Latacunga’s Mama Negra

One of the biggest celebrations in the highlands, the Mama Negra (Black Mother) parade is a combination of Catholic, pre-Columbian and civic rituals that fill the streets of Latacunga with hundreds of costumed and dancing revelers.

Traditionally staged on September 23 and 24, and again on November 8, Mama Negra now occurs on the closest weekends to those dates. The November occasion also includes a bullfight, but locals say the September revelries are more authentic.

At the head of it all is a statue of the Virgen de las Mercedes, Latacunga’s protectress from volcanic eruptions. Believing that the relic has saved the city from Volcán Cotopaxi’s wrath many times, people from Latacunga have great faith in her image. (Apparently they overlook the three times that the city has been destroyed by Cotopaxi.)

The Mama Negra, represented by a local man dressed up as a black woman, is said to have been added to the festivities later on. Politically incorrect as it might seem, Mamá Negra is an event loved by all. No one – especially foreign tourists! – can escape the huacos (shamans), who execute a ritual limpieza (cleansing) by blowing smoke and aguardiente (sugarcane alcohol) on spectators. Most impressive are the ashangueros, the men who carry ashangas: whole roast pigs, flayed open and flanked by dozens of cuy (guinea pigs), chickens, bottles of liquor and cigarettes.

Players representing yumbos (indigenous people from the Oriente), loeros (African slaves), camisonas (colonial-era Spanish women) and many more all have a role in this grand street theater.