In Puerto Rico, each town celebrates its fiestas patronales [patron saint festivals] in honor of the town’s patron saint. The festivities include religious processions, booths selling local foods and arts and crafts, cultural events, and a variety of performances. Although the processions originated as Catholic rites, they are imbued with African traditions, indigenous (Taíno) elements, and many other cultural details that have been woven in throughout years of social and historical transformations. Perhaps the patron saint holiday that better captures Puerto Rico’s African heritage is the Fiestas de Santiago Apóstol [the Feasts of St. James] in Loíza Aldea (the actual saint day is July 25). Other towns in Puerto Rico— Aibonito, Fajardo, Guánica, and Santa Isabel— share the same parton saint, but Loiza Aldea’s Fiestas de Santiago have become renowned on the island and beyond are and very heavily attended. It blends folk and religious ceremonies including costumes, colorful masks, floats, drumming, and bomba and plena dancing. A main feature of the Loíza festivities are the processions held on three consecutive days, the processions for Santiago of the Men, Santiago of the Women, and Santiago of the Children.
For Lowell Fiet’s detailed description of the Santiago traditions in Loíza, such as the three processions, correr el santo, and the traditional carnival characters— caballeros (knights or gentlemen), vejigantes (demon-tricksters), locas (cross-dressed crazy women with blackened faces), and viejos (old men, sometimes called locos)— please see our previous post What’s On Our Nightstands: Re/visions of Santiago Apóstol. This year, the festivities will be held July 22-26, 2009.
Photo of caballero by Héctor Méndez Caratini from http://www.elmuseo.org/exhib_past.html
For more information and photo of vejigante (and more photos of Loíza´s “Fiestas”), see http://www.paolanogueras.net/sanaposintro.htm
For an article on the masks of Loíza, see Myriam Vargas´ “Masks of Puerto Rico: Festivals in honor of Saint James the Apostle in Loiza Aldea,” see http://www.preb.com/apuntes3/masks.htm