Millennia of Mirth

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THE HISTORY – AND PREHISTORY- OF A TRADITION

753 BC   Customary date for the founding of the city of Rome

c. 500 BC  The festival of Saturnalia is first celebrated, according to the Roman historian Livy

c. 2 BC  Modern scholarly consensus for the birth of Jesus

c. 30 AD  According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus fasts in the desert for 40 days and rejects the temptations of Satan. Episode is later seen as the inspiration for Lent.

c.170  In The Golden Ass, the writer Apuleius describes a procession honoring Isis, an Egyptian goddess revered throughout the Mediterranean world. As recounted, the ritual has much in common with later Carnival parades.

312  After a mystical vision on the eve of a major battle, the Roman emperor Constantine embraces Christianity

453  Initial settlement of Venice

1341  First written reference to Karneval in the German city of Cologne

1348  The Black Death – bubonic plague — ravages western Europe

1401  European conquest of the Canary Islands begins

1436  Mask-makers’ guild recognized by the Venetian government

1492  Following the final expulsion of the Moors from Spain, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand commission Christopher Columbus to seek a western sea-route to China

1500  Portuguese settlement of Brazil begins under Pedro Alvares Cabral

1517  Martin Luther publishes his 95 Theses, beginning the Protestant Reformation.

1520  The New World’s first Carnival is observed in the town of La Vega, now part of the Dominican Republic

1531  Tomasso da Vico institutes the “Bacchanal of Gnocchi” as part of Verona’s pre-Lenten celebrations.

1559  Pieter Bruegel the Elder paints The Battle of Carnival and Lent

1592  The island of Trinidad is settled by Spanish colonists

1637  The first commercial opera is staged in Venice. Within 5 years the art form becomes a fixture of il Carnevale.

1699  While exploring the Mississippi delta on behalf of the French crown, Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville observes Mardi Gras some 19 years before the founding of New Orleans

1701  Mobile declared capital of La Louisiane

1725  Birth of Giacomo Casanova

1783  Spanish authorities issue the Cedula de Poblacion, inviting Catholics from other nations to settle in Trinidad. French planters — and their enslaved workers — introduce many Carnival customs that persist to this day.

1789  Beginning of the revolution in France, which will lead to the suppression of many of that country’s Carnival traditions

1797  Trinidad is captured by the British and becomes a crown colony. Within a month, the new administration enacts laws limiting when and where slaves can dance.

Forces under command of Napoleon Bonaparte invade Venice, abolishing the Republic and its ancient Carnival rites

1803  After the Haitian revolution deprives France of its most valuable colony, Napoleon sells the vast Louisiana territory to the United States — ensuring a vibrant Carnival culture in the new nation.

1822  Brazil becomes an independent nation under Emperor Dom Pedro I — formerly the crown prince of Portugal

1834  Slavery is abolished throughout the British Empire. Emancipated Trinidadians begin to foster a more urban celebration.

1849  Trinidad’s colonial authorities issue an ordinance designed to keep Carnival revelry to two days. It doesn’t work.

1857 The Mistick Krewe of Comus forms in New Orleans

1861-1865  The American Civil War leads to the end of slavery and the occupation of southern states by federal troops

1867  The Lost Cause Minstrels, led by confederate veteran Joe Cain, parade in Mobile

1872  The Krewe of Rex forms in New Orleans

1888  Abolition of Slavery in Brazil. Afro-Brazilians from the rural northeast begin migration to Rio de Janeiro and other large cities

1890  Brazil becomes a republic

1909  First Mardi Gras appearance of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club

1910  Inaugural Carnevales in Panama City

c. 1912  Early recordings of calypso standardize the genre, derived from earlier francophone idioms

1914-1918  World War One

1917  “Pelo Telofone”, considered the first samba tune, composed by Donga

1930  Authoritarian president Getulio Vargas takes power in Brazil. Rio’s Carnaval culture adapted in service of Estado Novo ideology

1933  The newly elected Nazi regime allows the continuation of Karneval in Cologne, but prohibits the tradition of ritual cross-dressing

1939  In the wake of the Spanish Civil War, fascist generalissimo Francisco Franco assumes power. Carnival will be officially banned for the duration of his 36 year regime.

1939-1945  World War Two

1940  The Destroyers For Bases Agreement leads to a significant U.S. Military presence in Trinidad

1943  The calypsonian Lord Invader writes “Rum & Coca Cola” in time for that year’s Carnival

1949  Fulfilling what he calls a “life-long ambition”, jazz legend Louis Armstrong is selected as king of Zulu’s parade on Fat Tuesday.

Filhos de Gandhy debut in Salvador da Bahia

1950  Establishment of the T&T Steelband Association (later Pan Trinbago)

1956  Orfeu de Conceicao by Vinicius de Moraes staged at Rio’s Teatro Municipal

1959  Black Orpheus, inspired by de Moraes’ play, wins the Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film

1960  Brazil’s capital relocates from Rio de Janeiro to the planned city of Brasilia

1965  The Dixie Cups have a top 20 hit with “Iko Iko”, based on traditional chants of Mardi Gras Indians

1968  Krewe of Bacchus founded

1974  Cain’s Merry Widows parade for the first time in Mobile

1976  After the death of Francisco Franco, Spaniards freely celebrate Carnival for the first time in decades

1978  Tobago’s Calypso Rose chosen as the first female Calypso Monarch

1979 Spearheading the samba reggae movement, Olodum forms in Salvador.

Venetian Carnival revived after a hiatus of nearly two centuries.

1984 Inaugural parade of samba schools at the Sambadromo Marques de Sapucai

1993  Superblue wins the first International Soca Monarch award with “Bacchanal Time”

2006  Despite the destruction and dislocation caused by Hurricane Katrina six months earlier, Carnival is celebrated around the U.S. gulf coast. Signs in New Orleans proclaim “Nothing stops Mardi Gras. Nothing.