Dancing with the devils

This post is also available in: Spanish

Their origins are rooted deeply in the culture

Diablos Limpios de La Villa de Los Santos, Panamá

Diablos Limpios de La Villa de Los Santos, Panamá

Every carnival and during the ceremonies of Corpus Christi, devils (diablicos) are part of the traditional celebrations in Panama. However, devils can be found all over Latin America. Each country has its own particular flavor with every mask and costume as individual as the people who populate this vast continent, but the question still remains, where do they come from?

Historians believe that the devils’ dance was born when the Spanish master blamed the black slaves for natural or other problems, a severe drought, for example, citing their lack of faith. In order to obtain God’s, and of course the slaver’s forgiveness, they had to dance dressed as “devils”. According to the legend the slaves adopted the figure of the evil one, but with a close association to the master, mocking him with their gestures for his despotic behavior.

visitor19-16_Page_25_Image_0001The amusing part of the story is that the Spaniards believed that the grotesque masks, customs and dance were a synonym of conversion to Christianity, with the slaves rejecting Lucifer and demonstrating devotion to the Sacred Sacrament, but in reality the slaves took advantage of the European naivety and continued worshipping their ancient African gods which became the origins of Voodoo, Santeria and Candomblé.

The traditions of the devils are rooted deeply in the Latin American spirit and from México to Brazil and Bolivia different versions of the dance can be found. A current exhibition in Portobelo called “Diablos de las Américas” (Devils of the Americas) takes the observer on a trip to the past where the Spanish masters were demonized by their own slaves. On these pages is a sampling of the Latin American devil.