We explore the fascinating history behind a curious carnival tradition in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde.
Tens of thousands of people gather in early March every year in the island of Sao Vicente for Carnival. As one of Cape Verde's 10 islands, its major claim to fame is as the home of the legendary singer Cesaria Evora who was known as "The Barefoot Diva" and almost always performed with a bottle of Cognac on stage and a cigarette in her hand. Though it is now the second largest island in the country in terms of population and the unrivaled capital of culture in the country, it was mostly uninhabited until the mid to late 19th century.
One of the most breathtaking sights from the Sao Vicente Carnival is that of The Mandingas. While they are a common sight throughout the festival, the day fully dedicated to them is the final day of Carnival known as The Mandinga Funeral/Carnival Funeral. The carnival funeral is an occasion for people to honor their black ancestors while also mourning the end of the festival. Greased completely in oil and tar, donning sisal skirts and carrying spears, they are a sight to behold as they transform themselves into Mandinga warriors. Everyone follows them from the relatively poor neighborhood of Ribeira Bote as they carry two black coffins with some in the crowd donning similar attire. The crowd chants, sings and dances while the Mandingas call out, "Harrrrrrryaa!" The parade through the streets lasts all day culminating in the sunset burial of the coffins in the ocean. The crowd is worked into a frenzy as the drums beat louder and a sort of orgiastic, other-worldly energy takes hold of the crowd. Some people jump into the ocean following the coffins.