February is Carnaval time, complete with beauty queens, parades and parties – not mention food, food, food. It’s the second largest bash in Latin America, behind only Rio’s monumental shindig. The local have the festivities perfected by now; they’ve been at it for the last hundred years.
This Popular celebration started in 1898. It is considered the third most important carnival in the world. Its official starting point is Olas Altas Beach, that glitters with the hundreds of masks, costumes, paredes, the naval combat, artists performances and the joy and cheerfulness of those who participate.
History of Carnaval
There are local stories and documents describing masquerades and feasts from the time of the earliest setters in the first third of the 19 th century.
Some historians suggest that these tumultuous affairs, originally of indigenous extraction with hints of Spanish influence, took place upon the arrival of the first seagoing vessel to anchor in Mazatlan –in the year 1823- after the Spanish parliament authorized the opening of its port to international commerce.
From that time, each year the Carnaval hymn known as “The Papaquis” (some historians say this is ferived from the Aztec word Papaqui: to feel happy at somebody else’s misfortune, or Papaquiliztli: jubilation or joy caused by somebody else’s misfortune)
With some variations and few facts about its prehispanic origins, Carnaval’s existence was first noted in the 19 th century. An invaluable testimonial was printed in the local newspaper La Lechuza, the first account of a carnival in the city.
On the eve of the French invasion in 1864, Ignacio Ramirez, a local seer, made reference to carnaval in a letter he wrote to Guillermo Prieto: “…and famous is the lavishness with which the fiestas of carnaval are celebrated, even more brilliant than those of Merida, and wich only Guaymas can occasionally match…”
In the last decades of the 19th century, Carnaval had become a fiesta more grotesque than gracious; the women hurled perfumed flour and cascarones (hollow eggshells) filled with glitter; the men threw flour, ashes and dyes. At the same time the dockworkers and the market workers formed sides and engaged in rowdy, rock-throwing street battles.
In the last decade of that century, the major civic festivity was the Fiestas of May, organized by the troops to celebrate the triumph of General Ignacio Zaragoza over the French at Puebla. That celebration was a true carnaval born as an expression of joy over the triumph of the national army.
But it was in 1898 when a committee of civic leaders headed by Dr. Martiniano Carvajal organized a procession of carriages and bicycles “to eradicate the immoral flour and replace
it with the pure and more restrained confetti.”
Legitimized and institutionalized by the powers-that-be, carnaval entered a modernized and milder state. The town accepted the change from flour to confetti and a more refined form of official carnaval disorder.
It is curious but not strange to note the international makeup of Mazatlan society at that time. The first committees of citizens to organize carnaval, working alongside the locals, were an Irishman, a German, a Spaniard and an Italian.
And from those beginnings the carnavals came to pass, the Plazuela Machado was its beating heart, and the pulse of Mazatlan’s people can be taken with a stethoscope of carnavals to this day.
THE FIRST CARNAVALS
Here is how the late Don Miguel Valadéz Lejarza, deacon of city historians, described carnavals as celebrated in Mazatlan: To begin with, it was imperative to wear a costume, mainly that of the Domino. The masked crowds with their good-humored mischief and their euphoria formed a world which for a few days served as enjoyable and healthy therapy through the escape from reality. People of the region and from abroad arrived in the city riding carriages, boats, beasts, intensely seeking this escapist world.
In 1898 and 1899 there were Ugly Kings or Buffoons of Carnaval. In 1900 a beautiful north American named Wilfrida Farmer substituted for the ugly personages and she became the first Queen of Carnaval Mazatlan. Winnie, as she was affectionately known, made a triumphal entrance to the city on a streetcar pulled by mules, accompanied by Teodoro Maldonado, her escorts, ministers of joy and all the diplomatic body of an operetta. On the Tuesday of Carnaval (Mardi Gras) the queen paraded on a beautiful black horse, for she was a magnificent Amazon.
In that year the first grand costume ball was held in the Circulo Benito Juarez, a building facing on the Plazuela Machado. A report on the proceedings appeared in the newspaper El Correo de la Tarde, written by its editor, the poet Don Esteban Flores.
BEER AND INTERRUPTIONS
Besides the “weapons” authorized for carnaval combat (confetti, serpentine, cascarones, etc.), Mazatlecos discovered the virtues of an amber colored liquid that inspired them and took away their heartaches: beer.
On March 14, 1900, local businessmen Melchers & Sucesores, Emilio Philippi, Jorge Claussen, Jacobo Shulhe, German Evers, Alejandro Loubet, Federico Marburg and Carlos Bolken formed a company to install a modern brewery.
The Correo de la Tarde published the details of the inauguration: “diligent servants ran from one side to the other, carrying in crystal glasses the icy, transparent and delicious drink that would be the favorite of Mazatlan and all the towns along the coast.
Meanwhile, the 17th Battalion Band played joyful pieces and helped raise the good humored spirits of those present. Pacifico Beer and carnavals would walk hand in hand ever since.
The institution of carnaval suffered interruptions in the years 1903, 1906, 1907, 1912, 1915 and 1916 for various reasons, among them the revolutionary movement that caused a lack of funds with which to put on the festivities.
But the high spirits of the Mazatlecos and of those invited to the mammoth bash were such that the Revolution and its aftermath were episodes that the carnaval celebrants saw pass by with neither pain nor glory. Not even the siege of 1914, the assassination of Madero and Pino Suarez, the bombardment of the city, the extreme financial straits of the constitutionalists nor the agricultural disputes in Southern Sinaloa, were enough to call it off.
In 1944, however, the carnaval was suspended in mid-revelry, during the early morning hours of Sunday, because of the assassination of the Governor of Sinaloa, Col. Rodolfo Tostado Loaiza, who fell victim to the fiery crusade of militants who disputed the political power in the state.
Between the years 1887 and 1889, public works were undertaken to provide sufficient water for the population. In 1890, don Porfirio Diaz, President of Mexico, was informed of the culmination of these works, and the event was celebrated with drum rolls during the May Fiestas commemorating not only Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza’s victory at Puebla over the most powerful army in the world, but also the victorious defense of the Port of Mazatlan against the same French invaders. This was the most remote antecedent of Carnaval Mazatlan as it has come to be celebrated.
Carnaval and progress have moved on hand in hand. In1864 Ignacio Ramirez, the seer, predicted: “Mazatlan will be magnificent when it is able to provide its citizens with water, when it constructs (an infrastructure) to counteract the movements of the oceanic currents, and when it builds dikes and bridges, when its military installations are completed, when the five or six colonias (neighborhoods) stop competing and unify into a city . . . when smuggling gives way to commerce . . . “
In fact, by the end of the 19th century, Mazatlan was a city with all the legal attributes and also a port. Unlike many other cities in Mexico, it had electric power, piped water and urban public transportation. A few years later, in 1908, it had the Sudpacific railroad.
In its more than 100 years of history, little has changed in the spontaneous celebrations of Carnaval Mazatlan except its themes. It has seen its Romans and its Turks, its vampires of the silent screen and its blissful butterflies -- all lending to carnaval the pagan touches of an authentic festival of the carnal senses.
Now the revelry also has a cultural face, celebrating the joy of life and at the same time the love and passion for the arts: music, dance, literature, poetry and painting.