La Mama Negra, the rite that is back in the Andes

The Black Mama, the traditional Mercedarian rite that is remembered decades ago in the center of the Ecuadorian Andes, has returned to the streets of Latacunga with hubbub, after two years of restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Is unique religious celebration in the worldconsidered as Intangible Heritage of Ecuador, brings together features of the Andean worldview, Christian syncretism and African culture, in an amalgam of beliefs and celebrations typical of the country’s multiculturalism.

He collected the remains of vessels that he later learned to imitate

Read more

The Black Mama is the representation of an African character who pays homage to the Virgin of La Merced, which also includes the spirituality of indigenous ethnic groups such as the Yumbos, in syncretism with the vision left by the Spanish conquest and the Republican legacy. For this reason, in the comparsas, which exceed forty, there are unavoidable characters such as the Captain, the Moorish King, the Angel of the Star, the Flag Bearer and the Ambassador, among others.

This celebration arose as an offering to the Virgin of La Merced to protect the city of Latacunga from the fury of Cotopaxi, the highest snow-capped volcano in the world, a colossus whose historical eruptions have been devastating for this city. This is how Luis Chacón tells it, one of the main promoters of the celebration and who disguises himself as Mama Negra to represent the joyful devotion to the protective Virgin.

Chacón even assured that it was the Mercedarian faith that made it possible to somehow overcome the coronavirus pandemic, although he recalled that in the past two years the celebration was rather discreet due to fear of contagion. He has undergone a rigorous process of makeup to cover up Mama Negraas well as other characters that are part of the troupes that run through the streets of Latacunga by dint of dancing, singing and drinking.

Photo of Granas System (8627838)

Canoa, the ‘bus’ that unites 80 communities of Esmeraldas

Read more

Although there are stories that assign to this celebration a meaning of emancipation from Spanish colonialism, there are those who also place it as a representation of the end of the slavery of the black African population and its close relationship to the indigenous communities of the Andean highlands. Likewise, one of the most heard legends about the celebration, assures that the Virgin of La Merced protected the inhabitants of Latacunga more than 120 years ago from the lava, mud and rocks that the Cotopaxi volcano threw in one of its eruptions, which motivated that people decided to celebrate the miracle with this rite.

The truth is representation is ingrained in the consciousness of the population and, for this reason, “we live this festival with joy”, which in addition to ritual dances and songs, shines with gestures of solidarity, is what Luis Chacón comments.

Dancing, singing, food and drinks

The troupes that dance and sing through the streets and squares of Latacunga offer mistelas to the thousands of onlookers who crowd the sidewalks. Also the citizens and peasants who participate in the tour prepare large amounts of traditional food, especially dishes based on pork, chicken, rabbit and guinea pig, garnished with potatoes, corn, broad beans and lupins. the of this September 24 was not the only celebration of the Mama Negra in this city. On November 11, the Municipality of the capital of the province of Cotopaxi organizes another similar one, in homage to colonial independence. To the rhythm of the village bands, more than 6,000 people dance endlessly through the streets of this city in the Ecuadorian Andes.

La Mama Negra, the rite that is back in the Andes