In Azuero, there are more than 600 festivals and most of them are related to the known patron Saint of each given town. Religious holidays are mixed with non-religious ones, giving a characteristic touch in every town.
The Corpus Cristi in the town of Villa de los Santos is a cultural celebration that dates back to Colonial times. These celebrations start on the eve of Saint Trinity with theatrical presentations, with the image of a “diablíco,” or little devil, named Diablo. On the Wednesday prior to the Day of Corpus Cristi, at noon, the dances called Diabolícos Sucios are presented.
These dances consist in courting the sun, which represents world dominance. As the night goes on, there is a vigil in which at dawn there is search for a bull. At ten in the morning there is a celebration of Holy Mass and then the image of Christ is paraded in the streets, which are decorated with flowers called, guachapalí, bougainvillea, and bouquets of many colors.
Other religious celebrations are those of the patron saints such as Saint Librada in Las Tablas, Saint John in Chitré, Saint Rose in Partilla, Saint Sebastian in Ocú, which in general last eight days and finish in a traditional “Gallota.”
One of the most known celebrations is the National Festival of the Mejorana in Guararé, which is held at the end of September and is declared the pinnacle of Panamanian folklore, since it is a festival where all the cultures from all over the country unite in a spirit of pride that comes from being Panamanian. The festival looks to highlight the value of the traditional guitar made by rural countrymen and to make sure that its traditions are not lost, but instead are passed on for generations. There is well-known saying that goes “the Mejorana forever.” The festival lasts one week and is filled with drum, violin and Mejorana contests. The National Festival of the Mejorana is celebrated in the wake of the Virgin of the Mercedes whose protection is invoked for the success of the festival. The festival ends with the majestic parade of the “carretas,” traditional ox-drawn carts, along the streets of Guararé.
Another nationally and internationally renowned festival in Azuero is the International Fair of Azuero, which is one of the oldest celebrated in the country. The fair is held at the end of April or beginning of May, and lasts two weeks with exhibitions of hand-made crafts, cattle, environmental or agricultural artifacts, and lots of fun and folkloric festivities.
The Carnival of Azuero is well known throughout Panama and the world because it is filled with joy and tradition. It is said that the traditional Carnival with Calle Arriba (Uptown) and Calle Abajo (Downtown) originated in Las Tablas.
Since then, designated tunas (musicians) stroll to the beat of the drums followed by women in traditional skirts with candles and women spraying their suitors with perfume, who sing and mock the opposing side of town’s tuna. Today’s carnival consists of small musical groups using modern instruments. During the day, the fun starts with the renowned “Culecos” or “Mojadera” (Drenching) and at night both tunas compete as to who can appear to be most luxurious.
Each is represented by a Queen, who the opposing tuna mocks, as well as mocking her family, friends, acquaintances, and the tuna’s organizers. Both tunas face off in a duel, shouting taunts and setting off fireworks until the activity peaks at a moment called the Topón.
The last day, or “The Tuesday of Carnival,” is the biggest and most awaited traditional day, where the National Pollera, the traditional feminine dress, is displayed in places like Las Tablas, Pedasí, Santo Domingo and La Palma (in the Villa of the Santos and Chitré it’s the “Sunday of Carnival”).
In the early morning of Ash Wednesday the gran Topón is held where the remaining fireworks are lit until the sun comes up and the winning tuna is announced in the Entierro de las Sardinas (Burial of the Sardines).
It is important to note that in the rest of the villages of Azuero the carnival always has something traditional of the region and that they also start with the music of the caja and the drums.
Author: Irving Vergara