Talc and grease paint at the ready. The Carnaval de Blancos y Negros gets messy in Pasto.
The festivities in San Juan de Pasto, capital of the Nariño department in southwest Colombia, traditionally take place on January 5 and 6, but this year organizers got things going early with an end of year cycle tour, the election of the Queen of the Carnaval, a massive water fight, and a New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
After a short break to sleep off the New Year’s hangover, celebrations start again with the Carnavalito on January 3, a parade of the little ‘uns with floats and costumes. The Familia Castañeda parade follows on January 4, with people dressed as if from times of yore. This is also the day when the fun starts to get dirty.
Carnaval procession route
January 5 is Dia del los Negros, or Day of the Blacks, when clothes and face get covered in anything black. The following day is the Dia de los Blancos when everyone and everything takes on a paler hue with the help of chalk, flour, shaving cream and the like.
This is also the day of the big parade where giant, colorful figurines bring to life characters from popular legends, personalities from everyday life, or simply the creative imaginations of the artists who construct them.
The Latin American Concert of Andean Music is one of the main musical events, the revelry aided by the music of flutes, clarinets, drums and marimbas, a type of xylophone.
The carnaval has its origins in the cultural traditions of the rural workers of Pasto, and has come to incorporate elements of Spanish and African celebrations. The story goes that celebrations were initially to worship the moon god who was responsible for protecting the harvest
As time went by, the day for praising the moon god was absorbed into celebrations of the Epiphany, or Los Reyes Magos, on January 5. On this day, slave owners of the region let their charges have the day off, with the owners poking fun at themselves by painting their faces blacks. The slaves traditionally painted their own faces white the following day.
Celebrations take place on Avendia Boyaca, Plaza del Carnaval and Avenida Julian Bucheli. The Nariño tourism board informed Colombia Reports that the hotels in the area are full to the brim.
The celebration was declared a National Cultural Heritage in 2002, and in 2009 joined the UNESCO list of Immaterial Cultural Heritage of Humanity.