On Thursday of Corpus Christi, the devil dances in Ocumare, Venezuela take over the streets with over a hundred young men, mostly afro-descendent from the surrounding area on the northwest coast of Venezuela. They gather in the morning at the house of the diablo mayor, the appointed leader of the devil dances. In two lines they skip, dance and kneel together in pulse with maracas and a cuatro wearing all the customary adornments: capes and crosses, brightly colored masks with snarling teeth and flaring nostrils, bells, ribbons and a smattering of whips and horns. Several hundred spectators line the streets and accompany the devils through the residential back-roads toward the church.
The devil dances of Ocumare should be referred to as a religious manifestation, explains one of the organizers, Sra. Luisa Rodríguez whose house transforms into a kind of headquarters for the diablos in the days leading up to and during the event. Alongside the festive nature is a devotional practice where each of the dancers perform for promesas, or pledges, such as for the health of a loved one, a rite of passage, or to ask for blessings and protections.
When the devils arrive from the house of the diablo mayor to the front doors of the church they are met by the priest who then repels them from the entrance by holding the monstrance of the Holy Sacrament high above his head. The devils retreat into the streets, and then turn to lead the crowds away from the church and toward each of nine altars situated at major intersections throughout the town. The procession of devil dancers and the crowds move through the streets to bless each altar with the priest and his entourage in tow. Thus, the dance is established as both an expression of surrender to the Holy Sacrament, what some refer to as the powers of light, unity, and compassion, and also to the very public engagement of affirming the town's traditions.
Late in the afternoon when the priest has long since returned to his chambers, the devils continue to dance. They enter houses and businesses, the cemetery and other sites to bless these locations and express devotion and communal identity. The devils are kept together through a hierarchical structure of perreros and capataces that lead the dancers through the town. Older, more experienced dancers take special care of the youngest dancers who dance for the first time. At around five o'clock in the afternoon on Thursday, dancers perform what is known as the caracol, one of the oldest forms of the devil dances. In 2010, there were over 150 dancers that swirled in a line formation towards the patio of the church and, each following the other, they move into the shape of a spiral with the capataz and the youngest dancer remaining protected in the middle.
Each of the costumes and masks are different in Ocumare, as one among a variety of devil dances in Venezuela that value the pluralism practiced in these dances.