Lady in bright carnival costume
Cape Verde,  Culture & tradition,  Lens-Artists,  Street photography

Carnival parade in Praia, Cape Verde

There’s nothing like a carnival parade to stir up the emotions. There’s the anticipation among the spectators as they wait for the parade to arrive – can we see it in the distance yet? The excitement when finally it arrives, with all the colour and spectacle. The joy on the faces of the participants in the parade as they see the reactions. And the slight feeling of let-down when it has passed, seemingly so quickly after the long wait.

In setting this week’s Lens-Artist challenge, with the theme of Emotions, Patti reminds us of a quote from great photographer Edward Steichen: ‘Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face’. Anywhere that people gather to celebrate together is a rich source of such images.

Carnival in Praia

A couple of years ago, by chance we found ourselves in Praia, the small capital of Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands. on Mardi Gras. While carnival isn’t so much of a big deal on Santiago as it is on some of the other islands, notably Sao Vicente, it is certainly celebrated. This is mainly a local affair, not staged for tourists; the focus is a parade which takes place along Avenida Cidade Lisboa, the main road just north of the old centre. We weren’t sure about the start time (everyone we asked gave a different answer!) But by three o’clock we could hear music from our hotel room, so we set out to investigate.


Arriving at the side of the route we found people just starting to gather. There was music blaring and lots of food stalls, but no parade as yet. We found a good position beside the road to wait. After a while, peering through the growing crowds, we could just make out dancers congregating at the far end although it was clearly going to be some time before they set off. I amused myself meanwhile taking photos of some of the many children who had come along in fancy dress to watch the parade. Some of the kids looked excited, but many were bored by the long wait.

Two little girls leaning on a railing
Waiting … will they ever come?

The prelude

Eventually the dancers came towards us, but this was clearly just the prelude; it consisted of several groups each representing one of the occupations of Praia – chefs, musicians and others we were unsure of. They seemed proud to be showing off their occupations to the crowd.

After an interval another group of dancers appeared, accompanied by drummers. These seemed to represent the island’s history and African heritage. We found it odd to see black people ‘blackened up’ like this. And we couldn’t fathom at all the reason for the blue paint sported by others. But it was really colourful and lively, although a very tall male dancer with a long stick rather frightened the little girl next to me. I found out later that these characters probably symbolise the people’s fight against slavery, as similar figures appear in carnivals elsewhere. Those in blue represent devils, mock-beating the others with sticks in what is thought to be a recreation of ‘work-them-till-they-die’ slavery. Maybe the scared little girl understood more than I realised at the time?

The floats

There was another pause and then we saw some floats approaching. There were just two of them, but they looked super. The first of them was preceded by lively dancers all dressed in orange. It was decorated to look like three volcanoes, with those on it dressed in flame colours. The lady who stood at the top looked proud and happy to be there.

The second float was all in blue and silver, crowned with stars and with dancers again dressed in coordinating colours. It was preceded by a group of young girls dancing, who took their responsibilities rather seriously.

Young girls in bright carnival costumes
Young girl in bright carnival costume
A serious responsibility

Then there seemed to be another large gap before anything else would come along. We decided to give up our front row positions to some of the later arrivals as we surely had enough photos by now! We strolled back through the crowds, stopping to take a final few photos as we caught up again with the floats which had parked up at the end of the avenue, their role in the carnival parade over for this year at least.

For the locals this had been an afternoon of heightened emotions; for us it had been a welcome opportunity to share this experience with them, as well as a wonderful source of colourful photos.

I travelled to Cape Verde in 2018


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