Neither the quarantine to contain the contagions of COVID-19 nor the economic crisis manage to contain the frenzy of hundreds of faithful who dance as possessed in the ancestral ritual of the Dancing Devils, with which almost a dozen coastal towns of Venezuela pay homage to God at the Corpus Christi party.

“We have been in dance for almost 300 years uninterruptedly,” Kelvin Romero told The Associated Press. This 54-year-old Venezuelan has spent 48 of them dancing in one of the oldest and most attractive religious traditions in the country, practiced in the parish of Naiguatá, located in La Guaira state, north of Caracas.

The ritual of the Devils of Naiguatá, where the descendants of Spaniards, African slaves and aboriginals come together, which shows the ethnic diversity of Venezuelans, was designated by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity in 2012 along with ten other brotherhoods of Devils Corpus Christi dancers, who for centuries have surrendered before the Blessed Sacrament, which represents Christ in the Eucharist.

Dancing before the Blessed Sacrament dressed as devils in the vicinity of the temples symbolizes the victory of good over evil and recalls the time when faithful and pagans alike received the Christian blessing.

The Dancing Devils dance was devised by Catholic priests to attract African slaves and indigenous settlers to the Church. The latter resisted leaving their ancestral rites and were incorporated to break with racial discrimination in religious ceremonies, particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist, the greatest of the Christian sacraments.

Maintaining the tradition is a feat in this country hit by the most severe economic crisis in its history, which includes four-digit inflation, as well as the restrictions derived from the quarantine in force since March 16, 2020.

Some of the so-called “promeseros” don’t have the resources to make the masks, but they always pay their promises and show their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, said Elvis Rodríguez, a 34-year-old dancing devil from Naiguatá, who makes his own masks and has been dancing since 28 years ago.

Due to the economic crisis and the high costs of supplies, Rodríguez is one of the Venezuelans who stopped manufacturing new masks every year and repeatedly choose to disassemble some in order to “be able to assemble others.”

Due to the pandemic, the celebration in the last two years has varied a lot to avoid contagion, Rodríguez said. The use of masks, gloves and social distancing – at least for now – are part of the ritual.

According to tradition, on the ninth Thursday after Holy Week the “devil is on the loose”, so the dancers come from anywhere, many directly from their homes, and congregate in front of the temple.

Some of them advance on their knees the last 30 meters between a cross and the church as penance.

The pandemic, however, has forced some adjustments to the ritual, including suspending the procession in the villages. The celebration last year and this year has been “atypical,” said Alexis Pérez, a member of the brotherhood of the Dancing Devils of Yare in neighboring Miranda state.

The pandemic “broke the schemes, broke tradition. Now they don’t dance in the town”, but in the altars and places arranged by the authorities, together with the church and the “foremen” of the brotherhood, he said.

“People no longer go where the Blessed Sacrament is”, tourists do not arrive en masse, the devils do not go out in procession to follow a short distance as a sign of submission and fear of the Blessed Sacrament, explained Pérez, 63, who is 38 years old. as promesero. “Now the Blessed Sacrament reaches the sectors where the people are.”

Despite the fact that the dance of the devils has become a tourist attraction, the religious authorities do not tire of clarifying that it is a solemn religious ceremony.

“We divide the municipality into sectors and in each sector the promeseros” of the neighborhood will meet, while a “procession takes the Blessed Sacrament in a bus, they dance there, pay their promise and those promeseros stay there in their sector” .

Despite the problems, the “promeseros” are not put down and strive to preserve this ancient tradition for future generations.

“I thought that if they did not give permission” the authorities and the church, “just as the devils were going to leave,” emphasized Pérez. They never considered canceling the celebration. It is impossible for the devotees not to, he insisted.

Although the promises are usually personal, in times of pandemic the dancing devils in unison ask for “the miracle” to end the pandemic worldwide and protect Venezuela

In this country – where the coronavirus has not hit with as much force as in other South American territories – 2,674 deaths are recorded and more than 236,000 positive cases, of which about 16,200 active cases remain.

Miranda and La Guaira are among the five states with the most infections, more than 27,900 and 13,900, respectively. Caracas is the region with the highest number, with almost 41,000 positive cases registered

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