The festival of Santo Domingo in Managua starts the evening before August 1st and goes on for 10 days.  The image of the saint, which is a only about eight inches tall, is carried from a church south of the city through the streets to the church of Santo Domingo.  The festival is renowned for its wild crowds.  Throughout the year, people make pacts to the saint, promising to show their thanks by dancing with the procession for the rest of their lives if the saint cures their family members of an illness.  Some simply dance, others paint their bodies with burnt black oil or put Indian headdresses on, and many people get drunk. 

The little saint bounces along in the crowd

The little saint bounces along in the crowd

If I wasn’t already attuned to the very-alive pagan elements of Catholocism in Nicaragua, I would have to be blindfolded not to see them in this festival.  The television coverage featured a man talking about inheriting the duty of processing in black oil from his late father, a mother who has spent 43 years walking in the procession because her handicapped daughter learned to speak, and the palo lucio, a greased wooden pole that people attempt to climb up the night the festival starts. 

A man dressed in black oil.

A man dressed in black oil.

The procession certainly topped the Easter processions in revelry.  Besides lots of drunk and blackened people, we saw people in traditional Nicaraguan folk costumes, a man carrying a toy of two monkeys fornicating, a man costumed as an Indian with a full feather headdress, and a group of drag queens out dancing in front of the procession, even in a downpour.  The police were out in full form, protecting the group of staggering saint-bearers and immediately quelling any drunken violence before it started.  It’s hard for me to imagine this as condoned church behavior, but also clear that condoning these rituals is a win-win situation.  The people can continue celebrating in the way they have for centuries, and the church can count them as catholic and not need to justify persecuting them.  A note in the tome that is the history of the spread of Christianity.

A small group of police, including the cheif of police, led the parade.

A small group of police, including the cheif of police, led the parade.

The procession in the morning was a stark contrast to the one in the afternoon, which is a hípico, or kind of rodeo parade where people dress up and show off their thoroughbred horses.  The parade passes in front of the CEPRODEL office, so we made our way there and then walked down to meet some friends closer to the lake.  We happened to stop to watch the parade start right in front of one of the tent cities where banana and sugar cane fieldworkers with serious health damages from overexposure to agro-industrial chemicals have been squatting for years, demanding recompense.  The contrast both between the carousing morning parade and the formality of the afternoon was stark, and then watching the thoroughbred manicured horses walking past shacks made of plastic bags dampered the elegance of the parade a bit. 

We left the parade to visit the Small Businesses Fair that is also running for the duration of the Santo Domingo festival.  It was the right way to end the day.  We sampled Nicaraguan-made fruit wine, tried on handmade clothing, and generally felt good about so many small independent businesses having a place to strut their stuff.

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