Much like in other regions of Venezuela, the devil dances of Chauo take place on the day of Corpus Christi. The dances continue through the weekend, with dancing taking place all day on Saturday as well as Sunday.

In the early 1700s, Chauo became well-known as an export name for quality chocolate of the region. The chocolate plantation has now been divided into smaller plots and remains in cultivation by a cooperative of town residents. The area has benefitted from recent government investments in housing and small business enterprise. Otherwise, it has remained relatively isolated due to its location, where it is only accessible by boat and then one of two public transport vehicles to town, which is situated inland by approximately 4 km. 

Dancers wear distinctive masks that are black with red and white eyes and a tri-colored ribbon (the Venezuelan national colors of blue, red and yellow) strung between four strait and jutting horns. Captains of the dance wear long beards instead of horns. The mask faces are flat and small with features such as a bright red smile in high contrast and the same in each mask. Masks are typically made from clay, wood and paper maché. Dancers wear different dress: some all in white with black crosses, while others dress in bright multi-colored full blouses and pants with tights and slippers.

The principle instrument is that of the caja or 'redoblante' drum. One of the only devil dances in Venezuela where drums are included, the dances reflect the strong African traditions of this community. The majority of the dance takes place at the doorways to individual houses. A semi circle of dancers on the outside of the doorway surrounds a single dancer that improvises jumps, turns, moves particular to that dancer. The dancer teases the doorway, cheered on by the voices, drums and singing by a small crowd on the inside and the fellow devil dancers on the outside. Finally the dancer makes a dramatic entrance, each to his own style, some diving head first and others shimmying low as if under a limbo pole. Once entering the house, the dancer prays before the altar and joins the other musicians and singers on the inside. One by one dancers repeat this with their own improvised moves, at times interacting with audiences gathered. Dancers move between the houses and a party that forms alongside the river at the south end of the village. Visitors and residents gather at the riverside under a lean-to and share in a Sancocho (stew) feast on Sunday.

Dancers in Chuao also dance for promesas where they promise to dance for a certain number of years and are obligated to return to the village no matter where they are in order to fulfill their pledge. Dancer must be at least eleven years old, and must be born in raised in Chuao.

 

 

2011 Devils of the Americas. Some rights reserved.

 

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