Every year on 23rd and 24th of September, Latacunga, a city high up on the Ecuadorian plateau, celebrates the Fiesta de Mama Negra.
The festival is in honour of the Virgin de la Merced, who supposedly saved the locals from the 1742 eruption of Cotopaxi Volcano. However there are also strong links to the arrival of Spanish colonisers, who forced the hugely diverse population to convert to catholicism. Today the festival is a mix of various different cultures, drawing influences from African and Incan heritage, and more recently gay pride has taken a role, making it an incredibly colourful and electrifying show!
The parade begins with the gaucos, dressed in white, who cleanse the bad spirits and make way for the Angel of the Stars, riding in on a white horse, also dressed in white, singing praises to the Lady of Mercy.
Next comes, the Moorish King, symbolising power, followed by the Flag Bearer carrying the wipala, and then, it is the turn of the Captain, who is responsible for the success of the party. Each of these characters has their own elaborate costume.
Finally the most important character of the festival, Mama Negra, arrives, this role is usually played by a prominent man in Latacunga’s soceity, dressed as a woman, and his face painted black, he carries a black doll called Balthazara. Mama Negra’s dolls represent her many different children, and as she processes’ through the city she sprays milk and water onto the crowd.
The parade moves in time with music of the brass bands and is followed by groups of shamans, clowns and large groups of dancers, in weird and wonderful costumes, each representing a different culture. They stroke the crowd with live guinea pigs and spit alcohol at them – occasionally forcing it down people’s throats!
There is an intoxicating atmosphere to the parade, and you can’t help but to have fun, whilst sweets and wine are thrown to the crowd! Revellers snack on traditional Ecuadorian foods like chungchucara’s; a deep fried pork rind, popcorn potatoes, maize and plantain and wash it down with champus, an alcoholic drink made from hominy, corn flour and fruit juice which is then sweetened with brown sugar.
Not satisfied with just one festival, the Fiesta de Mama Negra takes place twice a year, in September and then again in November to celebrate the city’s independance from Spain.