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Fiestas of El Palmar Baile de las Libreas

Dusty Bin's Canarian Cousin

First published in 2007, with fiestas finally making a comeback after two years without, due to the pandemic, it seemed an ideal time to revive this and give a new audience an insider's view of these delightful events. Being traditional in nature, it's doubtful there'll be much change in the intervening fifteen years and, most towns and villages have similar fiestas, with a similar program.

On the second day (that's the Saturday-week before the 4th Sunday of September, usually) of the fiestas of the Virgen de la Consolación (Our Lady of the Consolation) in El Palmar, Buenavista del Norte you should really make the effort, even if just once, to go and see the ancient Baile de Las Libreas (Livery Dance). Highly venerated as being culturally important, it is actually a very curious satirical piece involving cross-dressing, sarcastic gestures and Dusty Bin's Canarian Cousin showering the crowd with fireworks attached to its back. 

When someone told me about one of the oldest folk dances on the island, unique to the village of El Palmar, possibly originating in the 17th Century, then explained at length how important it is and how it needs to be preserved, what I really expected was something solemn, demanding of serious respect. 

Honestly, unmissable. And from a time way before 'Elf and Safety existed!

Las Libreas de El Palmar consists of three pairs of dancers, all male, three of whom are dressed as women, plus figures representing male and female devils. It symbolizes the struggle between good and evil and the dancers dance, jumping and gyrating with exaggerated movements, to the sound of the "tajaraste" (pipes and drums) around the streets of the village, eventually setting fire to the devil figures in order to purify and drive away evil spirits to prevent a bad harvest.

What this meant, in reality, was that they lit fireworks attached to the back of the figures. They then run round the plaza, which fills with smoke, pointing their backs to the audience - just as the fireworks are about to go bang - at a distance that would have fire safety officers giving birth to whole litters of kittens.

It's all seriously weird. The more so as this "pantomime" takes place immediately before a solemn mass and a procession of the Virgin de la Consolación through the village, accompanied by the village band and yet more fireworks.

So important is this that there's a group of bronze statues commemorating the dance in the Plaza Las Libreas, alongside the main road through the village. 

Many different theories exist over exactly when, how and why this dance originated, but it seems that a combination of elements fused at some unknown point in history. The "tajaraste", most likely originates with the pre-conquest aboriginal inhabitants of the islands and was combined with Christian events.

The dancers who dress as women have powdered faces and wear veils, from which may come the custom of masks at carnival and, the presence of devils in religious processions seems to have been an island obsession, as is written in the records of the tribunals of the Inquisition. Their costumes - that look like they've been made out of chintz curtains - are more Pantomime Dame and nobody is fooled: this is comedy and these are men in skirts.

During the supposedly religious procession, there were constant bangs and, the already slow progress was constantly held up as Catherine wheels were set on tripods in the middle of the street - while spectators look on mere feet away - or when fireworks rained down on us from flat roofs and balconies.

The Grand Finale was a huge firework display when the procession reached the main road that was closed for the duration. Once the Icon was safely back inside the church (after a little intervention with a broom to extract the streamers decorating the plaza that got caught up in her canopy), on came the band for the Monumental Verbena (open air dance) with the Orchestra de Arturo Castillo (or Arthur Castle's Orchestra, if you really must anglicize it) from Garachico. The many kids, who had come for the fireworks and who ran around the plaza throughout the open-air mass, were still doing so at 2 am.

Men dress for the male and (unconvincing) female parts, in granny's recycled chintz curtains.

The devil set on fire. About a meter from the audience.

The night-time procession of the Icon of the Virgin de la Consolación

Mobile fireworks follow the procession.

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