The Division of the Sun Ceremony
Updated: Jul 19, 2018
Would you want this creature to be the owner of your soul? The Spanish colonialists thought you would rather not, and used that thought as a tool to convert the indigenous people of Latin America, including Panama, to Catholicism. Staying in the larger town of Chitre a 15 minutes drive outside Parita, we arrived for the first event of the Corpus Christi festival early Wednesday. We were to witness the division of the sun ceremony at noon. At this ceremony, the earth, and the souls inhabiting it, are divided between three devils. People have started gathering around the square, including children in school uniforms. Suddenly, the church bells announce something is happening. This is followed by a steady drum beat. From the corner next to the bell tower, a devil enters the square and a violin is added to the music. He dances around the square, enters the center and kneels, presenting his stock turning to the sun. Interestingly, he is also positioned facing the church side entrance. Soon, he is followed by another devil entering from an opposite corner performing a similar dance, and a female devil entering from the third side. Finally, the last devil enter: the Dirty Devil.
In contrast to the first two Clean devils who wears pants under the robes, the Clean Devil wears a one-piece costume. After kneeling with his stock as the other three did, it is evident he has his eyes set on the female devil. While the two Clean devils take a seat at the table in the middle of the square. Meanwhile, the Dirty Devil is distracted by dancing with the female devil and is about to be left out of the negotiations. Knowing the basics of the play performed, I know they are dividing up the earth and 100 souls.
Two devils diving the earth and its souls. A third devil has been distracted by a female devil so that these two can try to keep him out of the division. Notice the colors: different regions and towns have devils exhibiting different color schemes.These are Clean Devils, owing to their costumes: being of colored fabric, it has traditionally been more expensive and the color did not run in the rain or humidity. The other main form of devil is the Dirty Devil, which you can see on the video below.
However, 100 souls divided by three leaves one poor soul without a home, if one can put it that way given the home is with a devil. At the end, the missing soul appears and the devils dance around the colonial square in front of the church behind an angel and the missing soul in front. We get up, and make our way to our lunch place a local Fonda. The symbolism of the dance is the fight of good against evil. Another prominent aspect is the attention to the four corners of the world. This is not an uncommon cultural trait, including in many Latin American indigenous cultures. This first taste of dancing devils is giving us a taste for what was to come the next days. In the meantime, enjoy a picture of the children dressing for dancing as devils following the angel and the lost soul together with the four "big" devils.