In Valledupar, the capital city of Cesar department (Colombia) located in the foothills of Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, dancing devils perform during Corpus Christi. This cultural event in Valledupar is performed by the oldest known dance group in the neighborhood of Cañaguate where the Galindo family has played a central role to keep alive this tradition that goes back to at least the nineteenth century. The troupe is currently led by Silvio Jiménez who is now considered the great master of the devils of Valledupar. Apart from this troupe there are two smaller groups that emerged from the Galindo family. One is led by Salvador Corzo, who performed with Jiménez for 25 years in the group of Silvio Jimenez, and the other is led by Eladio Calderon, son of Antonio Calderon who was the director of the Galindo family troupe.
Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi of Valledupar is one of the few expressions of this type on the Colombian Caribbean coast survived the fierce opposition lead by the Catholic Church during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. During the 1970s Valledupar was known as the “Caribbean surprise” due to its rapid and dramatic growth through the production of cotton or, as locals and merchants called it, “white gold.”
In 1983, Law 51, also known as Emiliani law was passed, which strengthened the tourism sector and resulted in changing the date of the event. The date for Corpus Christi, indicated by the Catholic liturgical calendar as the eighth Thursday after Easter, was moved to the following Monday. Since then, the Devils Dance has been held on Resurrection Sunday and the subsequent Monday. Benito Galindo rejected that change and decided, as director of the troupe, to halt the devil dance for six years. It was only after his death, and several conversations with his wife, that the dance continued on Sundays and Mondays.[i]
Preparations for the dance begin several weeks in advance. The day before Corpus Christi, the captain goes to the door of the Church of the Immaculate Conception and sings verses to the Holy Sacrament. Afterwards, he traces the procession route, stopping at the places where the altars are traditionally built. He makes this tour accompanied by other members. The next day, the day of celebration, the Devils participate in a breakfast held at the Galindo family house or Silvio Jimenez’ house, in Barrio Cañaguate. Before the first call for mass (about six o'clock in the morning) they arrive to the atrium of the Cathedral where they remain vigilant and “obedient,” not entering the church. After the mass of the Eucharist, the priest holds the Holy Sacrament forming a procession, accompanied by believers and devils. The procession stops at each street altar, all of which have been decorated with palm leaves, flowers, and religious images. There is a small ceremony and prayer to bless the altar, while the devils make a circle and dance, often jumping and crossing their feet through four choreographic routines that include dancing backwards without turning their back to the Holy Sacrament.
Devils usually wear baggy and red satin shorts, red shirts with long sleeves, a pollera (kind of external short skirt on the pants) adorned with bells and chimes, long red stocks, shoes with metal spurs, and vests. Some troupes also wear boots. Devils wear masks that covers the face and is made of cardboard and wire mesh. Horns are attached and painted with black or red eyes and nose and a long tongue made out of fabric that reaches almost the chest. New groups have included masks that resemble whole heads of devils with horns. In any case, the mask is attached to a sheepskin that covers the back of the devil and is filled with mirrors, ribbons of various colors, and images of saints and virgins. These devils carry castanets, a tail with a bell on the end, and a perrero or whip in the left hand, which is used to intimidate anyone who may obstruct their way. The dance is accompanied by a drum (caja) maracas and accordion.
Devils dance with Cucambas and Negros. Official accounts of the fiesta claim that Cucambas represent birds sent by God to protect the Holy Sacrament. They traditionally wear palm leaves on their chest and pollera. They dance with the devils and chase them with a long stick (garabato), but when dancing around the devils the cucambas run out and the devils pursue them. The Negros are armed with machetes, and dance-simulate a fight to defend themselves from the cucambas.
After the procession, dancers visit houses that have been included in previous manifestations, where they dance and sing verses of the Holy Sacrament.[ii] It is important to note that the dance of Corpus Christi is related to African traditions and practices of respect for the deceased members in families, and especially for those who participated as devils in the processions. At the end of the event, the groups visit the Central Cemetery of Valledupar. Directly at the entrance of the cemetery, they dance and sing poetry accompanied by accordion, drums and maracas. This visit does not only seek to pay tribute to the deceased, but also to strengthen family ties by presenting the new members’ grandchildren or family members to the deceased.
[i] Interview to Carmen Magola Galindo Rodríguez, February 2007. In: RAMÍREZ, Nelson y ORTIZ, Dankir. El Cañaguate cuenta su historia. Page 72
[ii] JIMENEZ, Silvio. Interview done by Jairo Soto Hernández in Barrio Cañaguate, Valledupar (Cesar), 16th July, 2010.