The festival of Junina is held during the month of June. It was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese during the colonial period, stemming from the midsummer festivals celebrated all over Europe that began as pagan fire festivals before being adopted and incorporated into Christianity. The various elements of the festival mixed with the traditions and cultures of the native indian, Afro Brazilian and European immigrants (amongst others), to produce a uniquely Brazilian mix that varies from region to region in Brazil, reflecting the ancestry of the local population.
The festival Junina is a celebration for St João, one of three saints who are celebrated this month (the others being St Pedro and St Antonio). In the North East it is also a time for offering thanks for the rains, which in an area plagued by drought, are desperately important for the success of the regions agriculture. The Junina festival is without doubt most celebrated in the north east of Brazil and as that is the area we live in, it is the form I am most familiar with.
Junina is a colourful festival, with bonfires and firecrackers, dancing and vast quantities of food. As the festival comes at the time of the corn harvest, corn is one of the main ingredients of many of the dishes. One speciality known as canjica is an incredibly sweet thick type of corn porridge sweetened with condensed milk and coconut along with masses of cane sugar known as rapadurra (hapadurra), I have to admit to not liking sweet dishes, for me this was one of the most overly sweet things I have ever tried, enough to give you diabetes overnight I should think, but my taste is obviously not shared by the majority of North Easterners for whom this dish is a definite favourite. Peanuts are another widely used ingredient at this time of year, in yet more very sweet dishes.
One of the main elements of the festival Junina is the dancing of the quadrilhas which again are said to have been brought to Brazil by European immigrants, possibly from France. The dancers wear brightly coloured costumes, the rustic look with checked fabrics and straw hats is popular while other groups have elegant costumes, the couples being dressed in matching colours with a touch of the baroque harlequin. Usually within each group of dancers will be a couple who are the King and Queen of the quadrilha and another couple as the Bride and Groom, in some groups there will also be some dancers known as the amanadores, who’s job it is to keep everybody moving and remind them of what they should be doing. The dances vary from simple ones of call and response, to complicated patterns created as the dancers weave in and out and often continue for extended periods, which in the heat must be a real test of endurance, maybe that’s why they have all that energy loaded food!
©Claire Pattison Valente 2011