request for one day where all the slaves would be completely free. The African population celebrated with rhythmic music and smearing coal onto the white walls in the city.
The very same celebration was brought to Pasto by the Ayerbe family in 1854 and has been developing since then.
Parade Schedule and Activities
Even before the official festivities begin, there are minor parades that occur throughout the city. The 28th and 31st of December are almost designated as a pre-game celebration for the full parade. The 28th of December is called “The Water Game” day while the 31st is the “Desfile del Año Viejos” Day.
This year’s schedule of events can be found on the official Carnaval de Negros y Blancos website. Each day has a different purpose and line of events. The carnival is filled with paintings and floats with Ephemeral Art, cultural costumes, and music rooted in African culture.
The two most important days to note are January 5th and 6th. The 5th is known as “Black Day,” where people of all ethnicities paint each other black. The 6th, known as “White Day,” is where people of all ethnicities paint and throw white powder onto one another.
Black-facing is super frowned upon in the United States and white-facing just seems unheard of. However, in Colombia and the historical context, the symbolism is wildly different in purpose and actually woke. The purpose of the two days, in fact of the entire Carnaval, is to express a mutual desire for a future of tolerance and respect. This alongside the other activities of the carnival is meant to manifest dialogue and to make physical differences unapparent.
The Parade was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ie. UNESCO). UNESCO proclaimed on September 30, 2009 that the carnival was a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” This is the ultimate global approval that a country can receive for this type of activity.