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.