Several months ago I conducted a field study on the Torovenado of Masaya, Nicaragua. I took a cell phone camera to take pictures and a voice recorder to interview the citizens of Masaya (known as “masayas”). I also brought along 10 consent forms to conduct interviews in an authorized manner.
For those who are unfamiliar with this tradition, the Torovenado in Spanish translates directly as “Bulldeer.” But it’s not a rare animal with the head of bull and the body of a deer, or vice versa. The Torovenado is a traditional carnival masquerade where the people of Masaya poke fun at social, political, and even religious problems using homemade masks, colorful costumes, and street comedy.
These so called “scenes” personify the Monimbó indigenous traditions and demonstrate the painful realities that people live by satirizing abusive and humiliating forms of power.
To the sound of the tuba, drums, and trumpets of the “chicheros,” I entered the carnival and took photos as the masayas paraded by. I saw, a priest surrounded by headless ghosts. Click. The city hall of Masaya, carrying the dengue death in a tank. Click. The railway, with rails included, that Doña Violeta stole from us. Click. A black sash called “Law 779,” with a white skull painted on it, where men who did not sufficiently satisfy their wives were decapitated. Click. Several people dressed as Rosario Murillo multimillionaires, representing the new homeland’s gaudy, blinding and nauseating colors. Click. Someone dressed as Camila Ortega, the daughter of the presidential couple. Click. Someone spoofing Cardinal Miguel Obando carrying a sign that says “Peace and Reconciliation”. Click. A wooden wagon in very bad condition, referring to the employment of the future “Christian, socialist, and solidarity” generations. Click.
I kept moving between people and dancing to the chicheros, and I saw someone dressed as Arnoldo Alemán and Doña Violeta kissing and embracing each other. “Over here, presidents!” I yelled. Click.
A cardboard banner reading, “Take note of the voice of the people”. Click. People dressed as the anonymous dead from the revolution. Click. A Monimbó Indian Chief. Click. A group pretending to be the “Gossipnews” reporters from channel 10. Click.
The sisters of “charity” who lost half a million dollars worth of alms to Montealegre. Smile! Click.
A black coffin representing the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS), carried by the dead, with a sign that says “your money is INSSecure, your health is INSSecure, your old age is INSSecure”. Click.
At the end of all these pictures, and many more, we see, of course, the celebrated San Jeronimo of Masaya. Click.
From the 10 people I interviewed, I discovered that the masayas are people who proudly protect their ancestral traditions and culture. You can feel it in their passionate, and sometimes choppy, conversation, the anger and dissatisfaction they feel towards the government. Of the 10 people I interviewed, only one person was happy with the government. Most of them said they feel hurt and violated by the offending lies of their political and social representatives. They feel that the Torovenado is the only permitted public space to challenge the power and say “we know what you are doing, and we’re going to rub it in your face so you know we’re not stupid.” The Torovenado is one of the few places left where people can protest without being attacked by the police or the army.
They really are people who are aware of their indigenous identity and are willing to keep it anyway.
This carnival symbolizes the origin of our Nicaraguan cultural mix that we are very proud of. The resistance to the abuses of power is what characterizes the vast majority of the masayas.
Masayas are sincere, direct, and enraged people, who historically have been the spark that ignites social uprisings. At the same time, there are an increasing number of citizens that are affected by the unfair and arbitrary changes made by a government with an insatiable hunger for power. In the end, this street masquerade of social protest is more effective than the poetry of poets, philosophers’ philosophies, and religious prayers. And it’s worth recognizing it for what it is.