Venezuela’s Dancing Devils ask for an end to the pandemic

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Members of a Venezuela ceremonial brotherhood known as the Dancing Devils on Thursday held their annual Corpus Christi celebration by calling for the end of COVID-19 pandemic in the country and the world.

Groups of adult men and youth in towns along Venezuela’s central coast have since the 1700s dressed as masked devils who hold a ritual in which they surrender to God as part of a symbolic victory of good over evil.

The celebration of the Roman Catholic holiday mixes indigenous, African and Spanish traditions, according to the cultural ministry.

The festivities in Naiguata, a town 52 kilometers (32 miles) northeast of the capital Caracas, began mid-morning on Thursday and finished after 6 pm local time.

Residents played drums for dancers who dressed as devils that took an animal form, such as horses, dogs or cats, with bells tied to their waists.

“We must ask the most holy sacrament of the altar for the disappearance of (the pandemic) throughout the world because what we are experiencing is bad,” said Henry Gonzalez, who has been dancing with the group for 50 years after starting at age 7.

“We do this so that the tradition never wanes,” he said.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Dancing Devils part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012.

Authorities permitted the festival because the devils wear face masks under their decorative masks and the outdoors ceremony respected pandemic distancing measures, said Efren Yriarte, head of the Dancing Devil’s Association in Naiguata.

Some dancers “are praying for this pandemic to end, because too many people have died. Relatives of the dancers have died,” said Ervis Rodriguez, who has spent more than 20 years in the brotherhood.

Venezuela’s official data shows more than 238 000 cases of coronavirus and 2 689 deaths, but many health experts think the actual numbers could be much higher.