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The “diablicos sucios” (dirty devils) once again take to the streets of La Villa de Los Santos for the Corpus Christi Festival, Saturday, May 30 – Sunday, June 14. At this unique religious gathering, dances that date back to Panama’s colonial era are performed by local men and women. The most notable dance, the “diablicos sucios,” features performers wearing the iconic devil masks that have become a national symbol of folklore.
The “diablicos” make their first appearance starting at noon on Saturday, May 30 at the Simon Bolivar Park. Some devils carry handheld fireworks (“cohete”) to scare those present, hence their nickname, the “diablico encueta” or (firework devil).
The festival continues on Wednesday, June 3, when “La Diabla” (the female devil) appears at 11 a.m., soon followed by the “Diablo Mayor,” the “Diablo Capitán” and the “Diablo Caracolito,” who perform various folk dances. These dances represent the forces of evil as the devil dominates the earth, with demonstrations of power symbolized by exploding fireworks.
Representative dances include “las enanas” (the dwarves), in which men dress in oversized hats worn over the body such that they appear as little people, and the Zaracundé, a dance that traces back to African slaves.
After they perform an act, called the signing of the pact with the devil (“la firma del pacto Diabólico”) the clean devils, or “Grandiablos,” parade through the streets of La Villa de Los Santos. The revelry continues from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Corpus Christi Day (June 4) when the search for the “Torito” bull begins with a morning “tamborito” drum session and a “mojiganga” parade featuring men masquerading as female grotesques. After the Torito bull is “found” and the Torito Guapo dance has been performed, the day continues with solemn religious processions and more traditional dances.
For visitors, the festival continues until Saturday, June 13, with a “Day dedicated to tourism,” and Sunday, June 14 with the “Day of the Santeña woman,” cultural events sponsored by the ATP. Special mention must also be given to Miguel Leguízamo and his “Asociación Rescate de Danzas,” the group that organizes these festivities in order to maintain the traditions of their ancestors alive and continue sharing them with the world.