Maracatu is the set of African performance-musical traditions with Native American and European elements, which emerged during the period of slavery in Pernambuco, with an emphasis on Recife, Olinda, Igarassu and the Zona da Mata.
The nação or baque virado versions of maracatu emerged from the coronations and acts of the King of the Congo, as a combination of cultural practices belonging to Portuguese colonizers and those belonging to Africans from the Bantu region throughout the period in which slavery existed. The queens and kings of the Congo were political leaders, intermediaries between the colonial power and enslaved Africans, who had a strong connection with the Xangô de Pernambuco. Dressed in Baroque clothing, parade participants would make up the court for the king and queen: princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, barons and baronesses, ambassadors, standard-bearers, umbrella-bearers, batuqueiros, ladies of the court and the first lady of the court with a calunga doll, symbolizing the dead queens. These instruments and their particular sounds are preserved to this day: the gonguê, a huge, low-pitched agogô, establishes the key of the rhythm; the caixas de guerra, along with the ganzás and xêqueres, provide the base rhythms; and the alfaias, wooden drums, create variations on that rhythm.
The maracatu de baque solto, the maracatu rural or the maracatu de orquestra are clear examples of the fusion between popular styles such as reisado, pastoril, cavalo-marinho, bumba-meu-boi and caboclinho, among others, in the Carnival region. The maracatu de baque solto takes part in Carnival parades under the guidance of the leader's apito or bengala, which guides the participants' movements and improvises the verses and the loas. Four figures open the procession: Mateus, Catirina, the Burra (female donkey) and the Hunter, who are followed by the umbrella boy, the carboreteiros, who light up the path for the procession, the line of baianas (traditional costumes used in candomblés), and, finally, the dama-do-paço with the calunga doll (a woman carrying a doll that represents the mystic part of the maracatus).
A charismatic figure, the caboclo-de-lança appears with a huge, colorful head of hair, a long spear decorated with ribbons, called a guiada, and a neckpiece heavily embroidered with shiny materials. On his back, underneath the neckpiece, this character carries a surrão: huge, heavy rattles that produce an impressive sound. He performs a ritualistic dance, constantly moving up and down the procession to keep any possible enemies from taking part.