PILLARO, Ecuador – In Pillaro, a thriving town in the Ecuadorian Andes, thousands of “devils” are preparing their best outfits to welcome the New Year with a multicolored celebration of history and tradition that will run until Jan. 6.
The “Diablada,” a festival that has become a part of the nation’s Cultural Heritage, each year turns Pillaro into a carnival of joy from Jan. 1-6.
Similar to the well-known carnival in Oruro, Bolivia, particularly for the colorful and elaborate devil-masks that people use in the celebration, preparations for the Diablada have gotten under way in Pillaro, a booming agricultural community in Ecuador’s central mountainous province of Tungurahua.
A couple of hours by vehicle from Quito, Pillaro is going to great pains to finalize the details for the celebration, at which almost 100,000 Ecuadorian and foreign visitors are expected during its six-day run.
The town’s mayor, Patricio Sarabia, told EFE that the tradition “dates back about 150 years and, for a number of historians, it represents the rebellion of the indigenous people against Spanish colonialism.”
According to scholars, in the past “Jan. 1 was a day off” for the peasants on the large “haciendas” and – “to demonstrate their indignation against their (precarious) living conditions, they dressed up in costumes” with devil-masks that frightened the Hispanics,” Sarabia said.
But “there’s another legend” that recounts a curious community episode: Men from Tunguipamba and Carlos Espinel (neighborhoods on the ourskirts of Pillaro) crossed from one district to the other to court the daughters of their neighbors, creating jealousy among the local young men.
So, the locals dressed up in devil-masks to frighten the intruders, Sarabia said, adding that he prefers to take these two versions, from among the many that have circulated over time, as the most appropriate to explain the origin of the traditional celebration.
Currently, the Diablada has become a magnet for tourists attracted by the celebration and the fabulous masks fashioned with love by artisans like Angel Velasco, who said with pride that many of his works have found their way abroad.
He also said that the famous Ecuadorian painter, now deceased, Oswaldo Guayasamin, used to visit him to buy devil-masks.
Julio Moya, 28, began making devil-masks when he was just 10 and said that the Diablada is a chance to improve the earnings of the artisans.
Moya, who suffered a car accident several years ago, now works with his six collaborators to make 70-80 masks for the celebration.
They make them using recycled paper and real horns from local animals, and they paint and retouch the devilish faces.
People buy or rent the heavy masks to wear at the local dances and processions that make their way through the center of town.
“It’s a novel thing. There’s nothing else like it anywhere in Ecuador” and so “people come and relax,” said Moya, who promised a unique and fun fiesta to all who visit Pillaro in early January.