San Juan is one of the larger festivals in the community. It doesn’t seem to have a fixed day, but it usually happens sometime in June. I’ve also heard of communities having a San Juan as late as August. We weren’t really able to figure out any sort of mythology behind San Juan, the people generally just explained it away as a tradition that has been around for a while. What I was able to get a good idea of was the traditional activities and food surrounding the event.
Mbeju- looks like a Mexican tortilla, but it make of big crumbly pieces of Paraguay cheese(nothing close to any cheese in the US) and maize/flour(?)
Empanada de Mandi’o- made from manioca flour with meat on the inside. At first I thought they meant the mandioca (like a potato)was on the inside, so I could eat it. But of course not, this is Paraguay, there is meat in everything
Meat on a stick-it usually has a prettier name, but it escapes me right now
Sopa Paraguay- ‘Sopa’ means soup, but for some reason, Sopa Paraguay actually looks…but doesn’t taste… like corn bread. To avoid confusion with this dish, soup, as we know it in the states, is usually called ‘caldo.’ ‘Caldo’ usually just refers to broth.
Traditional Dances: As a fundraiser, a local school had the students dress up in traditional clothes and do some traditional dances. Each grade had its own dance to present, Kindergarten through 9th grade. We left early because it was taking a long time to get through the dances, we couldn’t hear what the kids were saying during the speaking parts, and it was getting cold. Since they started with the lower grades we never made it to the more interesting dances with the older students at the end. However at Angelique’s’ birthday, one of the hosts sisters did a dance with a small clay jar on her head. I’ve got video, maybe I’ll have a fast enough internet connection one day to post it.
Grease Pole: people try to get to the top of a very tall pole covered in grease/oil to get the prizes at the top
Sack races: Same as in the US
Walking on hot coals: didn’t have the pleasure of seeing this one myself. Supposedly you can only do it successfully on the evening of the solstice (first day of winter). Also supposedly, if you have a lot of faith you won’t get burned.
Piñatas: not the paper mache, animal ones were used to. The piñatas here are usually a clay pot or a huge balloon. There are several, that you can hit, but usually only one or two have candy/prizes. The others contact flour, water, etc.
Judas: Burning of a life-size doll made of old rags called a Judas. Usually a neighborhood commission is in charge of making the doll and give it a name of an unpopular political figure, However because the national Paraguay football team has lost their last two games, I’ve heard that some of the Judas’ have been named after people connected to the team like the coach. The Judas usually has fireworks inside that also explode after it is lit on fire. Yes, very safe, I know.
Kamba: teenage guys dress up in women’s clothing/rags with masks. At the fiesta near my house the Kambas were the ones the ones who lit the Judas on fire and then proceeded to tear apart the doll piece by piece while it was still on fire. Then they went to the dance floor, just the Kambas, and danced around wildly like they were possessed by an evil spirit, made vulgar hand gestures and dancing, and sometimes they just humped another…whatever same thing. Small children, future Kambas no doubt, threw the still burning pieces of the Judas onto the Kambas while they were in the dancing area in the plaza/soccer field. The Kambas were also the ones who climbed the greased pole. If little kids got too close, they would chase them away. When the Kambas realized I was taking pictures they were quite happy to pose for me.
Flaming Toro: The lovely Kambas also had a costume of sorts shaped kind of like a bull. The frame/body of the bull of the costume looked like an egg, lying on its side, cut in half length-wise, large enough for someone to get inside, covered in a white sheet. Sort of like a Chinese dragon/snake that they use in the traditional dances, but on a much simpler scale. The bull also had a small head with horns. The horns were made of some sort of torch which they lit on fire. The Kambas then proceeded to chase the other Kambas around the dance floor and try to gore them with the flaming horns. After a while the toro moved onto the soccer field and chased little kids around. I think the Kambas eventually tired of the toro and it too was left to the smaller children.
Jail: Someone pays to have you put into ‘jail’ (a human corral by the dance floor) by the Kamba. Then you have to pay to get yourself out or find a friend to pay for you. The Kamba literally picket people up or grabbed them by both arms to put them into ‘jail’. Then again, sometimes they would just sneak up behind people and grab them. After I took their photos, I was afraid they would try to sneak up on me too, but they never did. Silvana (host sister) and I had a tight grip on one another, so they would have had to try and get us both .
Host Dad: My lovely host dad, no doubt an experienced Kamba in his day, dressed up in a skirt, fake green curly hair, a long long wedding veil, an old jacket which he used to contain his very large breasts that he made with old towels. He proceeded to run around the neighborhood/plaza like a crazy man grabbing people and asking them to be his boyfriend (at least I think that is what he was saying, he was speaking in Guarani). Yup he was La Novia of the party. I’m sure that all good Kambas hope that one day, they too will grow up to be La Novia. What a catch he is indeed ;). Yup I have pics of this too. Funny thing though, dad didn’t remember posing for the photos I took of him that night in the house. Maybe someone had a little too much vino.
Ahh yes, all in good fun, what an interesting little festival
One year down the road - A while ago I promised some accounting, and then never followed through. Sorry for the delay. For the four or five of you who read this, here you go. I rec...
4 years ago