Last year at about this same time, Mary and I were downtown on our bicycles when we saw a group of men setting up chairs in the downtown area one afternoon. We learned that there was a procession headed to town to celebrate the festival of San Pedro and San Pablo, so we rode over by the church to witness the event.
This last Friday I again saw people setting up chairs and learned that at about 3:00 PM a procession of trucks and cars would be arriving to celebrate the same festival. I went home and grabbed my camera and set up in front of the church at the edge of town. Last year the procession stopped at the church and everyone went inside to retrieve some statues to carry on the procession, so this year I got set up good and early (about 2:50) to see if I could get some pictures of the ceremony at the church. The doors were open, so I got this picture of the church prior to the group’s arrival.
And then went across the street by a median statue where I could get pictures of the ceremony from outside. Now, all I had to do was wait for the procession to arrive at 3:00.
In accordance with the unique Manabí, Ecuador time table, three o’clock came and went, three-thirty came and went and even by four no one had arrived. I was almost ready to give up when some school children stopped and visited with me until the first truck carrying band members arrived at about 4:15.
That truckload drove right on past the church, but I figured they had to go and set up downtown for the procession. But, as more and more cars and trucks arrived, they all drove past the church into town.
So, I packed up my camera and hopped on my bicycle to get back in front of the procession to witness the ceremony downtown.
I am sure that I will not get this exactly correct, but as near as we have been able to determine all of the local communities between Charapoto and San Clemente are divided into one of two groups – The Blancos and The Negros. These groups have nothing to do with race and do not represent good and evil. In truth, no one seems to know what the designations mean except that one year Charapoto and the towns near it are whites and the next year they are blacks while San Clemente and towns near us alternate black to white. It also seems that each community selects representatives for the festival and from those representatives a president is selected.
Here are this year’s two presidents.
As you can see, banners and special shirts are prepared each year for the representatives to wear to the festival. In addition each group prepares a large flag and a special flag bearer is selected to carry the flag and lead the group.
Flags from previous years are displayed as decorations in the town center.
The two groups form up into ranks and prepare to proceed into the meeting area to be seated.
That is about as far as I will go on trying to explain the entire festival. There is obviously some religious significance as the statues are carried carefully and placed next to the virgin statue where the flag bearers eventually stand during the ceremony, but I spoke with dozens of townspeople on Friday and again today and no one really seems to know why one group is white and the other black nor what the significance of the two Saints honored has to do with the festival.
Everyone just told me that the presidents are responsible for planning all of the year’s festivals in their respective communities.
No matter what the original purpose of the festival was, for most of the residents of San Clemente it is really just another chance to have a grand community party. The festivities officially begin as the band gets set up and the two groups file into the seating area.
The two presidents from last year take seats near the center and oversee today’s activities.
Here is a brief video of the Negros marching into the seating area.
After both groups march in the two flag bearers take up their positions next to the virgin statue.
The groups sit on opposite sides of the square.
A gentleman with a large snake ambles through the crowd allowing people to handle and be photographed with the snake.
We were told last year that part of the festival commemorates a time when some saint help drive the poisonous snakes from the area, but no one confirmed that this year. In any event the snakes were represented.
The bands stuck up again and representatives from each group danced around the square.
After that it turned into a normal San Clemente festival with lots of music, lots of dancing, and lots of happy people enjoying a community gathering here in San Clemente!
Life is good in Ecuador!