AP PHOTOS: Celebrating Azorean culture in southern Brazil

In this Nov. 10, 2017 photo, traditional Maricota characters "Boi de Mamao" right, and the ox, left, peer from the windows at the Cultural Center during preparations for the Azorean Culture Festival which celebrates the culture of the Azores, the Portuguese island chain that lies in the mid-Atlantic, in Enseada de Brito, in Brazil's Santa Catarina southern state. In the mid-18th century, several families from the mid-Atlantic archipelago migrated to settle here, and the festival reflects the resulting mix of Azorean culture and the native and African traditions in Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

AP PHOTOS: Traditions of the Azores island chain are kept alive in southern Brazil at an annual festival of dancing and old crafts, such as making lace and pottery

ENSEADA DE BRITO, Brazil — On a sunny plaza looking out on the southern Atlantic, girls in green and red traditional skirts and boys in black pants and vests perform dances that traveled thousands of miles over that ocean more than two centuries ago.

The dancing is part of a festival held every November in southern Brazil to celebrate the culture of the Azores, the Portuguese island chain that lies in the mid-Atlantic. In the mid-18th century, several families from the archipelago migrated to settle on the coast of Brazil's Santa Catarina state and the festival reflects the resulting mix of Azorean culture and the native and African traditions encountered in Brazil.

During the two-day festival, held this year in Enseada de Brito, artisans showcase traditional crafts, including lace making and pottery. The communities of Santa Catarina have even preserved some artisanal methods since lost in the Azores themselves. Maria da Gloria Viana, a 68-year-old lace-maker, has traveled back to the island chain to teach the craft she learned in Brazil.

At the climax of the festival, a couple dressed in red robes and wearing crowns that represent the Portuguese emperor and his wife lead a colorful parade of attendants for a Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, wedged between emerald hills and the sea.

After the service, festival-goers pour out of the church to dance around the St. Sebastian pole while it is carried through town. The 10-yard-long (10-meter-long) wooden pole is decorated with local flowers and palm fronds. While it is paraded around, many drink "consertada," a mix of coffee, cinnamon and the Brazilian sugarcane liquor called cachaca. When the pole is finally laid down, people surround it to pull off the flowers and make their requests to St. Sebastian, known locally for helping those who are single find their match.

Andre Cordeiro, 20, who leads one of the singing and dancing groups that performed this year, says the festival helps to ensure that the traditions of the Azores aren't forgotten.

"We have to make sure that our culture always stays alive, not let it die," he said. "We are able to pass it on from generation to generation."

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