Every year in the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday, a huge carnival is held. Groups on floats wear colourful costumes and amazing headgear and perform dances such as the semba. At the end of the carnival, prizes are awarded for the best costumes and dancers.
Origins of semba / samba
Brazil’s samba music and dance originated from the semba of the Angolan region. The word ‘semba’ comes from the Quimbundo language and can mean to pray or invoke the spirits of ancestors or local Gods.
You might think we’re talking about Brazil, where street carnivals are famous. But actually, the particular annual carnival we’re describing is held in Luanda, the capital of Angola and is believed to date back to around 1857.Carnivals also take place in other cities of Angola.
Slaves were captured from the Angolan region and taken to Brazil between 1600 to 1888. They took their religion, music and dancing with them. That’s how the semba/samba tradition became part of Brazilian life.
The popular sport of capoeria is thought to have been created by Angolan/African slaves in South America – see the Capoeria from Mozambique.
As in Brazil, carnival time is taken very seriously in Angola. Carnival groups normally include a king and queen, dancers, musicians and sometimes a nurse dressed in white as a symbol of purity. Everyone else is in colourful costumes and headgear, often in the national colours of red, yellow and black.
Children also compete in the annual Luanda event. Schools are especially keen to win the award of best carnival group, because the prize money helps pay for even bigger and better costumes next year!