I arrived in Managua on a Saturday night on the 29th of July - my first time in Nicaragua and in Central America. As I was gearing up the next day to start my first week of work with MiCredito, I discovered by chance that Tuesday the 1st of August was a bank holiday in Managua – a festival for the celebration of Saint Domingo, the city’s unofficial patron. I also discovered that the same celebration would be repeated after just 10 days to deliver the Saint back to the church where it was taken from on the first day of the celebration, with a similar ceremony. As surprised as I was, I quickly realised this was a great opportunity to get a good overview of the local customs.
Indeed, the festival of Santo Domingo, or “Minguito” as it is referred to locally, turned out to be a great introduction to what awaits for me in Nicaragua: a mix of devotion and pagan traditions, an incredible love for music and dance and the influence of rural customs in daily city life.
The festival seems to originate from the discovery of a small statue (only about 20cm tall) by Vincente Aburto in 1885 within the hole of a burned tree in a village called Las Sierritas, a rural site outside of town which is now part of Managua. This statue turned out to be that of Saint Dominic de Guzmán, and since then it has been venerated for its miracles. Gradually, people all over Managua started celebrating the Saint with enthusiasm in what has become a two-part holiday.
After checking live news about the procession, on Tuesday morning my new friends and I walked a few blocks from the guesthouse where I was staying to wait for the Saint to pass by. When we arrived at the designated street, as expected I found a large crowd waiting for the Saint on either side of the street, including vendors of charms and food. As the parade approached, large swaths of people began filling the street preceding the Saint and walking and dancing in a festive mood. One could hear music playing from afar and fireworks were being shot to signal the venerated statue was approaching. As followers promise to dance for the Saint in return for miracles, the crowd started dancing when the statue passed by – including those carrying the Saint’s statue, whom are among the most fervent devotees.
People also bring children and toddlers and try to approach the statue with them for good wishes. But what makes the celebration even more interesting to me, is that some people paint their skin in black or red using burned oil or other substances to represent devils – “diablitos” – and mix in the crowd, dancing and shaking their big pitchforks.
On that same day, in the evening I went to the horse and float parade, or ‘hipico” as it is referred to, where members of the local elite dress in typical cowboy attire and show off their best stallions to the crowd through a parade across town. Alongside the horses, there are also commercial floats that promote various brands, especially one of the most famous local beers, with dancers and tall puppets. This is an event that supposedly took place with the Saint procession beforehand, but due to the increased popularity it has been separated at some point, and thus it does not have any religious spirit anymore. On the contrary, it is increasingly used as a vitrine by local brands for commercial purposes.
The whole rite - the Saint’s procession and horse parade - is repeated again on the 10th of August, when the statue will be brought back to Las Sierritas church among similar celebrations, thus ending the festivities. I consider myself lucky to have been able to parttake in this emblematic celebration on my first week in the country and thus get a feeling of its deeper traditions. Nevertheless, as my local friends say, I quickly adjusted to the local customs as I skipped the second part of the celebrations in order to enjoy some time on the seaside, far from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. This is also part of adjusting to life in Managua!