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Palo de Mayo, the Afro-Caribbean music of Nicaragua

Nicaragua copyright jan strik hungaras traditional dance costumes

Mayaya, African goddess of fertility, is celebrated in Nicaragua with the arrival of the rainy season, production, and new life. During the month of May, Nicaragua’s Afro-Caribbean communities celebrate Mayaya with their famous ‘Palo de Mayo’ (May Pole) festivities.

The origins of the festival are still debated today, but most people assume that it was brought to Nicaragua by British settlers in the early 1830s. Initially, the festivities would have taken place on the Caribbean side of the country, in Corn Island, Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields. These are still the places where the festival is most celebrated. The Caribbean coast of Belize, Honduras and Panama are also known to celebrate the May Pole festivities.

And really, it is a May Pole - a tree decorated with colourful ribbons tied to the top, marks the start of the festival on May 1st. The difference is that, rather than Morris Dancers, you get fantastic Caribbean rhythms and colourful processions.

Palo de Mayo is a competitive affair, in a friendly way, with neighbourhoods trying to outdo one another with their bright, colourful costumes, decorated floats and dance routines which happen throughout May.

Foodie fairs set up alongside for spectators to enjoy Caribbean delights such as rondon (hopscotch stew), coconut bread, gallo pinto and patí.

In Bluefields, the festival also known as ¡Mayo ya! (May, now!) is really embraced with great gusto. The event reaches its height during the last weekend of May with festivities ending at midnight on May 31 when the traditional Túlululu dance takes place.

This dance requires everyone’s participation, people pass under an arch made by the arms of the participants. When one couple passes under the arch, the next couple in line moves forward and people continue to move under the arch, dancing to the beat through the whole city like this.

The custom made music that is being played during the festival is said to be an electric adaptation of ‘mento’, which is a type of Creole acoustic folk music. Similarities with Palo de Mayo can be seen in song lyrics, choral patterns, and melodies, although the tempo of the Palo de Mayo is faster and some of the instruments are different. Today, the distinct genre has been given its own name.

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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