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Brazilian Carnival vs. Conservative Adventism

In February, 2024, Brazilian Adventists did what they usually do every February: escaping the “end of the world.” They do this by avoiding the Brazilian Carnival and remove any connection to the festivities. Ever since the festival arrived in Brazil, Adventism placed Carnival on the black list of entertainment, along with cinema and theater. This is not exclusive to Brazil, and the ban against the festivity represents a historic obstacle to conversion in other Latin American countries such as Mexico and Bolivia. To avoid being tainted by “pleasures of the flesh,” Adventist culture and other denominations developed a form of asceticism. Leaders encourage church members to attend parallel programs of spiritual retreat outside of big cities where the apocalypse is experienced in a more contemplative, passive way.

But in Brazil the subject of the apocalypse and the cosmic struggle between good and evil flooded media outlets during Carnival, while Adventists retreated. Amidst the heat of festivities in Salvador, Bahia, two female pop singers, Ivete Sangalo and “Baby do Brasil,” discussed the apocalyptic character of the event, each evoking the name of God and defending their stances on the end of the world. After Baby suddenly prophesied in the middle of the show that the rapture would happen in five or ten years, a confused Sangalo tried to recover momentum by claiming that she wouldn’t let it happen and would “bang” the apocalypse.

The episode clearly demonstrated that evangelicals in Brazil follow a more radical path than Adventists. Instead of retreating to the countryside, they enter spaces of political influence and “taint” themselves with profanity in order to preach the end of times and fulfill their prophecies.

Additionally, the traditional samba school Vai-Vai paraded against the 1992 Carandiru massacre, when 111 prisoners were murdered by police officers. None of the 74 policemen involved were arrested, 58 were promoted and 10 retired with expensive pensions. At that parade, the end of the world was interpreted in a more political way: the police officers were represented as demons, and the struggle between good and evil was incarnated in the crimes committed by the police against the prisoners, which moved the country and upset police authorities.

Despite the apocalyptic taxation of the Carnival by evangelicals, the “end of the world” wasn’t the initial reason for Adventists to avoid the event. The oldest mention of the festivities in the Revista Adventista was in 1919, referring to Peruvian Carnival rituals. The article reflected the prejudice of Adventist missionaries working with indigenous communities. They were often described as irrational and violent savages; both their daily habits and religious festivities were subject to “redemption” so they could reach a degree of civility that was acceptable to European culture. Thus Carnival was a too “primitive” event for the Protestant rationality, something that was celebrated by “ugly peoples.”

Consequently, the major Adventist objection against Carnival for a long time was restricted to “sorcerous chants” such as dance and music connected to the Carnival—usually followed by drums and references to African religions. It was a colonizing, racist view, which to this day demonizes rhythms associated with Black culture, such as samba, jazz and rock. This ideology was promoted by a known hymnologist in the Brazilian Church, Dario Pires de Araújo, who taught seminars on the perspective that “divine music” was brought to Brazil by German missionaries. According to the hymnologist, that music style reflected God’s ideals, but “a problem began to arise when Brazilians began converting.”

By avoiding Carnival and the “end of the world,” Brazilian Adventists alienate themselves from their own cultural identity. The Adventist population in Brazil is mostly composed of Black working-class women. Such an attitude not only reinforces racist sentiments that demonize African culture, but alienates the Adventist Church from its current reality, making the association of Adventism and popular culture an undesirable mix in order to maintain a supposed liturgical purity.

Image credit: Adventist Media Exchange

André Kanasiro

About the author

André Kanasiro is editor-in-chief and creator of Zelota magazine, where he writes on the Bible, politics and Adventism. He is a biologist and has a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from the University of São Paulo. More from André Kanasiro.
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