How roots and feet bring traditions to life
In one of the Göteborg suburbs thrives a network of dancing groups with roots all over the World. Together they form Hammarkullen Carnival — active all year round. This network is unique in the sense that it brings various dance traditions into one single melting pot. The Carnival has become a true live cultural heritage.
It all started in May 1974. The Carnival has performd the same month ever since. And the activities still continue to grow from the same idea: interaction between a variety of cultures. In fact, the concept is an ever ongoing evolving process.
Hammarkullen Carnival was originally born as a life-affirming response to some negative media. The press in the 70s had a tendency to focus on socio-economic problems in this part of Göteborg, highlighting the lack of integration. As a response, a network was formed by ethnic minorities themselves. Soon the initiative was open to all kinds of folk dance groups.
Fruits and Roots
Throughout the World, folk dance usually emerge from centuries-old roots. Steps and costumes refer to a spectrum of human conditions — often commenting on power structures and injustices.
In Hammarkullen such tales inspired and were reflected in both music, dress and choreography. And still do. Moreover, dance groups from different backgrounds make impressions on one another. Simultaneously they also respond to politics — in Sweden and around the World. Thus, the Carnival is transforming itself. Constantly.
”By their fruits you shall know them.” The pride among participants is for everyone to experience. The Carnival is an eye catching statement to disprove many prejudicies about Hammarkullen.
The initial framework was set up by early immigrants from Bolivia. They had the idea of coloring a traditional Carnival with impulses from their own roots. Later — year by year — the parade has gradually been enriched and reinterpreted, by the Bolivians and a growing number of groups from around the World.
In a kind of symbiosis, the suburb of Hammarkullen is now home for a considerable number of people from different continents. Many of them regard the Carnival as a platform for preserving their culture while open for change. By choosing to dance and perform within a growing multi ethnic community, they integrate in their own unique way.
Local and Global
Its hard to imagine the Carnival without its close links to the particular suburb of Hammarkullen in Göteborg. And vice versa. However, the dance groups perform not only where they live, but can also be seen in several different places throughout Sweden. And they take part in Carnivals abroad as well. Likewise, foreign groups visit Hammarkullen and Göteborg. As someone said: ”Hammarkullen Carnival brings hope to the World by branching all kinds of roots and feet.”
Preparations for the main Carnival Parade is a nonstop business throughout the year. Initially relevant traditions have to be identified as many of the dances are part of a storytelling. Dresses, attributes, colors, choreography, music and not to mention the dancers themselves blend into those tales of life — to be acted out in ways each one of us may recognize regardless of where we were born.
Often its up to the elder generation to communicate traditions to the young. And no doubt: ideas taking shape strengthen the participants´ identity as well as preserving a historical heritage that otherwise would risk being forgotten. The Carnival enables a variety of cultural patterns to become visable via a panorama of different interpretations.
In other words: roots feed the feet of those who dance. And at last but not the least — Hammarkullen Carnival comes to life and inspires and brings joy to an enthusiastic audience lining the streets. Every year.
A Melting Pot
So — this web composing the network of Hammarkullen Carnival is formed by women and men from widely differing ethnic backgrounds. It materializes when they meet to dance or when just coming together to eat or socialize. Their roots extend from South America to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia. And Scandinavia.
In an informal way, new and often young participants get introduced to the different groups. New dances are tried out during evenings and weekends, being prepared and rehearsed. Gradually everyone learns steps and dance movements by taking part.
Some groups are organised in the typical Swedish ”Study Circles” — via various voluntary sectors or associations, others just form friendships in a spontaneous way. Those more structured depend on certain planning to obtain public financial support, for instance via Educational Associations — be it for rehearsal facilities or just to have premises for studies.
The unifying Carnival Organization is governed by the Independent Committee which has an employed Manager who in turn directs groups of volunteers. Their responsibility is mainly about practicalities around performances and to make sure that standards regarding safety, evacuation plans and hygiene for dancers and spectators are met.
The Committee is supported by and receives fundings from the Gothenburg European Cultural Board as well as from independent sponsors.
Power and Joy
By late May every year, Hammarkullen Carnival sets an end point and likewise a starting point for its activities. This also includes the program covering venues way beyond Göteborg. Groups from the Carnival Network perform at a number of external events like National Day celebrations in different countries, international festivals and dance competitions.
However — needless to say — the main Carnival in Göteborg is of course the backbone. Each year an enthustiastic crowd of more than one thousand dancers appear in front of more than 70,000 cheering and clapping spectators. And this reoccuring event seems to awaken an insight confirmed by many a visitor: ”There is more unifying us as humans than what keeps us apart — regardless of ethnic background.”
Its worth mentioning again: with roots and feet, the Hammarkullen Carnival has become an ongoing organic and inclusive process where dance groups influence each other in a dialouge with the surrounding environment. Traditions from all over the World mix in new designs when dances from countries with no carnival tradition are included. Attributes are added and taken away as trends change and new generations appear.
Hammarkullen Carnival is in constant transformation. When joining as a dancer or spectator you become part of a Community beyond administrative boundaries. The Carnival is fuelled by the power and joy of dance. This is a jolly good recipe for the future.
Carnivals in short
The concept of Carnivals goes a long way back in time. The history is controversial and often interpreted within frameworks of local traditions. The Russian philosopher Michael Bachtin has a go in his scholary work ”Rabelais and the history of laughter”. He suggests that a Carnival should be regarded as a second life of man and woman kind based upon the concept that laughter — in academic circles — usually is accepted as a starting point for — ”whatever”.
According to Bachtin, the Carnival is a celebration of dualism and contradictions, mixed with feelings essential for recreation. There might be longer interpretations.
A common pattern is that dancing to celebrate special occasions has a history of deep human traditions, regardless of origin. Then, through centuries, all kinds of regional and local influences have been added. Hence, the Carnival constitute both a tangible and an intangible cultural heritage, reflecting the richness and variations of ethnic roots. All so different, yet alike.