Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Friday, June 19, 2009

Today is San Juan Ara, a dual holiday from Spain celebrating the summer solstice (pagan sun worshippers) and St. John the Baptist’s Day (religious). This “holiday” is a big deal here and during a two week window even the smallest of towns will celebrate with a festival. Tonight we joined the festivities at the school. The “events” of the evening were definitely the focus. About 20 high school guys were dressed in white poncho type shirts, sheets/rags wrapped around their legs and their head and face covered with material (holes were made for the eyes and mouth). They reminded me of the KKK. They are called “kambas” which means a black or dark person. Because they were unrecognizable in their costumes, they basically had a license to act crazy and talk in high pitched voices, as per Paraguayan clowning custom. Not just anyone can be a kamba. If someone wanted to dress up on the day of San Juan he approaches a designated guy earlier in the week and submits his name. That person decides if he is “worthy” enough to be a kamba. If you had been rowdy in the past then you cannot do it again. The chosen will receive a secret paper with instructions.

The first game was “pelota tata” (fire ball). A kerosene drenched ball was set on fire and thrown onto the field. The kambas played silly soccer and occasionally kicked the flaming ball into the crowd. One such ball was kicked into the crowd, it bounced off my arm and grazed Julia’s head singing her hair (thankfully not too noticeable). Another time Abby got a chance to kick it.

Those that weren’t playing fire-soccer tried to climb a pole that was covered with soap. One Kamba reached the top and opened the sack which dangled from the top. He threw down his prize, which was candy (I think).

Next, the “toro kandil” (flaming bull) made an appearance. A kamba with tent-like structure over him chased other kambas. Protruding from the tent was a pole with horns. The horns were on fire. Kambas took turn chasing other kambas. Two or three more pelota tatas were thrown into the action.

Everyone gathered around for “Judas kai” (burning Judas). The fire set off firecrackers inside of the stuffed scarecrow. It was very loud.
Mainly people just stood around in small groups and a few attempted to dance to the blasting music. About 10:00pm the party wound down. It was fun to see the students there with their host siblings and friends from the church.

A Kamba

Climbing the greased pole

Fire bull

Hanging out

1 comment:

Ken, Christie, Camille, Caroline said...

Wow! Yours sounds a lot more "traditional" than the one we attended. I've started a post about ours, which, unfortunately, was a bit more racey. I loved the traditional food, though!