At the end of the 19th century, in the small town that Managua was at that time. The discovery surrounded by mysticism of a small catholic statuette of Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo) de Guzmán provoked the start and evolution of a massive traditional festivity that is both colorful and full of fervor and happiness, and which ultimately transformed into the Patron Saint Festivities of the capital city of Nicaragua.
Currently, every August of the year, mostly on the 1st and 10th of this month (which are holidays in the capital), several segments of the principal avenues of Managua are crowded of people who come to celebrate “Minguito”, which is how the people fondly refer to Saint Dominic (in Nicaragua “mingo” is a common nickname for Domingo – Dominic in Spanish – with “minguito” being its diminutive form).
The capital dwellers have different perceptions about these festivities: for some this event is just an unimportant holiday, for many others it is a moment to party or to go out with friends, and for a large part of the population the festivities have an important meaning tied to religious devotion and expression.
In Managua the August festivities have actually two different settings, which are both repeated on the two principal days of celebration. One is the procession of the saint, which is attended by thousands of people and full of traditional cultural and religious expression and enthusiasm, and on the other hand there are horse and car parades which are also attended by large groups of people with the spirit to entertain and participate in the party atmosphere that is created on the streets.
Learn more about the current Patron Saint Festivities in Nicaragua’s capital city in this Special, including interesting information about how this initiated and developed over time.
The Saint Procession
The soul of this festivities in Managua is the joyful procession of Saint Dominic, which came up and was maintained due to religious devotion and the sentimental attachment of thousands of people towards this saint. An old, small statuette that “personified” this saint and which has been considered responsible for miracles involving many families from the capital and even from other parts in the country.
Minguito, the statuette, can be found year-round in the Las Sierritas Parish Church, located in a residential area in the south part of the city, westward from the 9-kilometer marker of the Managua-Masaya Road. Until August the statuette is kept here without being moved, until it is taken in a procession to visit the center of Managua (it is taken to the Santo Domingo Church located in the old city center), where it is kept for several days until it returns “back home” during a procession inverse to the first one.
August 1st is when the first procession takes place, known as “descending the saint”, and on the 10th of the same month the second procession takes place, which is known as “ascending the saint”. It is referred to like this because of the geographical location of the parish church of Las Sierritas at higher elevations than the old city center. Some people refer to the processions as the “taking” and “bringing back” the saint, respectively.
Thousands of people participate in these events, either accompanying Minguito all through Managua or waiting for the statuette along the road. In the large group of spectators there are all kinds of people: young, adult, child, baby, elderly, poor, rich (very few though), foreign people, women, men, men dressed as women…. and it is even possible to see political figures who arrive at the procession to participate with a smile for this tradition (or perhaps to be noted by the crowd).
Many people arrive just as curious spectators. Others arrive because they are fanatics of this tradition. But the most notable and important participants are the called “promisers”, whose name comes from the promise made to the saint to arrive after some miracle came true after asking for it to the same saint.
The promisers are the main pillar of the celebrations. According to how they promised to come (which is repeated every year) if their miracle came true many of them use traditional, colorful attire with gives color to the procession as well. Some are dressed in traditional costumes, whereas others come as Indians, and many daub their body in grease and dust until they are dark (these people are called “negritos”). Some use certain substances that give them a devil-like, red appearance (these are called “diablitos”). There are promisers who enter the church on their knees, and others simply dance in their regular clothes. Some share traditional or commercial drinks, or snacks with the crowd (this being their promise).
The promises are made by each devoted before the miracle is asked for, and when this comes true they have a spiritual obligation to fulfill their promise. Sometimes the promises are even inherited from one generation to another. As the years pass, some particular promises have become ever-present icons of the festivities, even creating classic figures that also have been transmitted from one generation to another.
Below follows an overview of these iconic figures:
The Main Chief: Oscar Ruíz, born in 1945, interprets the Main Chief since 1965 when he inherited this role from a traditionalist ancestor known as the Wild Chief (Santos Ocampo). Seen every year pompously dressed as Indian and dancing next to Minguito during the principal processions and the one of August 4th.
Chica La Vaca: Juana Francisca Villalta, born in the beginning of the 20th century, can be seen dressed as a cow and dancing during the celebrations ever since the year of 1934 when she took the role inherited by her mother who died in that year. She became so well-known that everybody knows her as “Chica la Vaca” or “La Chica Vaca”. Although she is over 100 years old Juana Francisca Villalta and still participates during the Minguito festivities even if she is using a wheelchair, as she has not been able to walk anymore since 2005.
The saint is transported in a wooden pedestal with a base of one square meter and with a height of one and a half meter. Minguito, protected by a glass capsule, is set in the center, and decorated with artificial flowers and colorful feathers (the flowers are obtained by the promisers at the end of the procession as relics). The pedestal is carried on the shoulders of a multitude of traditional ‘carriers’ who take turns during the procession. Almost all of these carriers are paying for their promise in this way, and they are even quite organized (they even have an office).
The procession of the saint is not done in a straight line; Minguito literally “dances”: on the rhythm of the philharmonic bands as the carriers move along with the music, going slowly forward and backwards, from one side to the other. Surrounding Minguito is a chain of special policemen with serious faces, protecting the statuette, obligated to follow the same path as Minguito. Firework is also used during the celebrations, making it even noisier. There are several different philharmonic bands that take turns during the procession, with some of them even being brought in from other cities. The procession is not being stopped by strong sun or heavy downpours, demonstrating the strength of this tradition.
Other elements that can be observed during the festivities include the enormous quantity of wandering salesmen who sell sombreros, ribbons with the phrases like “Viva Mingo” (“long live Mingo”), typical snacks, food, drinks, and liquor, among other things. Alcohol is consumed in large quantities during these events, and drunken people lying on the streets can unfortunately be regularly seen. The police, Red Cross, and the firefighters participate in maintaining order or attending to people that are injured or otherwise need attention.
Chronology of the events
The traditional “Path Clearing” takes place. This tradition was born perhaps a century ago, when the dwellers of Las Sierritas cleared the weed that covered the path traveled by the procession, from the parish church where the statuette is set up to some point just before the road to Masaya known as La Cruz del Paraíso. Nowadays the road has been paved but hundreds of people still meet in this area. A replica of the Saint Dominic statuette, known as “el mocito” is taken down the road by carriers. People dance and set bulls free. Part of this tradition is another procession that takes place in the Gancho de Camino area at the popular Oriental Market (close to the Santo Domingo church), which heads towards La Cruz del Paraíso. Among the procession is the head of the festivities, whose title is currently awarded to the incumbent mayor of Managua, and who receives in La Cruz del Paraíso a special object that officially gives him that year’s title.
After a mass at the Las Sierritas Parish Church (at 10 AM), officiated by the archbishop of Managua, the statuette is taken off its altar and placed on the pedestal where it is colorfully decorated with artificial flowers by a family that is in charge of this since decades (this was their promise). There is a lot of participation in and outside of the church. At night (7 PM) two women are elected La India Bonita and La India Chiquita of the celebrations.
At the town hall of Managua the Ship of Saint Dominic is blessed (at 10 AM). This ship form part of the tradition; it is currently a structure in the shape of a ship mounted on a trailer and pulled by a truck and its function is to mobilize the statuette during these days from the Gancho de Camino to the Santo Domingo Church (or the other way around, on the way back). The route is about one kilometer. After the blessing, the ship is taken to visit various neighborhoods in the city accompanied by singers. In the afternoon the ship is handed over at the El Zumen sector to a committee of inhabitants of the San Judas district, who takes it a couple kilometers south to San Judas. At night festivities take place at this neighborhood with many people participating, and around midnight the ship is symbolically handed over to the head of the festivities, who is accompanied by Miss India Bonita. This act is known as the “Vigil of the Ship”, and it takes place at this spot for many years now because the ship’s sponsor was a entrepreneur from the capital who liked to organize a party on the eve of August 1 at a terrain which is currently the San Judas district. Although the sponsors changed (currently the municipality is in charge of this) the tradition was maintained by the inhabitants of this neighborhood, and they even have a replica of the statuette during the activities of the ship.
In the area of the Cristo Rey rotunda (which is a place where the procession passes the next day) the traditional “Palo Lucio” event takes place. This consists of a wooden pole measuring more than five meters in height being erected and greased, and price certificates being placed at the top of the pole. Prices include electrical appliances, cash awards, and other prices, and many volunteers participate, trying to climb the pole with arms and legs. The few who reach the top take a price (which is not an easy job). The rotunda is closed for all traffic and hundreds of people participate in the events. In the neighboring sectors many people also celebrate, being motivated by the celebrations next door. Decoration of colored ribbons is set up around the pole and extends to all directions, and music is played for the large crowd. The tradition was initiated by a person renowned from the old Managua, known as “Chema Pelón”, who decided to realize the Palo Lucio activity as his promise to Saint Dominic. As time passed the activity became massively popular and it now forms an important part of the festivities. Currently the tradition is maintained by family of the initiator.In the Oriental Market, at Gancho de Camino, “El Arco” is decorated in the afternoon with fruits by local merchants, sponsored by the town hall of Managua. “El Arco” is a wooden arc set up at the place where the procession passes next day. At night there is a festive ambiance with artistic presentations and many participants, known as the “Vigil of the Arc”.
Early in the morning (at 4 AM) in the surroundings of the Las Sierritas Church there is a special event in honor of the festivities. At 6 AM a there is a solemn mass followed by the start of the procession. From here, and during the whole course, the crowd is enormous. The promisers dance around the statuette, and many “negritos”, “diablitos”, “indios”, “vaquitas” and others (men and women) can be seen. The slow but festive and loud procession ends at the end of the afternoon at Gancho de Camino, where the saint is put on his ship. The ship, followed by the crowd, takes it to the Santo Domingo Church, where it is taken down and brought into the church, accompanied by the large crowd.
Before the procession arrives the infrastructure that comes with the festivities is installed outside the Santo Domingo Church, including mechanical toys, food stands, bars, a rustic discotheque, and a large quantity of street vendors who sell products related to the festivities (flowers, candles, ribbons, and sombreros, among other items). When the saint’s statuette is in the church the festive ambiance remains, mostly at nighttime. Hundreds of people and families participate during the days that follow, visiting Minguito and asking for miracles, leaving offers or paying for their miracles in some other ways.
In the morning (7 AM) the statuette is taken down by carriers who take it around several neighborhoods during the ten following hours. They also take it to the crowded Oriental Market, where merchants and buyers animate the festivities by dancing and creating a festive ambiance which accompanies the path of the saint.
The Santo Domingo Church is visited by an enormous group of devotees and promisers, and outside the church the party continues. A vigil also takes place this day, with many people participating. At the Cristo Rey rotunda the Palo Lucio activity takes place again, and at the Oriental Market the Vigil of the Arc also reoccurs, both events being accompanied by a festive atmosphere.
In the morning (6 AM) there is a solemn mass officiated by the local priest of the Santo Domingo Church. Many people participate (with many others waiting outside), and the head of the festivities as well as the traditional carriers are also present. At the end of the mass the festivities loudly initiate with the sound of the musicians. The statuette is taken up by the carriers and dancing is performed within the ample church building, with the crowd surrounding the statuette. The saint’s image is then taken down and after a little more dancing acts it is put on the ship and handed over to the carriers once more. The place is jammed with people. Dances are again performed with Minguito, and the statuette meets with ‘Santo Domingo de Arriba’ who is also visiting the city (this is another image from the same saint, part of celebrations of a smaller scale that are performed by communities located in the eastern part of the city). Both saints, carried by their own carriers, perform dances among the multitude. After this, the Santo Domingo de Arriba moves towards the Merced Church, and Minguito is taken in his procession to Las Sierritas, where he will arrive at the end of the afternoon, thus ending the Patron Saint celebrations of Nicaragua’s capital.
The horse parade
Another component of the Patron Saint festivities of Managua is the horse and float parade that takes place in a certain part of the city, which is repeated every year on the first and tenth of August. Although this is in fact unrelated to the devotion for the saint this already forms part of the general celebration and is frequented by large groups of people, enthusiastically participating in the ambiance of festivities that surround the horse parades.
The parade starts in the afternoon (generally around 3 PM) at the pier of Managua, and its route consists of some eight kilometers among streets and avenues until reaching the end. It passes by the Tiscapa Lagoon before continuing westwards in the direction of the Güegüense Rotunda. It then heads towards the Periodista Rotunda and it ends almost one kilometer east of this point.
Along the road there are thousands of spectators, most of them between Tiscapa and the El Güegüense Rotunda. There are small stands set up where beer, liquor, food, and other products are being sold. Large scaffolds are also installed, mostly private or from commercial companies, which are only accessible by special invitees (among them some smiling politicians can be seen). The wandering salesmen can again be observed, selling beer, sombreros, and other gadgets.
Before and during the parade the ambiance in the streets is very festive. The stands and scaffolds set up music and entertainers provide various loud ambiances for the people passing by. There are small closed, decorated places where private parties are held. People generally install themselves at one particular spot or they pass by different points along the route.
The Horse Parades of Managua are frequented by many groups of people who come to enjoy the parade or have a good time with family or friends. There is a large group of youngsters who are attracted by the ambiance of street parties; many of them (but this is not limited to the young part of the crowd) animate themselves dressing up with elements that are part of the horse parades in Nicaragua: chequered shirt, jeans, sombrero, and sometimes cowboy boots. At the end of the parade the big party continues in the bars and discotheques in the city.
The Horse Association in Nicaragua groups around one hundred of horsemen from Managua and other places together, and they are the ones who perform the parade with their horses. Some horses demonstrate tricks that they have learned during the parade. The majority of the participating horsemen are members or friends from families who have a background of horseback riding. Many pertain to families of high social status. The horsemen – among them men and women, adults, youngster, and even kids – are dressed in typical horse parade attire.
Behind the horses come the floats, which generally pertain to private companies, product brands, and institutions. In general, the floats are flamboyantly decorated, and sometimes sensual dancer, traditional dance groups, or other people on the float add even more flavor to this atmosphere. Some of the floats that are sponsored by certain brands distribute sample products among the spectators. The quantity and quality of the float parade varies every year.
On top of one of the scaffolds that is set up along the road a jury is installed, which will elect the best horseman and the best float. The “Queen of the Parade” will also participate. This is always a pretty girl from one of the horsemen families, selected beforehand.
Normally the horse parades occur without main eventualities, but police is always present to control disorder (which always occurs up to some level due to the alcohol consumption), and there are also people present to attend to the injured.
For many years the horsemen accompanied the Saint Dominic statuette along with the procession, but as the crowds grew it the two events had to be separated to maintain order. The two celebrations evolved therefore separately and ended up being the two different festivities that they are nowadays.
The finding of the saint in Managua
History tells that on some day in the year 1885 in a part of Managua known as Las Sierritas (which was at that time not the residential area of the town, but rather a rural site occupied by farms), a farmer called Vincente Aburto was cleaning an area when he found a small, interesting statuette (20 centimeters high) of some saint in the hole left by a burned tree.
Soon family and neighbors of Aburto came to observe the statuette, and amazed as they were it was decided that they would travel to the city to look for a priest who could tell which saint this was. In a church that does not exist anymore, located close to the old center, the local priest told them that it was an image of Saint Dominicde Guzmán, and together with the priest they decided to leave it at the church.
Upon returning to Las Sierritas the group of Aburto encountered an unimaginable surprise: the statuette was found again, at the same site it was found in the first place! Astonished they returned to the priest to tell their story and he told them, not believing the story, that it was impossible, as the statuette was still in the church. However, the image turned out not to be there anymore.
This mystery made the priest believe that the saint’s image wanted to stay in Las Sierritas, and he proposed his visitors to build a place for the image (which later transformed into the parish church that it is right now) at the site where it was discovered, telling them to have Saint Dominic visit Managua every year, accompanied by dances and happiness. The period from the first until the tenth of August were elected, as the fourth is the day of Saint Dominic according to the Catholic calendar.
After this mysterious happening started a tradition that grew in strength over time, and it ended up involving not only the people from Las Sierritas but instead people from all over Managua. The capital dwellers welcomed passionately Saint Dominic or ‘Minguito’, and from the beginning this saint was interpreted as one who brings miracles, and as years passed by the festivities were filled with a lot of color, enthusiasm, and a growing number of participants, until it converted into the Patron Saint Celebrations of the city.
An interesting fact is that Saint Dominic de Guzmán is not yet, officially, Managua’s Patron Saint. The colonial name of Managua is “Leal Villa de Santiago de Managua”, and the city’s Patron Saint is therefore Santiago. The Saint Santiago celebrations took place at the end of July, but events like the 1931 earthquake that destroyed many adobe buildings from that time (including the Santiago Church) provoked that the tradition lost popularity and was substituted by the Saint Dominic de Guzmán celebrations.
It did not take much time for these festivities to become massively popular. They even became that popular that at least twice it was tried for them to be canceled but the people’s will came through. According to what is known, at some point ecclesiastic authorities declared (around the 1950s) that the festivities could not continue due to excesses that were observed, mainly related to alcohol consumption and improper acts, and on another occasion, after the 1972 earthquake, the National Guard (which was the national army in charge of the dictatorship of that time) ordered suspension of the festivities to prevent massive disorder. On both occasions, Minguito was “robbed” from the church by defenders of the tradition and it was placed in the hands of the large crowd of promisers, who could not be stopped from holding their traditional festivities. The leader of these tradition-protectors is Lasímaco Chávez, a traditionalist who over time became an important figure in the festivities. Lisímaco died in 2002, but he left an enormous influence behind, mostly in his own San Judas district.
Folklorists and historians who have investigated the origin and development of this tradition sustain that the uprising and success of the Saint Dominic celebrations are tightly related to an ancient indigenous, local celebration that has a lot of similarity with the current festivities.
According to information documented in writing by the Spanish colonizers who arrived at this zone the indigenous people from the Managua area held a celebration for the God Xolotl. Between July and the beginning of August all of the indigenous people participated in the ‘tapizca’ (harvest) of corn, which was done according to the established norms and with abstinence of pleasures. When the job was done, a massive celebration was held to liberate themselves from the prohibitions endured during the tapizca season (like liquor consumption and sexual intercourse). The dwellers brought their God Xolotl from his temple and transported him in a procession in canoe to the coast of Lake Managua (or Xolotlan) from where he was put to sail.
These festivities were later prohibited by the Spanish authorities. However, studies found out that they are still in the cultural memory of the people, and the discovery of the Saint Dominic statuette provoked a cultural and religious mixture that was shaped into the saint festivities that brought back memories inherited from previous indigenous generations.
Various similarities between the Xolotl festivities have provided more proof for this declaration. One of them is that the statuette of the saint is accompanied by a dog, just like the image of the indigenous that was accompanied by one, called Xulu (according to folklorists this element, together with the dark-skinned image of Minguito, provoked this cultural syncretism). Another similarity is that Saint Dominic was originally transported in a canoe, which over time evolved into a ship which is currently still used. Another argument is that the happiness that inevitably joins these festivities was also inherited from the first celebrators. All of this, together with the similar time of the year the festivities are held, appear to indicate that the current celebrations might not be an exact rebirth of the indigenous festivities, but there is at least evidence that many elements are still present.