Belém is the venue for the XII Festival Internacional da Mascara Iberica, (13th International Iberian Mask Festival). Masks are the central theme of the festival, costumes, handicrafts, food, and wine, from Spanish and Portuguese regions also feature, as well as musical performances. The highlight of the four day festival is the Iberian Mask Parade, this year the Spanish and Portuguese groups have been joined by a group from Brazil and a group from Ireland. A total of thirty groups participate in the parade, with hundreds of people showcasing some of Iberia’s ancient pagan traditions. A lot of the groups did performances during the parade. The information provided about the groups is from the official festival programme.
The Gigantones e Cabeçudos de Viana do Castelo are about four meters tall, come in pairs and reflect social class distinctions, the doctor and the lady represent the bourgeoisie and the other pair the ‘common people’. The figures covered in moss are Los Hombres De Musgo De Béjar, and legend has it that on the eve of the Festival of St Marina, Christian soldiers covered themselves in moss by the walls surrounding the city in order to surprise their Moorish enemies the next morning.
The Carnaval Hurdano masks, dances and costumes are planned in great detail, presenting a duality between humans and animals, alluding to a prehistoric period. The Boi Tinga are from Brazil, and include a fancy dress bull, ‘bigheads’, and cowboys.
In January, the tiny village of Piornal in Spain has a surplus of turnips. Thousands of turnips are thrown at the masked figures, Jarramplas, covered in ribbons, who represent cattle thieves.
Merdeiros de Vigo, the Merdeiro is a character from the traditional Vigo carnival in Spain, dating back to the 1920s, and represents the rivalry which exists between sailors and farm labours. The characters, run, shout and ‘hit’ anyone who crosses their path.
The Máscaros de Vila Boa roam the streets of the village during carnival, wearing masks made of tinplate or hand craved from chestnut and painted in red and black, they go on the prowl for smoked sausages.
Wearing dresses and masks decorated with animal skin and horns, the Caretos da Lagoa, are a hybrid of humans and animal who use their masks or ‘campina’ to obtain supernatural powers so they can ward off negative forces.
Thunderous beats of drums accompany many of the parading groups. The Las Pantallas De Xinzo De Limia are from Spain and are named after their colourful masks. The Cardadores de Vale de Ílhavo, are Portuguese and venture onto the streets to spread fear among locals during carnival. The Bonitas De Sande, again get their name from their costumes, which are inspired by items bought back from the Philippines war.