The feel of the Torovenado
By: Cristiana Guevara-Mena
Several weeks ago, I did a field study on the Torovenado of Masaya, Nicaragua. I took a cell phone camera to take pictures, a voice recorder to interview citizens of Masaya – in this text they will be called "masayas" – and ten consent forms to conduct interviews in an authorized manner. Arriving in Masaya, I joined the colorful and noisy festival as an active observer to perform this study. It is valuable to mention that this research is conducted by someone like me who is not a native of that location, but of the capital, without completely ignoring the popular festival of Torovenado.
For those who are unfamiliar with this, the Torovenado in Spanish means “Bulldeer”, but it is not a rare animal with the head of bull and the body of a deer, or vice versa, which goes wandering around the streets of Masaya. No. It's a very traditional carnival masquerade of that area where people express social, political, and even religious problems, and personify them with masks, colorful costumes, and street displays of comedy. These so called "scenes", personalize the Monimbó indigenous traditions – the most indigenous, civically organized, and representative neighborhood of the indigenous communities in Masaya – as well as the most painful realities of the current time satirizing the most abusive and humiliating act of power towards the people.
To the sound of the tuba, drums, and trumpets of the “chicheros” – a street band – I entered the carnival and took photos as it went. I saw, from one scene to the next: A priest surrounded by headless ghosts. Click. The city hall of Masaya, carrying the dengue death in a tank. Click. The railway, with rails included, that Doña Violeta stole from us. Click. A black sash called "Law 779," with a white skull painted on it, where men who did not sufficiently satisfy their wives were decapitated. Click. Several Rosario Murillo multimillionaires, representing the new homeland’s gaudy, blinding, nauseating colors. Click. Camila Ortega, the daughter of the presidential couple. Click. Cardinal Miguel Obando with a sign that says "Peace and Reconciliation”. Click. A wooden wagon in very bad condition, referring to the employment of the future "Christian, socialist, and solidarity" generations. Click.
I kept moving between people and dancing to the chicheros, and I saw Arnoldo Alemán and Doña Violeta kissing and embracing among masks. Over here, presidents! Click. A cardboard banner saying: "Take note of the voice of the people". Click. The anonymous fallen in the revolution. Click. A Monimbó old Indian Chief. Click. The “Gossipnews” of channel 10. Click. The sisters of "charity" from whom Mr. Montealegre stole their "alms" of half a million dollars. Smile! Click. A black coffin of the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS), carried by the dead, with a sign that says "your money is INSSecure, your health is INSSecure, your old age is INSSecure”. Click. At the end of all these pictures, and many more, we see, of course, the celebrated San Jeronimo of Masaya. Click.
In the analysis of ten recorded interviews, I discovered that the masayas are people who proudly protect their ancestral traditions and culture. You can feel in their passionate, and sometimes choppy, conversation, the hatred and dissatisfaction they feel towards the government. I only found one case of acceptance and closeness. It shows that they feel hurt and violated by the offending lies of their political and social representatives. They feel that the Torovenado is the only permitted public space to challenge the power and say between the lines "we realize what you are doing, and we rub it in your face so that you don’t believe we’re stupid" without being attacked by the police or the army. They really are people who are aware of their indigenous identity and are willing to keep it anyway.
This carnival symbolizes the origin of our Nicaraguan cultural mix which we are very proud of. This resistance to the abuses of power is what characterizes the vast majority of the masayas. You can perceive in them that they are not afraid to challenge whoever is in power. They are sincere, direct, and enraged people, who historically have been the spark that ignites social uprisings. At the same time, there are an increasing number of citizens that are affected by the unfair and arbitrary changes of the insatiable power of the government. In the end, this street masquerade of social protest, is more effective than the poetry of poets, philosophers’ philosophies, and religious prayers. Let’s take note on that.