A week ago as I walked besides the still-not-entirely-closed off sewer stream in Rocinha, the favela where I’ve been living in Rio de Janeiro, a truck approached. Bamboo stalks and palm fronds filled the bed of the truck. Several young boys and pre-teens with their faces streaked with black paint jumped off the truck as it slowed to a halt. They tumbled on the ground or ran wildly, crying out. I asked my friend what was happening. He answered simply, “Festa caipira,” “country party.”
That weekend and the next this area of Rocinha, Valão, would throw its Festa Junina, a party which no one seems to be able to explain very well to me. In the rural Northeast of Brazil, this celebration trumps Carnival in popularity. Although called Festas Juninas, June Parties, the parties don’t start happening until June 24th and only happen in a big way in July. São João and São Antonio, whose saints’ days come in late June, are the main saints involved. “Junina” supposedly–I’ve never heard this, only read it–derives from Joãoina, from São João. Children eat candied apples, dress up like country bumpkins, brides and grooms, or aristocrats and dance in quadrilhas to forro and other Brazilian folk music. Pyrotechnic explosions have replaced the “traditional” bonfires which people dance around. During the day, dogs bark and I try not to jump (like a gringa) after every boom of firecrackers.
In many communities in Rio, Festas Juninas have died out. But in Rocinha, home of many Northeastern migrants, each neighborhood seems to throw its own outdoor “June” party Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Last Friday I spent almost eight hours at two different festas juninas in Rocinha. At the second one, boys and girls—whose costumes were specially sponsored and more sparkly than most—danced quadrilhas from about 2 to nearly 4am. Rural roots were reenacted and the past re-sounded in a multiply-displaced, secretly pagan celebration of the summer solstice in the middle of (still tropical) winter.
Originally published in Pirate Anthropologies