“La Mama Negra”, the Mercedarian rite that returns to the Andes after the pandemic

Quito, Sep 24 (EFE) .- “La Mama Negra”, the traditional Mercedarian rite that has been remembered for decades in the center of the Ecuadorian Andes, has returned to the streets of Latacunga with hubbub, after two years of restrictions by blame the coronavirus.

This unique religious celebration in the world, considered Intangible Heritage of Ecuador, brings together features of the Andean worldview, Christian syncretism and African culture, in an amalgam of beliefs and festivities typical of the country’s multiculturalism.


“La Mama Negra” 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 was reported to Efe by Luis Chacón, 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 makeup process to dress up as “Mama negra”, as well as other characters that are part of the troupes that run through the streets of Latacunga by dancing, singing and drinking.


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 with 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 that the representation is rooted in the conscience of the population and, therefore, “we live with joy this party” that, in addition to ritual dances and songs, shines with gestures of solidarity, according to Chacón.


And it is that the comparsas that dance and sing through the streets and squares of Latacunga, also offer mistelas (liquor with fruit juice) to the thousands of onlookers who crowd the sidewalks.

Citizens and peasants who participate in the tour also prepare large amounts of traditional food, especially dishes based on pork, chicken, rabbit and guinea pig, adorned with potatoes, choclos (cooked corn), broad beans and chochos (lupins).

This September 24 is not the only celebration of “La Mama Negra” in Latacunga, although it is the traditional and authentic one, according to Chacón.

On November 11, the Municipality of the capital of the province of Cotopaxi organizes another similar celebration, in homage to the colonial independence of Latacunga.

To the rhythm of the village bands, more than 6,000 people dance endlessly through the streets of this city in the Ecuadorian Andes, in an explosion of colors and sounds that leave indelible marks on the minds of visitors.

“La Mama Negra”, the Mercedarian rite that returns to the Andes after the pandemic