This past weekend two different cultural folklore traditions met here in Pedasí on October 31st: Halloween and “La Desfile de Los Carretas” (Cart Parade & Festival), a local celebration. In Panama, although gaining some recognition in the city probably due to the international influence of residents and visitors, Halloween is not celebrated as a Panamanian holiday, even though “All Souls Day” or “Dia de Muertos” is on November 2nd due to the heavily Catholic presence in this country.
Since there are many expats in Pedasí who are accustomed to participating in Halloween holiday activities such as dressing up in costume, this year, here in Pedasí, Restaurante Smiley’s hosted a Halloween Costume Party on Friday, October 30th. I have fond childhood memories visiting door-to-door in costume, shouting out “trick-or-treat” and receiving a bagful of candy that would put me into a sugar high for the next week or so. As an adult, I still wore costumes and attended Halloween (or Harvest) parties. My grandchildren still participate in the same traditional manner. Originally scheduled for the actual Halloween evening of October 31st, the owners of Smiley’s were instructed to change it by the Alcade (mayor) and the Municipality due to the folk tradition of the “La Desfile de Los Carretas” which was scheduled on the same day as Halloween. A wide ban of all other festivities other than those related to Pedasí’s local festival on October 31st had been issued. Thus on Friday night we joined many expats, and some Panamanian’s, most dressed in costume, for a fun party with food, drink, music, dancing, and even a costume contest.
That same evening however was the crowning of the new Miss Pedasí who reigns over the next year and the parade the following day. So a different cultural celebration in different part of town was happening at the time; this one again with food, music, and dancing along with fireworks. Two worlds, “Western & Latin”, celebrating two different traditions.
The next day was the “Desfile de Los Carretas” on which Pedasí honors the folk traditions of oxen-draw carts, the old way of transporting goods from farm to town to another town. Even today you can occasionally see a cart on the side of the highway being pulled by oxen (or horses) and carrying lumber, vegetables, milk cans, etc.The parade was scheduled to start at 1pm, Panamanian time. That means anytime after 1pm. I walked down to the townsquare with two girlfriends at about 1:30pm. There was hardly anyone around. And as we were walking, a storm came in very quickly from the ocean. The wind started blowing furiously and just as it started pouring buckets, we were able to find shelter at 7 Mares Restaurante across from the townsquare and a perfect place to watch the parade when and if it started. There was no problem staying there since we knew the restaurant owners, Jose Enrique and William. So we waited out the storm and when it stopped about an hour or so later, people started moving on into the townsquare and lining the streets to watch the parade and party.
The parade started about 4pm and goes around twice. It consists of many oxen-drawn carts representing folk traditions from the different villages of the Pedasí district,
along with women, men, and children dressed in traditional country “polleras” and other clothing;
cabeñeros (cowboys) on horses,
small traditional bands consisting of drums and accordians,
and groups of people representing their town with flags and singing traditional folk music;
followed by the queen, Miss Pedasí.
Many of the people I was with had not seen this annual event before since they were new to the area. So it was enjoyable to see their reactions and explain some of the traditions. Afterwards, they had the “suelta de toro” (running of the bulls), which were released from the back of a truck that parked right in front of the restaurant where we were just after the end of the parade. This year a temporary log fence was put up along the road where the bulls where to run to keep them from just going anywhere. Last year a man was killed when a loose bull hit him, causing him to fly out of his shoes about 20 feet through the air and hitting his head on the pavement. It was an unfortunate accident, but Pedasí, being the only place in all of the Americas to have such an event, apparently wished to keep the tradition going. Fortunately, no one was hurt this year.
This is only the beginning of a month-long festivities and holidays. After the parade and bull run, street and home parties went on late into the night. The cantina was in full swing the next day. Many of the vendors and beer stands which were built around the square for the parade stay up for the next week or so. November 2nd is “Dia de Muertos”; November 3rd – Independence Day from Columbia; November 4th – Flag Day; November 5th – Colon Day; November 10th – Shout in La Villa de Los Santos day (beginning of the Spanish war for independence); and November 28th is Independence Day from Spain. All these days and several days around them are considered non-working days in Panama. And for us, we will be celebrating the traditional U.S. Thanksgiving on November 26th at our home with a few friends. We have learned that not much gets accomplished in November here.
I enjoy learning about the history, culture, and traditions of Panama, and meeting new people, both Panamanians and expats from all over the world. But I do like being able to continue our own U.S. holiday traditions with others as well. I am glad we can do both here.