Los Diablos Danzantes

June 19, 2014
San Francisco de Yare, Venezuela
Photo credit: Jorge Andr
Los Diablos Danzantes
Crowd
    Intimate to                 Massive
Attendees
    Local to                 International
Participation
    Spectator to                 Immersive
Preparation
    Simple to                 Complicated
Transformation
    Quiet to                 Life-Altering

Overview

How do Venezuelans celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi? By dressing up in devil costumes and dancing through the streets, of course.

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Festival Stats
  • Crowd
  • Attendees
  • Participation
  • Preparation
  • Transformation

Location

Diablos Danzantes is celebrated in various towns around Venezuela, but one of the larger, more colorful festivals is held in San Francisco de Yare.

Chip's take

Be prepared to be scared, that is if you’re single digit in terms of your…

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Be prepared to be scared, that is if you’re single digit in terms of your emotional age. This multi-sensory dance with the devils takes Latin passions to an even higher scale. The point of all the frivolity and frenzy is to chase away evil and purify the community. May seem a little strange to some of you, but I bet the Venezuelans might find our televangelists to be an odd means as well.

While St Francisco de Yare is the primary place to be, some of the coastal villages have great celebrations as well, plus if you head to these, you'll get to experience the Caribbean. This is definitely Venezuela’s biggest festival, so if you’ve ever imagined making the trek to South America, this is a great time of year to experience it. You’ll see up close the strangely beautiful alchemy of African traditions and folklore mixed with Catholic doctrine and pomp. Be prepared for an all-night vigil at the Stations of the Cross (El Calvario), where good and evil go to war. In the end, good claims victory and the superstitious locals see this as a propitious sign for an abundant harvest.  

This multi-sensory dance with the devils takes Latino passions to an even higher scale.

Photos & Videos From the Festival

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Essentials

Recognizing hierarchies. You can tell how long a confradia, or group, has been participating in the festival by how big their masks are. The larger the mask, the higher the confradia’s ranking in the devil’s hierarchy.

Come early, stay late. The state of Miranda (where Diablos Danzantes del Yare takes place) celebrates several cultural-religious events in June, including St. John’s Drums and the St. Peter’s Feast. Stick around and experience all that this area has to offer.

Bring a camera. This is one photogenic festival that you’ll want to document!


Practicalities

If you plan to attend the festivities in San Francisco de Yare, you’ll most likely fly into Simón Bolívar Airport (CCS) in Maiquetía, about 13 miles outside of Caracas. From there, San Francisco de Yare is about an hour and a half away by car.

As safety can be an issue in Venezuela, joining a tour, hiring a guide, or at the very least, traveling with a savvy travel companion is recommended.

Details

Like many religious festivals, Diablos Danzantes serves to commemorate the triumph of good over evil. However, unlike many religious festivals, Diablos Danzantes consists of townspeople dressing up like devils, donning fierce masks, and dancing frenetically around the town square. Welcome to Corpus Christi in Venezuela!

Different Town, Different Devils

While Diablos Danzantes, or Dancing Devils, is celebrated throughout the central coastal regions of Venezuela, there are subtle differences to each community’s ritual…or not so subtle, in the case of the costumes. In San Francisco de Yare, a town in the state of Miranda, Venezuela, the devils dress in all red and wear masks that resemble winged dragons. In Naiguatá, a town in Vargas, the “devils” are dressed in costumes that are works of art in themselves—hand-painted pants and shirts that are decorated with crosses, geometric designs, devil faces, flames and other imagery. Their masks are just as colorful as their clothes, and are usually representative of marine animals and adorned with ribbons. The Naiguatá devils are one of the only groups that permit females to dance. The devils of Chuao are characterized by their purple costumes and their distinctly African masks. The oldest brotherhood of Diablos Danzantes is that of the Ocumare de la Costa devils, whose ritual dates back to 1610, and who only allow men to perform in the ritual.

Diablos Danzantes consists of townspeople dressing up like devils, donning fierce masks, and dancing frenetically around the town square. Welcome to Corpus Christi in Venezuela!

Surrendering to the Sacrament

Most groups of Diablos Danzantes perform with accessories such as maracas, whips, crucifixes and rosaries, all used as an effort to ward off evil spirits. Live music accompanies the dancers, mostly percussion and string instruments. The colorful parade makes its way to the steps of the local church, where the Sacrament has been laid out. The devils surrender to the Sacrament in the ultimate symbol of the triumph of good over evil. This is, after all, the true meaning of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.

Keeping Promises, Passing Tradition

The dancers, also known as promeseros (promise-keepers), belong to a confraternity, a community that serves to pass on the oral history of this rich cultural tradition to future generations. Each group makes their masks and costumes by hand, taking great pride and often all year to create them. Sound familiar? There are undeniable similarities between Diablos Danzantes and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which isn’t surprising, given both their ancestral links to Africa. Like Mardi Gras, the confraternities of the Dancing Devils nominate a chief, known as the foreman. Also similar to Mardi Gras, the greater community comes out in full force to support their tribe—women prepare food, oversee the progression of the rituals and raise altars along the parade route. They also tend to the spiritual preparation of the children, who are being primed as successors. Mini-devils in the making!

Diablos Danzantes has recently been added to UNESCO’s Representational List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This unique blend of faith and artistic expression promotes a strong sense of cultural identity and community in Venezuela.