The first carnival parade in Puerto de la Cruz

Six magnificent chariots, invented with exquisite imagination, groups
playing percussion instruments and singing Canary Island folk songs, and ladies
and gentlemen dressed like seventeenth century aristocrats mounted on a brigade
of horses sailed passively along the dusty lanes and into the cobbled streets
of the old port. It was the beginnings of what was to become a tradition and it
happened just over a century ago.
It was February 1910 and almost every inhabitant in the busy trading
port watched in amazement and delight as a brilliant spectacle of two thousand
participants from all over the Orotava valley took part in what was the first
ever carnival parade to be held in Puerto de la Cruz. It was the birth of what
has become a famous, colourful, noisy, joyous, popular, carnival festival,
blemished perhaps these days by the inevitable crudity which seems to be
demanded by modern times.
Most of those who led the parade were members of wealthy families in the
Orotava Valley and a good number were from the British and other foreign
communities. The initiative came from the recently constituted Tourism
Committee and the owner of a local newspaper called Arautápala, a
well-travelled gentleman who had witnessed a similar event at Nice on the
French Riviera.
The six chariots, one of which was designed by local artist and
photographer, Marcos Baeza, comprised one of Columbus’s ships, a Viking
longboat manned by members of the British community, a Zeppelin airship with an
elegant crew of German residents, a Swiss country scene, a local tray of fruit
and vegetables and another one depicting a colourful basket of local flowers.
The chariots representing ships almost certainly stemmed from the
original Roman carnivals. After all, whether modern carnival revellers wish to
believe it or not, the word carnival owes its origins to the
satirical parades in ancient Rome when Bacchus, the God of Wine, permitted
disguises to hide immoral public exhibition and when the God’s personal priest
led the parade on a ship mounted upon wheels. His vessel was called the carrus
, the naval chariot, from which the word “carnaval” derives. Of
course the devotion of man to wear disguises possibly originates in ancient
Egypt, Greece or even Japan. But it was the flamboyant and inventive Venetian
Italians who introduced masks to hide faces, not just as a source of amusement
but also to avoid recognition and punishment whilst committing a vengeful
crime, participating in a conspiracy or being carnally unfaithful.  
The parade in 1910 took the British Vikings, the German Zeppelin, the
Spanish caravel and the rest of the
magnificent procession along the Calle Valois, up the hill as far as the magnificent
Taoro Hotel and then down again to the main square in the heart of the town. Not
one of these foreign residents and friends could possibly have imagined that in
just four year they would be battling against one another from other kinds of
grey, armoured vessels in bloody war. Yet it was there at the square where a
great battle took place as participants and onlookers had the most tremendous
fun bombing each other with flowers and petals. This too became a tradition.
But the party didn’t end there. Although the Spanish Civil War and its hungry
aftermath dampened such celebrations, and carnivals were virtually forbidden during
the earlier years of the Franco dictatorship, the splendid ball at the Taoro
Hotel on the eve of the carnival parade became a yearly event. This dance
actually took over from private functions because prior to that first carnival
parade of 1910 wealthy families in Tenerife, as in Spain and France, had
traditionally celebrated fancy dress dances in their own grand houses. It was
only after the Orotava Valley began to attract the first foreign and especially
British travellers towards the end of the 19th century that
businessmen realised that an annual public carnival would help bring a new form
of lucrative tourism to Puerto de la Cruz. Indeed it did and if we can learn
from history and the elegance of old ways perhaps Puerto’s carnival could once
more help the town revive its once booming upmarket tourism industry.
By John Reid Young, author of “The Skipping Verger and Other Tales”