NAIGUATA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Members of a Venezuelan ceremonial brotherhood known as the Dancing Devils held their annual Corpus Christi celebration on Thursday calling for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and the world.
Groups of adult and young men in towns along the central coast of Venezuela have dressed since the 18th century as masked demons who perform a ritual in which they surrender to God as part of a symbolic victory of good over evil. The celebration of the Roman Catholic holiday mixes indigenous, African and Spanish traditions, according to the ministry of culture.
The festivities in Naiguata, a city 52 kilometers (32 miles) northeast of the capital Caracas, began mid-morning Thursday and ended after 6 p.m. local time. Neighbors played the drums for the dancers who dressed as demons that took the shape of animals, such as horses, dogs or cats, with bells tied around their waists.
“We must ask for the most holy sacrament of the altar for the disappearance of (the pandemic) around the world because what we are experiencing is bad,” said Henry González, who has been dancing with the group for 50 years since he began at age 7.
“We do this so that tradition never wanes,” he said.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Dancing Devils part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012.
Authorities allowed the festival because the devils wear masks under their decorative masks and the outdoor ceremony respected pandemic distancing measures, said Efren Yriarte, director of the association of the dancing devil in Naiguata.
Some dancers “are praying for this pandemic to end, because too many people have died. Family members of the dancers have died,” said Ervis Rodríguez, who has been in the brotherhood for more than 20 years.
Official data from Venezuela shows more than 238,000 coronavirus cases and 2,689 deaths, but many health experts believe the actual numbers could be much higher.
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