Arts & Entertainment

Chinegros: the violent dance to worship St. John in Nicaragua

By Wilder Perez R.

San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua, Jun 24 (EFE).- Within the parish of San Juan de Oriente, in the Nicaraguan Pacific, Julio Cesar Potosme meets his rival “at the exit.”

Once in place, they fight with a kind of whip until one of them, injured, raises his weapon, surrenders, the brawl stops, the opponents dance, thank each other, and the patron saint’s party continues.

The scene, known as the Chinegros, is repeated countless times among men, children and some women.

According to Nicaragua’s Culture Institute, 60 percent of the more than 3,000 inhabitants of the municipality of San Juan de Oriente have starred in it at some point in their lives.

It is a violent dance with which Saint John the Baptist has been worshiped in this town of indigenous origin since 1585.

Opponents, without any protection, fight with “chilillos” made with the dissected penis of a bull, capable of ripping a piece of skin on contact.

“Apart from our tradition, it is part of our promises. Of course it hurts, but at the moment it is being forged,” traditionalist Julio Cesar Potosme, 36 – who has been fighting rivals for almost half his life – told EFE.

According to Noel Amilcar Gallegos, who has investigated the Chinegros for more than 20 years, the rivals, when confronted, pay promises, so receiving a whip is a sacrifice dedicated to Saint John.

Although some historians say the tradition arrived with African slaves, which explains the term Chinegros, Gallegos said it already existed in pre-Columbian times, and underwent modifications with colonization.

“It was modified in the sense that it was no longer self-inflicted, but rather a contest, two people of the same size and possibly of the same age. This was given in gratitude for a favor, to the patron saint,” the researcher said.

On Friday, the main day of the Chinegros in San Juan de Oriente, Manuel Potosme – a common surname in this place – walked smiling down the main street of the municipality while a young man followed him with a mobile phone taking pictures of his injured back.

“It’s because of a promise I made. My daughter came with problems. I promised that if she became healthy, I would be a Chinegro every year. This is the second year,” Potosme told EFE, pointing to his little girl.

That is why in these fights there is no winner or winners, there is no pay, no bets are raised, there are no victories or defeats, no enmities are aroused.

“It is a tradition of the people of San Juan, a tradition that we have been rooting since we were children. It is a game and it is a promise. Anyone would say that it is a savagery, that this should not exist, but yes, only the people of San Juan have this,” Gallegos said. EFE


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