On Postcolonial Happiness

Authored by: Ananya Jahanara Kabir

The Postcolonial World

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138778078
eBook ISBN: 9781315297699
Adobe ISBN: 9781315297682


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On the 2nd of March 2014 I was part of an extraordinary spectacle, popularly described as “the greatest show on earth”: the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, specifically, the competition in which schools of samba parade in front of a nearly 100,000 strong audience in a structure called the sambódromo. It was Sunday, the first of the two main days of the parades, reserved for Rio’s best samba schools (their ranking is determined through a combination of seniority and selection rounds). A Brazilian friend gifted me her entry ticket so that I, and an accompanying Spanish friend, could attend along with two friends of hers (tickets are limited and we had only four tickets amongst the five of us). This act of double altruism (a free ticket and the sacrifice of a place) was fuelled by my friend’s conviction that an opportunity to enter the sambódromo was so special that it had to be granted to the visiting foreigner. An element of national pride was definitely involved: to cede one’s place thus was to enable the visitor to understand Brazil in all its spontaneity, its generosity, and its capacity to generate happiness or felicidade. Closely linked to felicidade is joy or alegria – a feeling experienced in and through the body. During Carnival, alegria connects all those who give themselves up to a week of spontaneous and organized partying. The palpable force of alegria peaks during the parades in the sambódromo. As expressed in one of the samba songs I heard chanted that night, “sou brasileiro, vou festejar / Meu palco é a rua e a luz, o luar” (I am Brazilian, I will party / My stage is the street and the light, the moonlight). To party in this fashion, drawing on a mythical conjunction of urban planning (rua, “street”) and natural bounty (luar, “moonlight”), is the essence of being Brazilian. 1

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