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  HOME | Central America

With Whirling Dances, Guatemalan Indians Honor Our Lady

JOYABAJ, Guatemala – Booming music, food, alcohol and dancers whirling in the air are the essential ingredients of the festival of Joyabaj, a small indigenous municipality in northwest Guatemala that honors with this celebration Our Lady of the Assumption.

For more than a week, thousands of Joyabaj natives, mostly of the Maya-Quiche ethnicity and mostly storekeepers and farmers by trade, meet in the park to venerate the Virgin they consider their protector and benefactor.

She is also known as Our Lady of the Transition, an allusion to the ascension of the Mother of Jesus before being assumed body and soul into heaven, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church promulgated in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.

As occurs every year, the performance that has all eyes on it is the Dance of the Flying Pole, in which the artists hang from a pole about 30 meters (100 feet) tall by a rope tied to their ankles in front of the Catholic Church of Santa Maria of Joyabaj and descend flying wide circles in the air.

This pagan dance that began in this village is based on a story from the sacred Maya-Quiche book “Popol Vuh” about the brothers Jun Batz and Jun Ch’owen.

Both were punished for trying to kill the twins of each, Hunahpu and Ixbalanque. When they failed in their murderous attempt, the gods turned them into monkeys.

That is why the “brothers” dance graciously while unreeling the rope to lower themselves to the rhythm of the traditional music of Joyabaj (which means “between rocks”).

To choose the pole that is the center of the dance, the dancers and spectators perform the Sacred Fire ritual, in which they beg nature to provide them with the perfect tree, which dozens of men then drag to the center fo the park.

During the afternoon and night of the eight days commemorating the Virgin, from Aug. 8 until Aug. 15, there are outdoor concerts in the park and a queen of the municipality is elected from among the most iconic beauties from the different villages.

All the shows feature colors, dances, costumes and masks mixed with contemporary music that the dancers follow to perfection, to the delight of the Joyabaj natives, who watch them closely.

The Dance of the Flying Pole is also performed in other Guatemalan municipalities like Cubulco and Chichicastenango, though each has its slight variations according to the traditions of each region.

Joyabaj was founded around the year 1549 as one of the “Indian villages” by Dominican friars from the Sacapulas monastery.

 

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