A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY – AND THE CITY : Fêting San Antonio in Latin America

San Antonio. La Recoleta Church (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

On this rainy night, the eve of the feast day of San Antonio de Padúa, hundreds of kilometers from Los Crepúsculos, I imagine I hear the strains of his serenade.

¡Ay, mi padre San Antonio

Donde está que no lo veo

Que vine a cantar con él

Y me voy con los deseos!

 

Qué queréis con San Antonio

Que lo ‘tas  llamando tanto

San Antonio  está en el cielo

Junto con los otros santos

 

Señores los bailadores

No se vayan a pegar

Los remedios ‘tan  muy lejos

No hay quien los vaya a buscar

 

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

 

Ay, my father San Antonio

Where are you, I don’t see you

I’ve come to sing with him

And I’ll be leaving with my dreams!

 

What is it you want with San Antonio

That you’re calling upon him so much?

San Antonio is in heaven,

Along with the other Saints.

 

It is the eve of the feast day of San Antonio – Saint Anthony of Padua. In the middle of the street of a neighborhood of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, musicians are seated in front of a statue of San Antonio. As they sing their honoring song honoring to this saint, bottles of cocuy (homebrew liquor) are being passed.

This serenade will continue until the wee hours of the morn, when then the all-day procession commences with a mass, and ends with an evening of seven dances…

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guápulo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Even many years after that night in Los Crepúsculos, the serenade sounds through my mind. Every time I encounter a statue of San Antonio – no matter the season – I mouth the words and sway, dancing to this great saint.

 

Iglesia de Sn Antonio (M’burucuyá, Argentina). photo © Lorraine Caputo

The feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua is celebrated on 13 June. San Antonio was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões, in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. He was contemporary of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís), founder of the Franciscan order. Saint Anthony became a monk of this order, and was famous for his knowledge of scripture, being able to teach them through simple words and deeds. Thus he holds the title of Doctor of the Church. He died 13 June 1231.

San Antonio is represented by the infant Jesus cradled in one arm. Sometimes he also holds a book or a lily blossom. He is the patron saint of lost causes, lost (or stolen) items, lost people and of the poor. In France, Italy, Spain and his native Portugal, Saint Anthony is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. In other countries, he is the patron of travelers. On his saint’s day, small loaves of bread are passed out after the mass. This symbolizes San Antonio’s devotion to the marginalized peoples of these lands.

San Antonio is fêted throughout the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. Today, we shall witness the traditions in two distinct parts of this region: in the deep countryside of Nicaragua, and in the barrios of the city of Barquisimeto, in Venezuela.

 

Iglesia San Francisco (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Many moons ago, when I stayed a mighty spell in Estelí, I was invited to accompany Padre Juan and some of the Rugama family to Terrero, a small settlement in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY

 

Campesinos climb the rocky road

up to the brick chapel

With four guitars & two basses

their song fills the  valley

of these greened hills

Rockets fire into the air

 

In his glass case carried

in two men’s work-worn hands

San Antonio sways

Mothers & children enter the church

Fathers gather outside

smoking cigarettes

talking about crops & cattle

The Saint rests to one side of the altar

in front of the moss-covered apse

studded with plastic-petalled carnations

made by women of this parish

A large cloth-covered basket

of fresh-baked bread

is placed atop him

 

On horseback       on foot

the late arrive

One tethers his mare

to a guanacaste tree

Tattered curtains of Spanish moss

floating the blue-white sun breeze

In the distance two women

comedown the camino

They hold the hands of their children´

a baby in arms

 

Outside Padre Juan confers

with the mass assistants

&the musicians

 

More & more ascend the slope

to the sanctuary

Another rocket rises into the sky

where light clouds move & form swiftly

The white line of its smoke

the pop of its explosion

 

The priest & the choir enter the chapel

Men put their discussions aside

&pack into the back

 

Faces of those unable to fit inside

peer into the open doors & windows

 

Some compadres remain perched

on the scattered lava boulders

cowboy hats, baseball caps on knees

One holds his daughter on his thigh

The bow of her yellow voile dress

flutters in the soft wind

 

As the mass unfolds

with the reading of the scripture

the music

with the sermon

& the testimonies of the community

with the celebration of the Eucharist

More families near the temple

children in hand tottering along

children in arms

Men hastily remove their hats

 

The wafers are placed on tongues

Outside a man lights the fuse

of the rockets with his cigarette

The swooshes       the cracks

of each fill the late morning

 

The last song is being sung

Two women carry the basket of bread

All within & outside this crowded

church are fed

 

Amid cries bounding from one another

¡Viva San Antonio!

                                                ¡Viva!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!

                                                ¡Viva!

The Saint is carried away

in his glass case

the handles held by those

two sets of work-worn hands

Down the hill

down the winding road

up the next rise

into the distance

Rocket blasts reverberate

throughout the valley

 

published in: Baobab (2000)

 

Iglesia San Francisco (Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

In further south climes, this popular Saint is also being fêted. One of his largest strong hold is in Venezuela’s state of Lara, where he is the patron saint. The tamunangue music and dances of these celebrations have their roots deep in Africa. It is said to have originated with San Antonio himself, during his missionary work in northern Africa.

My first visit to Venezuela coincided with the fiestas of San Antonio. Friends around the country urged me to get to Barquisimeto, capital of Lara. Yakarí offered to be my guide through the two days of celebrations in the Los Crepúsculos neighborhood. This is home of one of the most traditional troupes, Grupo de Tamunangue Uyama.

The evening of June 12 is the velorio (vigil) to San Antonio, a serenade on the eve of his saint’s day. The next day, mass is said at the parish church in La Unión. The procession then wends through the streets, with dancing and drumming until dusk. At night, the round of dances is performed.

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE CITY

 

  1. El Velorio / Los Crepúsculos

 

The warning rockets are fired

one two three & four

with the butt of a cigarette

 

San Antonio stands in his case

near the door of a house

His wooden capilla

is backdropped by fan-

shaped palm leaves

Two vases of flowers

perch at the front corners

Their carnations scent the evening

a single candle flickers

 

People gather in the cul-de-sac

awaiting this velorio to begin

Many come & touch his head

his back       & then cross themselves

 

The strumming of cuatros

& guitarra marruna

                  begins before this saint

Of a septet standing before him

the strains of Ave María Purísima

A rocket fired

&a second

rocket tras rocket

 

After the song

one troubadour

prays aloud

The standing people repeat

¡Viva San Antonio!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!

 

Everyone sits in silver

wrought-iron seats set

in a semi-circle before the Saint

Two troubadours in the front row

sing to San Antonio

 

Playing kids roam

young teen women gossip—

their mothers & grandmothers, too

 

Two floodlights brighten

the street, the scenario

 

A brindis of cocuy

is left for San Antonio

& after a coffee break

the serenade continues

More men join with

cuatros, voice and cincos

Between songs more

cocuy is poured

 

A grey-rooted, red haired woman

in a bright green shirt

claps with the music

swaying in rhythm

Her palms redden

song after song

 

These men, their eyes reddening

sing leaning into a compañero

or closes his eyes

They praise San Antonio

la-la-ing with heart & smile

or eyes wide, brows twisted with feeling

 

As the evening grows older

people move the chairs

into tight circles around the music

 

And when the velorio

ends at midnight

The musicians suit their instruments

until the next morn,

San Antonio’s feast

 

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

On San Antonio’s feast day, the biggest celebration is in Barrio La Unión. After the morning mass at the parish church, tamunangueros dance through the streets, carrying the beloved saint from house to house. This procession with its accompanying drumming (and copious amounts of cocuy) continues until dusk. After the sun sets, the seven sones (rhythms) of tamunangue are danced by couples armed with garrotes (sticks).

Yakarí and I spent the day being one with the procession. That night, we returned to Los Crepúsculos. For hours we sat on the blacktop street while he explained the intricacies of each dance.

The tamunangue not only honors San Antonio on his feast day, but it is also performed to fulfill a promise (promesa) to him for granting a good harvest, a family request (for wishes of healing, a new home, studies, etc.) or for love conquered.

The tamunangue consists of the Dedicatorio or Serenade to San Antonio, which includes the Batalla (Battle), performed by two men. This is to ask the Saint for permission to present the dances promised to him.

This is then followed by a round of seven dances performed by couples:

  • El Yiyevamos – The opening dance, with the singer directing the dancers with his calls
  • La Bella – An honoring of women
  • La Juruminga – Based rhythms and forgotten African words
  • La Perrendenga – A dance between woman and man, with garrotes
  • El Poco a PocoThree humorous passes compose this dance
  • El Galerón – The couples dance holding hands
  • El Seis Figurado (Seis Corrido) – Three men and three women dance a total of 32 movements, acting out the picaresque calls of the singer

 

These are just two of the ways San Antonio is fêted in Latin America, in the countryside and in the city, by campesinos and by African descendants. The pueblos of this region wear many other faces, including indigenous. Many roads, there are, yet to wend to continue honoring this saint.

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