In Nicaragua, a centenary festival mixes dances and faith to celebrate the country’s history

The dancers of the “Güegüense” twirl to the rhythm of the violin of Marlen Gutiérrez, during the annual feast of San Sebastian in Nicaragua, a religious cultural tradition from the colonial era of Latin America.

Forgetting for a moment the hassles of daily life, hundreds of faithful indulge in popular dances, thanking the miracles of life or conjuring it to be more lenient, during a religious procession through the streets of the small agricultural town of Diriamba, 40 km south of the capital Managua.

This celebration “is heavy with meaning, because we see syncretism in it. Indigenism merges with Spanish culture (…) It is the expression of Nicaraguan identity”, details Marlen Gutiérrez, 47-year-old violinist , for whom the dance of the “Güegüense” represents “the voice of the people” in all eras.

During this celebration, which takes place every January 19 and 20, young Nicaraguans cover their faces with wooden masks, embodying the relationship between Spanish settlers and colonized indigenous peoples.

The message: While the dominated Indians outwardly accept their subjugation to authority, behind the masks, they continually use cunning to undermine it.

The name “Güegüense” derives from Nahuatl, the language in which the party was at the time presented to the colonial authorities.

The “Güegüense” dance is “a virulent expression of protest against colonial domination”, specifies the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), which has included it on the heritage list. intangible of humanity in 2005.

– Satirical celebration –

The celebration begins in the morning at the Church of San Sebastián, a centuries-old monument with white walls, where the voice of the priest César Castillo resounds as he gives mass.

Then follow one another dance groups during a parade, on a background sound mixing percussion, marimba and detonations of homemade firecrackers. Throughout the procession, an image of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Diriamba, is erected above the crowd.

“Indigenous peoples don’t care about Spanish domination. The idea is taken up here in a religious register and we maintain this tradition,” the priest told AFP.

Dressed in a dress and a hat adorned with flowers, her face hidden under a wooden mask representing the face of an old woman, Kelle Arcia sways to the rhythm of percussion and the marimba. His dance partner wears a mask embodying the expression of an elderly man.

This 24-year-old Nicaraguan has been dancing “Viejo y la Vieja” (“Old and Old”) for six years, to thank San Sebastian “for the favors received” during the year.

He “watches over us and gives us his love, his support and his faith”, assures the young woman.

Carlos Gonzalez, he turned to San Sebastian to have children, after the doctors had told him that he and his wife could not become parents.

“Fourteen years ago, I asked the Lord to act so that we could have it,” the 42-year-old told AFP, who added, all smiles, that he was now the father of three children.

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