Off the Beaten Path: Tonaca

Our sister church community is located in the municipality of Tonacatepeque, so every now and then we are able to spend a little time in the center of this small city. The locals call it Tonaca, and it is a lovely and quiet town with a bit of colonial personality. The town square is home to a park which features big old trees, benches for resting, a gazebo made from concrete designed to look like a giant tree trunk, scattered small statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and a fountain which features a young boy taking an eternal pee.  It is this fountain near the corner entrance to the park that gives visitors a clue to the rich and unique folk history of this little part of El Salvador.

The people of Tonaca are known as jicameros, and jicama is plentiful in the stalls of the local market (which are set up in the mornings along one side of the town square). Ask any of the women in the market or the old men resting in the park about the fountain, and you might get to hear the legend of Cipitio - a little boy who was born as a result of an affair between a goddess and the shining morning star. Cipitio and the goddess were cursed by the goddess' husband, and poor Cipitio was doomed to live as a 10-year old boy forever, with his feet pointing backwards.

The cultural house in Tonaca is a great spot to visit, and the workers there are eager to share the traditions of the town. The stories are full of twists and turns and fantastic characters. The tradition of story-telling is strong among the jicameros, though it is not easy to follow the plots which are shared with grand gestures, crazy voices, riddles and songs. Most of the stories involve scary characters and late night antics. Some of the characters and tales are brought to life each year on November 1st with the celebration of the calabiuza. (I like to call it the celebration of the day of the pumpkin heads.) The cultural house has a collection of giant puppets, masks, hand-puppets used in the celebration and photos of the after-dark procession of floats and characters through the streets of Tonaca.  The huge paper mache heads are worn on top of a person's shoulders, and a little gray panel on the front of the puppet's stomach helps the person underneath to see where he or she is going.

The cultural house is a great place to study or purchase books.  I picked up a book of local legends, and my hope is to understand them a bit better so that I can write a little more about it next year.

Tim's El Salvador blog shared news of this year's celebration.


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