and customs in Venezuela
a rite with historic roots from the Middle Ages, the eve
of Corpus Christi in Venezuela heralds annually the return
of Los Diablos Danzantes, the devil dancers.
During this festive event, the streets of villages and towns
across Venezuela are flooded by men of all ages dressed
up in elaborate and colourful devil costumes and sporting
ferocious papier-mâché masks.
In large busy urban areas like Caracas, however, the tradition
is maintained only at certain parts of the city, on the
outskirts or amongst schoolchildren.
In some instances, the ringing of bells and three beats
on a metal drum summon the presence of the Diablos Danzantes
the day before Corpus Christi. The devil dancers may then
run amok in the town before falling upon their knees in
front of a church to pray. Usually they hold a night-time
candle-lit mass called el Velorio de los Diablos Danzantes.
During the Middle Ages, different customs developed in Europe
around Corpus Christi. One of these was a splendid outdoor
procession in which merchants, nobles and clergymen participated.
Another was the performance of mystery plays in public squares
Dances symbolising the struggle between good and evil, Heaven
and Hell also came to mark the occasion. By the 17th century,
major characters from the mystery plays themselves appeared
in the processions as people began to dress up as saints
and other biblical characters, devils and demons, symbolising
the honour that had to be paid by all to the Eucharistic
In Spain, figures with immense masks representing famous
Old Testament characters took part in the procession and
performed traditional dances on the streets. In the churches
groups of choirboys danced before the altar in honour of
the Blessed Sacrament.
The customs and rituals surrounding Corpus Christi were
introduced to the New World by Spanish conquistadors. Enslaved
Africans and indigenous peoples adapted them and the present
day music and art forms of the Venezuelan devil dance owe
much to this blend.
According to one account, the Venezuelan dancing devils
of custom date back to the 17th century, when Spanish slave-owners
initiated attempts to convert the enslaved Africans to Christianity.
They connected Corpus Christi to penitence, the payment
of debts and to notions that they thought would appeal to
the subjugated pagans in their power: land fertility, bountiful
harvests, the honouring of the earth and the securing of
blessings upon the family.
Today, devil dancing is still a serious matter for many
participants who pledge to dance each year in penance for
the sins of their families.
The devil dancers may be organised into confraternities
dedicated to the Eucharist and in the early hours of Corpus
Christi, they visit the graves of their predecessors before
The procession begins after the Corpus Christi Mass and
the whirling devils with their drums and bells are said
to be a fearsome sight as they run through the streets driving
evil from the cities and towns.
They visit houses and shops, purging evil and receiving
gifts in return. In some towns and cities they may dance
all night to scare away the devil.
In Venezuela, the area noted for having the oldest and most
famous Diablos Danzantes is San Francisco de Paula de Yare.
Different locales have their own distinctive costumes and
masks but in San Francisco de Paula de Yare, the colour
of the devil dancers is yellow and red.
Many villages have specific numbers of devil dancers, ranging
from 13 to 200. According to one source, if you count the
number of dancers you may see an extra devil, for example
14 instead of 13. This means that the devil himself is abroad
and has joined the dancing masqueraders.
You may also count one less, such as 12 instead of 13. This
means that one of the dancers was not concentrating enough
and the devil whisked him away across the mountains.
In cases like these, some dancers have claimed that they
ended up miles away and that they had to walk for days to
get back to their villages after being snatched away by
Here at the Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish
(SIS), one of our aims is to facilitate an awareness of
Latin American culture and society and the driving forces
We invite you to increase your knowledge of countries and
communities across the Spanish-speaking Americas and in
this respect we will leave you with a few vocabulary words
related to this articles topic:
devil dancers los diablos danzantes
wake el velorio
mask la máscara
church la iglesia
street la calle
town la ciudad
For more information on the Spanish as the First Foreign
Language (SAFFL) initiative, please contact the Secretariat
for the Implementation of Spanish (a division of the Ministry
of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329