||In the Bumba-Meu-Boi festival the sacred and the profane come together in a tradition that honours Saint John, the patron of cattle herders in Brazil. The preparations for the festival begin on Easter Saturday and go on until Saint Anthony’s day. On June 23rd the baptism of the oxen takes place when they cease to be pagans and perform to the community until the end of the month.
Between July and November the death of the oxen takes place. The event always features the same characters, who in the past used to be played only by men. Each ox has a different accent (rhythm), played by different regional instruments. The characters are happy and extrovert: there’s the oxen, the herdsmen, Indians and clowns that represent Father Francisco, Mother Catirina and Cazumba.
The parades also feature other animals and costumes, full of sparkle. The embroideries on the oxen and the costumes are full of very rich detail and today the festival is transmitted on TV with many special effects and choreographies that could be part of the luxurious Rio de Janeiro carnival.
“That’s not Bumba-meu-Boi”, says a stern voice. Mrs. Terezinha Jansen is owner of one of the parade groups, known as Faith in God Ox. Descendent of Ana Jansen an important character in Maranhão’s history, Mrs. Terezinha is true to local traditions and fully dedicated to the festival. “When you own an ox that takes part in the festival, it is like owning a house. You have to look after everything. Make sure there’s always enough material for costumes, musical instruments, food, decorations, and so on.”
The Faith in God Ox is one of many groups that take part in the festival. It was founded in 1930 by Laurentino, who was born in the neighbourhood of Fé em Deus (Faith in God). He started taking part in the local parties at an early age, and at 15 embroidered his first piece. “The embroideries for the oxen are a special art. Few people have the talent for it.” Mrs. Terezinha was named godmother of the Faith in God Ox. “In 1977, Laurentino’s family asked me to look after the group and the ox. He asked my mother, who wasn’t against it. I thought it was a man’s thing, but I was not going to argue with my mother. So I became the owner of the Faith in the God Ox.”
The Bumba-meu-Boi is not just a folkloric display. It’s a very strong tradition, taken very seriously by the locals. When the parties in June come to an end, Mrs. Terezinha gives her helpers 15 days off and then immediately starts planning and working on the costumes for the following year.
“With the money from performing we can pay for the expenses, but often we need more money. We also take part in another festival, Tambor-de-Crioula, on June 23rd. But apart from that it’s just the Ox. Everyone who takes part works hard. Many are farmers. We try to encourage young people to take part. They start early and at 12 they can carry the Ox. It’s important they don’t stay on the streets. Here, with the Faith in God, they find the profane tradition and religion in a festival like no other.”