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Corpus Christi -- Atánquez, Colombia

In the shadow of the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada in Atanquez, Colombia near the border of Venezuela the procession of Corpus Christi climbs slowly along a stone road. Sweeping the crowds into the narrow streets like a river overflowing its banks, people spill out on top of the walls and into alleyways that line its path. At the head of the serpentine mass, drums beat in double percussive lows, alternated by a steady and recurrent chorus: "En la sierra es patente," punctuated with a drum beat, dun tun. En la sierra es patente, dun tun." Indeed the mountain is real, a real refuge for indigenous and afro-descendants persecuted for land and labor who founded the palenque or maroon community of Atanquez. The fiesta of Atanquez today reveals the complex relations in which the struggle for land and cultural rights persists.

Corpus Christi takes place according to the liturgical calendar near the summer solstice, and is known by some as the festival of the sun. During fiesta in the Kankuamo town of Atanquez, giant banners of the suns rays with doves and images of the Holy Sacrament adorn the altars near the central church plaza. After morning mass people gather from neighboring villages in front of the church doors, many in brightly colored dress, skirts and instruments: they are the viejas, or negras, with multi-colored ribbons streamers, brightly painted wooden machetes and hats burgeoning with spring flowers. Next come the devils in red satin fringed shirts, matching capri pants, slippers with spurs, wire mesh masks and castañuelas tapping in their hands. A man in his 70s carries a giant drum striking it steadily, while another pipes a high and airy melody into a hand carved flute. Following in dance are the cucumbi, swooping up their skirts of palm reeds high around their neck and waist. With giant feather-covered head pieces and maracas they rustle and spin in a grand finale. Last in the procession is the priest with his devotees in tow, slowly making their way under a large canopy and with the monstrance signifying the holy Sacrament of Corpus Christi held high to bless altars that have been set up by residents along the processional path.

Yet of the thousands present, mostly from nearby towns, relatives and occasional onlookers, there seemed to be thousands more of the living memories, the words of what wasn't said and the presence of corporeal ghosts of the near past that had come back for fiesta to dance after one of the most enduring massacres in colombian history. Like many other communities on the pacific coast and along the borders of Venezuela and Ecuador, the wave of violence that marked the turning of the millennium has meant dealing with mass displacement and a continued legacy of genocide in the name of the state and industry from the colonial era to the present...

[Written by Angela Marino].

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