The Agüizotes Feast is celebrated on the last Friday of October. Ghosts, which have struck the imagination of children, young people and adults for centuries, come out and walk about the dark alleys of the city of Masaya in the darkness of the night.
Los Agüizotes is the festival in Nicaragua where death comes disguised as a variety of characters from traditional myths and scary legends. Characters such as the La Llorona (the Weeping Woman), ghosts, demons, all roam the streets of Masaya, accompanied by marching bands and screams. This is a sort of Carnival parade that unfolds in a special atmosphere created by thousands of lit candles.
The festival takes place on the last Friday of October, in Masaya, the cultural capital of Nicaragua located 28 kilometers east of the capital Managua. The name agüizotes comes from the word ‘güis’ a local bird which is believed to announce death. Therefore agüizotes means myths, scary legends, ghosts, spirits of dead people who come back to life. “People on this occasion dress up in costumes representing several characters of legends and Nicaraguan folk mythology”, the Nicaraguan anthropologist Antonio Suazo explains.
When the sun goes down
The scary masks come out when the sun goes down and take to the streets of Barrio Monimbo, an indigenous neighbourhood. The gloomy scenario is illuminated only by hundreds of candles and handmade chandeliers or lamps carried by the participants in the parade.
The craftsmen of Masaya make the masks, which are the main feature of the festival. The masks are made from papier-mache, starch, plaster and paint. Some artisans also use horns of cows, deer and other horned animals to make scarier masks which increase excitement among people attending the parade. Jorge Iván Espinoza, a craftsman, with 22 years experience in the production of the elaborate Agüizote masks, tells us that at the beginning, this event took place only in the neighborhood of Monimbo, then this tradition spread across the city, and now people come to see it from all over the country and even from abroad. Espinoza still remember how scared he was when, as a child, he heard the stories of mythological characters, such as La Cegua (the Witch), or La Llorona (the Weeping Woman ). He recalls some residents saying that they had bumped into “la cegua”, “la llorona”, or “la Carreta nagua” (a haunted cart that is driven by Death and pulled by two skeletal oxen), and that some of them met these characters at dawn after a night of partying, some others in the middle of the night.
The participants in this ghost parade gather in Plaza Magdalena, in the Monimbo district, and, disguised in terrifying costumes, they start walking about the alleys at 8:00 pm, howling, screaming, shaking chains, shooting fire and dancing to the sound of chicheros music. The alleys are lighted by torches, and by tallow candles carried by people. Of course, also coffins with cheerful deceased, cannot be missing at the parade, as well as beautiful young women disguised as vampires and devils.
La Vela del Candil
In reality, the Nica Halloween begins the day before, on Thursday, with ‘La Vela del Candil’ a traditional celebration that symbolizes the forthcoming arrival of the night, when the mythical characters of different legends appear, such as, the priest without head, and the mokuana (the witch).
The Toro Venado folkloric carnival is a sort of street theatre where the people dress in costumes to mock local politicians, public figures and everyone else. This event follows the Agüizotes celebration and falls, in fact, on the last Sunday of October. Other figures from Masaya’s folklore also make an appearance, such as the Los Aguizotes – people dressed as devils and other characters from popular legends. The carnival is part of the city’s annual patron saint celebration dedicated to San Jeronimo, which lasts for three months.
According to the legend, a farmer, who was suffering widespread cattle losses, offered San Jeronimo a procession in order that the Saint solve his problems. In the end a dead tiger was found and the farmer and his workers took to the streets to celebrate. They took the head of a bull and put two branches on it which represented the horns; hence the term “toro venado“. They disguised themselves as animals, while women offered flowers and sweets. “Over time, the typical wit of Nicaraguans turned this event into an occasion to mock the Spanish and later people started to dress in costume to mock politicians, or other public figures”, says anthropologist Antonio Suazo again. During the celebration, dances with rhythmic movements are performed to the sound of cheerful music played by traditional musicians.