In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and more specifically in the town of Atánquez, currently located within the territory Kamkuamo in the department of Cesar (Colombia), it still remains the tradition of the dance of the devils even if this area was one of the hardest hit by Catholic church the doctrine during the colonial era and until the late nineteenth century, when these kind of dances and popular expressions in the Colombian Caribbean coast were rejected because they were considered pagan  and destabilizing of the moral. Additionally, Kankuamo have lived a devastating acculturation because of an "official" education  that denied the indigenous culture and values. Since 1992, the Kankuamo have struggled to be recognized as an indigenous community, and to recover some of their traditions while continuing with some Catholic practices, including the Corpus Christi celebration.

This celebration is critical for the community and its history, since it intermingles the still strong Catholic heritage and the distant past of the indigenous community, despite of the criticism that some Christian Kankuamo do to the Roman Catholic tradition. The celebration starts the Sunday before the Corpus Christi's Thursday with a visit to the Holy Trinity which is repeated on Wednesday. On Thursday there is again a visit that takes place hand in hand with the so called "big procession", whose mane is owned to the fact that it used to involve only Spaniards. At that time, indigenous were only involved in the “octavilla” (lit. 'little eight'), a procession that took place a week later. Currently people participate equally in both processions. In these processions the devils are led by the diablo mayor (lit. 'greater devil'), and are accompanied by the men and women negros and the Cucambas, which represent, as it also happens in Valledupar, birds sent by God to take care of the Holy Sacrament, and negros.

The procession begins at the San Isidro neighborhood, and goes to the main square where the central church is located. The masquerades in general participate in the Mass and then accompany the Holy Sacrament around the town, stopping at various altars that have been decorated with cotton clouds, skies of blue satin, and images of virgins and saints, and where village people represent living images of virgins and saints. The negros dress hats profusely decorated with flowers taken from the gardens of the village, and carry a beautifully carved wooden machete. Behind them the tireless devil dancers appear. Each devil wears red trousers, a red shirt with yellow fringes or a band of the same color, red socks, small bells that go around the thigh above the knee and go up the front to be tied to the belt. Devils usually wears a red bandana on the head. They also wear a mask made of wire mesh or sometimes made of cloth, in which the eyes, nose and mouth are embedded,. From the mouth hangs a tongue made of cloth or other material. At the top of the mask two small horns are embedded. The horns are usually made of wood. On their back, devils have a sheepskin where they tie mirrors, ribbons, pictures of saints and virgins. Behind them the Cucambas appear doing a circular dance. These birds are represented by using iraca leaves (a kind of palm) that are placed on the neck and waist and fall covering the body. In the head they wear a cover that looks like a top hat without brim, and full of feathers. When the Holy Sacrament returns to the church, the procession participants enter into it, go to the altar, kneel and pray, and then leave the church with their back never oriented to the altar.

 

2011 Devils of the Americas. Some rights reserved.

 

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