Folklore, music and religion at the Festival de La Mejorana

A beautiful “empollerada” dances with a bull

This post is also available in: Spanish

The National Festival of La Mejorana, which takes place in Guarare, Los Santos province, is one of Panama’s most traditional fairs, where the mixture of the Spanish and Amerindian customs come together in a kaleidoscope of music and dance.

A beautiful “empollerada” dances with a bull

A beautiful “empollerada” dances with a bull.

The festival was created In 1949, by Professor Manuel F. Zárate, a native of Guararé, who realized that without careful preservation, over time the cultures of Panama could be lost.

He gave it the name” Mejorana” which comes from a popular Panamanian instrument, a bit smaller than a guitar – the fretboard and neck are shorter. It uses five strings, which initially were: dry reed fibers, then horsehair, nowadays guts and nylon. The wood used to build the mejorana is cedar. It is used to accompany singers and troubadours.

From Saturday 18 to Monday, September 28, the small town of Guarare, located in the heart of the Azuero Peninsula, approximately 277 kilometers away from Panama City, will be the stage for a series of singing, dancing and handicraft competitions For the whole year before the event the inhabitants make preparations for a two week party, in which around $90,000 are invested.

Children are a very important part of the Festival

Children are a very important part of the Festival.

The festivities begin with the coronation of Her Majesty, Estefany Pinzon. After that the inhabitants get together to build a barrier made with canes in a nearby field. Euclides Barrios, the organization committee president said that this is a tradition going back 50 years.

Some of the country’s finest folklore bands will converge on the area to take part in the festival and on Friday 25 there will be a procession for the Virgen de La Merced followed by the competitions and the great float parade, where men, women, and children dress up with “polleras and camisillas” ( national costume).

This year the parade will have 48 oxen driven floats. Among the attractions are the “cantalantes” (singers), musicians and,of course, “la mejorana”, the small guitar-like instrument, that is an essential part of Panamanian music. There will be exhibitions and sale of handicraft items.

It is very difficult to find accommodation in Guarare during the two weeks of the festival. It is recommendable to call hotels in the area, before travelling there. However, the nearby cities of Chitre, Divisa, Las Tablas and Pedasi have modern hotels where rooms might be found.

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