Latacunga is a beautiful city located in the heart of Ecuador, at the foot of the Cotopaxi Volcano. This warm and welcoming city is home to one of the most important popular manifestations: the “Mama Negra” (Black Mama).
This unique festivity is also known as “Fiesta de la Capitanía” (Party of the Captaincy) or “Santísima Tragedia” (Saint tragedy). The characters, rites, music and dances give life to a peculiar expression.
A colorful celebration, Mama Negra is a blend of popular, aboriginal, African, Mestizo, Spanish, pagan and religious manifestations.
With the awakening of the Cotopaxi Volcano, a miraculous event marked the cultural essence of Latacunga inhabitants.
History tells that the locals, in the face of the eruption, organized a conciliating pilgrimage proclaiming the Virgin of la Merced as the matron of the city.
The virgin calmed the volcano, and as a sign of gratitude, the latacungeños began a celebration in her honor.
At the time of the eruption, African slaves were being brought by the Spanish conquerors to work in mines. The locals, impressed by their appearance, incorporated their arrival into the celebrations and named the festival “The Black Mama.”
We now celebrate this festivity in September and the first Saturday before November 11, when the city celebrates its independence.
The Mama Negra: is a liberated slave, matriarch of african slaves that were brought to work in the gold mines surrounding the city. She rides a dark horse, giving thanks to the city matron (the Virgin) for the favors received.
Today, the Mama Negra is the main character in the festivity. This characters is represented by a man dressed as a woman. He paints his face black, lips flashy red, and uses a curly haired wig with colorful ribbons and fake pearls. He also uses large golden earrings and elegant necklaces, a fine silk blouse with colorful and bright designs, a long skirt and an embroidered shawl.
The Mama Negra uses white gloves and carries her daughter “Manuelita Baltazara”and a “sopleta” (bottle) full of perfumed milk, that is splashed over the public. Behind her, on the same horse, she carries two kids as a symbol of fertility.
The Taita Negro or “Ashanguero:” the black father is Mama Negra’s husband. He carries a heavy “ashanga” on his back that contains a pig, rabbits, chickens and guinea pigs (ready to be cooked!). He also carries melcocha (a local raw candy), bread, fruits, and sweets.
The Captain: represents the Spanish Mayor who was appointed by the king. He performs a funny march to the rhythm of the popular band, and leads his delegation waving an unsheathed saber. His military uniform is full of badges that represent his authority. In the past, all the honors revolved around this character, who was the direct authority of the Spanish realty, and was in charge of all the expenses!
Angel of Star: represents Archangel Gabriel. He travels on a decorated white horse and uses white clothing as a symbol of his purity. The angel also carries a scepter with a star, which guides the whole committee to an encounter with the matron of the city. He recites verses in her honor.
The Moorish King: symbolizes nobility and solemnity. He rides a dark-colored horse, carrying a long ornamented cape, and also uses a scepter as a sign of power and authority.
The Flag Bearer: carries a multicolored Moorish flag. Uses both Andean and Spanish elements symbolizing interculturalism. His clothes are of military cut and he paredes in foot.
Other characters in the parade:
“Cholas Ofrenderas”: young women carrying baskets with fruits and sweets.
“Cholas Veladoras”: young devotees who carry lights to represent their devotion to the Virgin
“Guioneros or Horse Caregivers
Praisers: recite poems to the Virgin
“Champuseros:”distribute champus (a sweet beverage made from maize) which they serve to the public. They take champus in a bucket and use a ladle to serve!
Yumbos: legendary characters who perform festive dances that liven the party.
“Capariches” or Street Sweepers: clean the streets after the parade
“Urcuyayas”: represent the sanctity of nature in the Andean cosmovision. Their dresses are covered entirely by hay or moss and they wear feathers on their head.
“Huacos”: witchdoctors or priests that use white attire and carry a deer antler
“Curiquingues”: imitate a bird species from the Andes. They are considered to be guardians of natural heritage.
“Camisonas”: men who dress up as women to give sweets to the public that behaves and “whip” those who misbehave.
All of these characters, accompanied by a popular band, parade through the city presenting a unique spectacle of color and folklore.
Don’t miss this multicultural experience!