During the months of December and January, Riobamba celebrates “El Pase del Niño” or the “Passing of the Child” (Christ). And this year is special. In September, the Ministry of Culture proclaimed El Pase del Niño in Riobamba an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Ecuador”.
The Pase del Niño, or the several Pases del Niño that occur during these months are some of the most important and ancient cultural manifestations in the city. Festivities begin 9 days prior to Christmas and culminate with the main event of the Passing of the Child on January 6th.
A demonstration of devotion
On January 6th of each year, the main streets of Riobamba are flooded by the procession in an ode to Christ Child. The colonial figure of Christ as a child, “King of Kings”, is presented by the priostes. This treasured figure was rescued from the ruins of the earthquake that shook Riobamba in 1797, by the Mendoza family (owners). It represents the legacy, not only of the family, but the whole city. On the day of the festivity, the Child is carried from the Santa Rosa Oratorium to the Church “Loma de Quito.” To accompany the Child and bare him gifts, the three wise men ride their horses down the street.
A demonstration of identity
Even though the Pase del Niño is traditionally a religious manifestation, Riobambeños that participate in the festivity are moved by a sense of belonging, and an intention to preserve this tradition that is central to their identity.
The Passing of the Child has also helped the locals who participate and offer a service in the days prior to, during, and even after the festivity. The whole community comes together to participate in the pageant. Locals make eccentric, unique and colorful costumes for rent, create and sell the carefully crafted masks, and offer services such as public transportation, visual animations, food, and artistic presentations.
This festivity, alcohol free, is full of life and respect for the Child. Costumes and masks take the the streets and offer us a spectacle of folklore and euphoria. The leading characters, such as the Main Devil, have the most elaborate dresses, with lights, braids, and horns.
The entire neighborhood is invited to the stadium where there is music, dancing and cheering in the name of the Child. The priostes, who were appointed the responsibility of the preparations host the rest of the celebrations. They have music and food for their guests, and they have to make sure that they can welcome everybody. They even ask neighboring houses to join them in order to take more people in!
Traditional characters of the Pase del Niño:
– Priostes: in charge of the preparations for the festivity. They are chosen each year, sometimes they are designated and other times families volunteer.
– Devils: a rebellious expression. When the Spaniards came and introduced God and Jesus as the image of “good” the servants used to dress up as devils. The devil uses an elegant blue and red jacket with a tin mask painted red. He also has a “cabuya”
braid and a rattling toy that gives a beat to his dancing. Traditionally, he/she who is chosen as the devil must play that role for 7 years in a row. Some devils carry mirrors to represent vanity, a sin.
– Sacha Runa: means man of the jungle/ man of the forest. The Sacha Runa comes alive in a legend as a wild being who inhabits the forests, shouting to scare people away. He wears old clothes with embroidery and moss, a wig made out of “cabuya” and a terrifying mask. He also carries around a whip.
– Vassals: They symbolize the respect for the kings and accompany the parade throughout El Pase, dancing along with the rest of the characters. They wear light-colored shirts, black pants, white gloves, a black belt and black shoes. Their faces are painted pink and they use sun glasses, a hat, a sword or machete, a tin cup that hangs from their belts, and a stick where a guinea pig, bread, and an apple are impaled.
– Yaruquíes Dancer: a male character of pre-hispanic origins who worshiped the Gods of the Sun and the Moon. It represents the blending of the catholic religion with indigenous traditions from the area. Its movements, when dancing, represent the movement and rotation of the Earth. Yaruquíes wear white clothing with embroideries, a felt hat with mirrors and colored ribbons, and black leather shoes..
– Traditional Clown: represents happiness and humor, opens the parade and takes care of the Child. Clowns wear bright suits, a painted paper mask, baggy trousers and a hat.
– The Dogs: The guardian of physical integrity of the Child. Just as the clown does, the dog leads the way and takes care of the participants, mischievous, it pretends to be a dog, and plays around with the spectators. Dogs wear multi colored rags of fabric, and a cabuya string on their waist, a colorful scarf, and a mask with a dog’s face on it.
– Curiquingue: represents the Andean bird of the same name. Its dance imitates the movements of the curiquingue bird to honor the Sun God.The Curiquingue wears silk, wings, and a bonnet.
The Pase del Niño originated as an expression of faith and a manifestation of devotion to the Child but it has become much more than that. If you want to witness the blending of ancestral beliefs, Western religions, and traditions of the Andes, then Riobamba awaits. A parade full of color, life, devotion, and movement will perfectly capture the spirit of Ecuadorian festivities.