Before we even get into the Barranquilla Carnival, let’s take a moment for some basic etymology. Did you know that the word “carnival” comes from the colloquial Latin phrase carne levare, which is likely a reference to not eating meat and means “to abandon the flesh”? That’s certainly something everyone living in Europe would like to do in the winter.
Fortunately, February is a party month in many cities. With their floats, masks and long hours of partying, the carnivals of Patras, Nice, Cologne, Venice, Cádiz or Tenerife — just to name a few — remind us that it’s worth celebrating and that, unlike in Game of Thrones, there is no winter that lasts 100 years, nor a body that can easily withstand it.
To the envy of many on the other side of the Atlantic, from Barbados to Rio de Janeiro, the streets are filled with colors, sequins, feathers, flour and music, with traditional celebrations that not only encourage artistic expression but are directly connected to the identity and ethnic, cultural, and linguistic development of several generations throughout the Americas.
In this article I present the most representative phrases from the second most famous carnival in Latin America, declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO: the Barranquilla Carnival.
The Barranquilla Carnival In Costeñol
The differences in the Spanish spoken in the 20 countries where it’s the official language are not a secret, but if you’re thinking of traveling to Barranquilla for the carnival, you’ll arrive at the Caribbean coast and you’ll have to adapt your ears to expressions such as: ¡Errrda!, Eche no’joda, Oye papi or N’hombe nada. Costeñol is the adjective given to the Spanish on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Here are the most useful words and phrases to help you blend in with the other barranquilleros during the carnival.
Se armó cipote bololó
If you’ve been to Argentina or know the word quilombo, then you already know what boló means. It’s a word used to describe situations where things get out of control. And cipote is an adjective for something enormous, giant. So, for example, if a fight breaks out, you’ll hear someone saying Se armó cipote bololó.
Cumbiamba, champeta, mapalé and salsa…
What would a carnival be without music? My favorite genre is, without a doubt, mapalé. Probably because of the childhood memories it brings back, because of its African roots, and because of the way my skin tingles when the drums resonate. If you go to the carnival someday, step out of your comfort zone and dance a little more than you’re used to.
Ajá, ¡Errda! and ¡Eche no’joda!
Costeñol, that is, Spanish from the coast of Colombia, uses these expressions for almost everything: joy, disappointment, astonishment, disbelief and affirmation. Just sprinkle them into your prayers, and you’ll be like someone in the carnival procession mourning the death of Joselito.
It’s great to get things thrown in your face at a street party, isn’t it? From snowballs that hit your face and burn your skin, to food (e.g. tomatoes) and water. The projectile of choice at the Barranquilla Carnival is Maizena, or Maicena. It’s starch or corn starch, and when it’s mixed with water and gets on your hair, it’s not at all fun to remove.
This expression isn’t only for the carnival. It means to make jokes, make fun of someone or waste time. Mamar gallo is the characteristic attitude of the Marimondá:
This is perhaps one of the most popular costumes of the Barranquilla Carnival, and I would even say that it’s the creole equivalent of the jester at the Venice Carnival. It’s a combination of an ape and an elephant and represents the playful (read above) mamagallista spirit of carnival.
Recocha and vacilón
The vacilón is the funny person who always has a witty comment to make everyone laugh. The recocha are the funny, chaotic moments, where everyone laughs and makes jokes, and the recochero is “the soul of the party.”
Wuuueepa and wepajé
These are two of the most popular words at the carnival. Everyone knows them, from children to the elderly, and it’s the typical expression of joy for anyone having a good time dancing. Every time I hear the word wueeepa, I imagine making a little move to the rhythm of a good cumbia.
This article was originally published on the Spanish edition of Babbel Magazine.