Thursday, December 5, 2013

Venezuelan San Pedro Festival Recognized by UNESCO

Venezuelan Folk Festival for San Pedro Recognized by UNESCO -- A centuries-old Venezuelan folk festival called the Parranda de San Pedro, which is celebrated in the small towns of Guarenas and Guatire in Miranda State every year on 28 and 29 of June, has been included in the United Nations'  List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The official announcement was made by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 5 December.

The tradition dates back to colonial times, when large numbers of African slaves worked the sugar plantations of the area and folk festivals linked to the saints were some of the few times when the slaves could organize themselves, enjoy a day off from the grueling toil of the plantation and take control of the streets for a few hours.

According to local lore in Guarenas, back in colonial times a woman called Maria Ignacia was deeply concerned for the health of her sick daughter Rosa Ignacia. Fearing the worst she went to the church and made a solemn promise to San Pedro (Saint Peter) to sing and dance for him if he would help her daughter to recover.

So infectious was her faith and so sad was her plight that other women, feeling her pain and suffering, began to join her.

Local slave owners were also moved by her act of faith and gave a day off to their slaves on San Pedro's day so they could participate in the singing and dancing in honour of the saint.

Rosa Ignacia was miraculously cured of her illness, but after a few years of dancing to the saint Maria Ignacia grew gravely sick. Before she died, she begged her husband to uphold her promise, and the tradition that survives to this day was born.

Nowadays, a man represents Maria Ignacia by weearing a dress of stitched rags, with a straw hat and dark braids. Accompanied by the other parranderos, he sings in front of the church with a black doll in his arms representing Rosa Ignacia.

The parranderos are men with their faces blackened who wear top hats, dark frock coats and large red or yellow neckerchiefs.

They provide the music for the procession on their cuatros (four-stringed guitars similar to the ukelele) and maracas. Some of them carry statues of San Pedro from the different neighborhood associations that take part in the festivities.

Other characters are the tucusitos, usually young boys dressed in yellow and red harlequin outfits and the coticeros, who are paranderos who wear squares of leather tied to their alpargata shoes that make a distinct sound when they dance.

As UNESCO points out in its description of the Parranda de San Pedro, this is a living folk tradition that brings together young and old, women and men, in a shared celebration of their history and culture:  "Women decorate the churches, dress images of the saint and cook traditional dishes. Adults and children in the community all celebrate a vital tradition that symbolizes and reasserts the struggle against injustice and inequality."

In December 2012, the Diablos Danzantes (Dancing Devils) of Corpus Christi were the first of Venezuela's cultural traditions to be granted Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status by UNESCO.

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