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Festive adventure


The festival season was heating up in the predominant Mayan market town of Chichicastenango, in the state of Quiche, Guatemala. Tonight´s advertised event was the Convite Femenino, or Women´s Gathering, where the town´s women dance to Marimba music.

Since I enjoyed live Marimba music and there was no chance that I would be hoodwinked into participating, I went to see what a more local festival was all about. I had seen Chichi´s other more colorful dances that feature eerie masks and resplendent costumes during the crowded major holidays, but this December 8th gathering was attended by few tourists, and about half of this mountain town of 5000.

I’ve never witnessed the conservative Mayan Guatemalan women dance together in the 10 years I’ve been visiting this country. Past dances I’ve observed were performed by men and of a religious nature, included lots of drinking and fireworks and seemed to omit women of the community whose traditional role in this society was to produce and raise children. A “Convite Femenino” sounded refreshingly different, something and I wished that my wife could be enjoying with me on this trip but alas, too much was happening at home and she could not join me.

“We can watch the dancers from here,” said Roberto, directing us to a viewpoint at the top of the steps of Santo Tomas, the 500 hundred year old church that sits directly on the town square. Some of Roberto’s friends crowded on the steps with us, so I positioned myself at the back because I was taller than most and could still see. But Roberto’s wife and teenage daughter were not to be found.

 “They don’t like this kind of thing,” sniggered Roberto, giving me reason to wonder how much of that decision was his or his wife’s. A shame, I thought, because this seemed like one of the few “liberating” events available to the local women. I smiled thinking how my lovely wife is often reluctant to participate in similar events and usually only after much deliberation and wheedling on my part.

Sure enough, the Marimba band was first-rate, positioned under an eaves on the town square which opened into a dance space surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Two teenage boys sat on the roof above the band blowing bubbles as an added special effect to the delight of dozens of young children who chased the bubbles. The dancers, dressed in everyday casuals like blue jeans, were a random selection of women from the crowd. There appeared to be no organization to the dancing, yet the women were enjoying themselves doing the dosey-do and other innocuous dance steps one might find at a high school sock-hop. I envisioned my reluctant wife joining in and actually enjoying herself at this let-your-hair-down kind of event, one that might be found in the small Midwestern town of her birth.

After two innocent dances, a long red tape was stretched across the entire 50 foot wide dance area. Knowingly, the women stepped aside as the tape was ignited. Cohetes! Firecrackers!  Children shrieked and ran around in excitement as the cohetes popped off in all different directions. The dancers cowered under the porch with the Marimba band at the brief mayhem triggered by the booming ribbon of cohetes. The male dominated spectators, of which I was a part, chuckled at the noisy spectacle. When the firecrackers stopped, the band ensued and women emerged from the cloud of smoke that had enveloped the dance square, falling into a ring-around-the-rosey dance step as if nothing had happened.

Just when I thought the festivities were coming to a close, a second, larger and more wobbly torito entered the dance circle. After being lit, it was obvious that the torito was armed with more potent pyrotechnics and the women smartly relinquished the dance area to the torito, oblivious drunks and the most daring teenagers. The torito spun wildly around the dance area, sending showers of sparks into the crowd who would temporarily surge backwards in avoidance. Next, a fusillade of roman candles shot off the spinning torito, sending flaming balls in all directions. One errant fireball hit some trees and plunged into the crowd. A larger fireball was spun off sideways and ironically hit a firetruck parked nearby. The torito’s bigger fountains of sparks and hazardous fireballs seemed to increase the crowd’s excitement. I knew that my wife would feel little consolation that this event was staffed by several bomberos, or firemen. Some safety measure!

Source: Adventure Treckers

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