People perform during the Boi-Bumbá in Parintins. The city’s annual festival has shown how remote communities can thrive despite isolation. Author provided
The “Festival do Boi-Bumbá” changed the fate of Parintins, Brazil. Its success shows the crucial role that cultural festivals play in isolated territories that often lack material infrastructure.
There are no bridges or roads that connect the city-island of Parintins to the rest of the world. This remote city in the Amazon is 369 kilometres away from Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state. Parintins is home to thousands of low-income and Indigenous Brazilians and can only be reached by plane or boat. Its position along the Amazon River makes it dependent on commodities and resources that arrive from far away cities.
Despite these isolated conditions, the community of Parintins has developed a novel strategy that celebrates its folk and Indigenous traditions: the Festival do Boi-Bumbá (meaning “bull dance”). This annual event is the second most important festival in Brazil, after Rio de Janeiro’s globally renowned carnival.
Boi-Bumbá, which takes place at the end of June, fuels the local economy by attracting investment as well as thousands of visitors and artists. Over the years, the festival has become the city’s bridge from the deep Amazon to the outside world, reducing political and physical isolation while reinforcing its social capital and cultural assets.
Festival floats outside the Bumbódromo in Parintins. Author provided (no reuse)
Logistical, political and organizational challenges
Boi-Bumbá has a particular feature: a competition between two traditional teams, Garantido (in red) and Caprichoso (in blue). The teams compete during three nights of artistic performances in the Bumbódromo — a thirty-five-thousand-seat arena built specifically for the festival. The festival transforms the city into a colorful, loud and vibrant party.
During the festival, the city’s population almost doubles, creating major logistical challenges that range from providing water to transportation. Thousands of visitors arrive by boat and plane from Manaus and elsewhere. But Parintins’ hotel network has limited capacity. Tourists and vendors from various social classes mix up, sleeping on hammocks, boats, and residents’ homes that are temporarily transformed into hostels.
The organizational machine to support the event is set in motion months before the festival. An army of artists, sculptors, welders, painters and tailors work day and night inside galpões (large hangars) to create floats up to 25 metres high and to make the costumes that dancers, acrobats, singers, and musicians will wear during the shows.
For low-skilled workers, most often poorly paid owners of informal businesses, the festival remains an indispensable form of economic support. For everyone in the city, being part of the festival is a question of identity and belonging.
More: Parintins: A remote Brazilian city overcoming isolation through a festival