Arts & Entertainment

‘La Mama Negra’ returns to the Ecuadorian Andes after pandemic

Quito, Sep 24 (EFE).- The traditional Mercedarian festival of ‘La Mama Negra’ that has been celebrated for decades the Ecuadorian Andes, returned Saturday to the streets of Latacunga with much fanfare, after two years of restrictions due to the coronavirus.

More than 6,000 people danced to the beats of local music bands on the streets of this city in the Ecuadorian Andes, in an explosion of colors and sounds, leaving an indelible imprint on the minds of visitors.

The celebration, considered an Intangible Heritage of Ecuador, brings together features of the Andean cosmovision, Christian syncretism and African culture, in an amalgam of beliefs and celebrations symbolic of the country’s multi-cultural ethos.

La Mama Negra (Black Mother) is the representation of an African character that pays homage to the Virgen de La Merced (Virgin of Mercy), with aspects of the spirituality of indigenous ethnic groups like the yumbos, the syncretism with the vision left by the Spanish conquest and the republican legacy.

Hence, the troops in the procession feature figures such as the Captain, the Moorish King, the Angel of the star, the Standard-bearer and the Ambassador, among others, as they sing and dance through the streets of the city.

This celebration served to honor the Virgin, who protected the city of Latacunga from the fury of the Mt. Cotopaxi, the highest snow-capped volcano in the world, whose historical eruptions have been devastating for the area, Luis Chacon, one of the promoters of the festival told EFE.

Chacon even claimed it has been the Mercedarian faith that has in some way helped overcome the coronavirus pandemic, although he recalled that in the last two years the celebration was rather discreet for the fear of infections.

While there are stories that connect this celebration to freedom from Spanish colonialism, some others depict it as a representation of the end of the slavery of the black African population and its close relationship to the indigenous communities of the Andean highlands.

One of the most popular tales narrate how the Virgin of Mercy, the patron of Cotopaxi, saved the city from a volcanic eruption centuries ago in 1742, causing the people to hold an annual celebration in her honor.

The truth is that the representation is rooted in the consciousness of the population and “there is much rejoicing in this festival” with ritual dances and songs, and gestures of solidarity, stressed Chacon.

The singing and dancing along the streets and squares of Latacunga is accompanied by drinking of mistelas (liquor with fruit juice) also among the thousands of spectators on the sidewalks.

The people participating in the festival also prepare large amounts of traditional food, especially dishes based on pork, chicken, rabbit and cuy (guinea pig), cooked with potatoes, corn, broad beans and chochos (lupines).

The Mama Negra festival takes place twice a year – once at the end of September, when the Catholic Church commemorates the Virgin, and for a second time in November, when Latacunga celebrates the anniversary of its independence.

The second celebration this year is set to be held on Nov.11 with a similar procession organized by the city authorities. EFE


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