La Dia de los Diablos.
27 March 2011 | San Blas Islands, Panama
I really don't know exactly what the dia de los diablos is supposed to be celebrating. It is, of course, a religious holiday, Spanish Catholic, but there are definitely Afro-Antillean influences as well. The central theme seems to be a clash of GOOD, represented by the beautiful women in their Conga outfits, and EVIL, represented by men dressed in devil costumes. They meet in a dance with fairly high sexual overtones and, of course, GOOD triumphs and the devils disappear while the women celebrate. What made the festival fascinating was the costumes. The Conga outfits include beautiful flowing dresses and elaborate head wear with scarves, crowns and lots of jewelry. The devil costumes are even more amazing. The bodies are fairly typical costumes of close fitting red and black, but the heads are fantastic paper mache creations some of which were more than 6' tall! With these strapped securely to their heads, the guys actually dance in them. They feature grotesque faces with large teeth and the creativity of their design is amazing. One had five skull like faces that looked at you no matter which way the dancer was facing. This was above the monster face with its big mouth and teeth. In addition to the devils and congas, there were clowns. These were men dressed in raggedy clothes, usually carrying a staff with a doll's head on it and prancing around blowing whistles and displaying 3X size woman's panties to the crowd. One had a large (8'+) boa that he danced with. The clowns wandered through the crowd, fighting with each other, and posing for pictures (for a $1.00 donation, of course). Portobelo was mobbed. The road (the ONLY road) was closed to normal traffic and busload after busload of tourists poured in filling all the streets and parks. It was carnival atmosphere everywhere. Booths sold fry bread, or grilles chicken or pork, fried plantains, just about any kind of street food you could imagine. Other booths sold beer and premixed Cuba Libra in cans. After wandering around and getting to see some of the costumes up close, we retired to the old Customs House, a 17th century building that served as a warehouse during the days of the Spanish Main. It is now largely empty (a few offices) but very well preserved and open to the public. From the second story we had a reasonable albeit somewhat distant view of the stage and the dancers. It was a good distance for the music which was overpowering up close. By 3:30 the main performances were done and we had had enough of the heat, so we retreated to the boat and a swim. I used the dinghy to go take pictures of a great fixer-upper that was anchored behind us in the bay. It would be perfect for my brother Dave. I'll send him the pictures when I have internet and maybe post some here as well.