palo de mayo in nicaragua

El Palo de Mayo in Nicaragua, Festivity, Dances, and Unity

Palo de Mayo is a dance that continually creates new meanings. The ritual allows each individual to experience it in his or her own way. The dance is in charge of multisensory stimulation and expands, exaggerates, and contains a kind of sense of competition.

Moreover, as a fertility dance, it is based on a piece of collective knowledge, its dance tells many stories, and it is a non-verbal language full of meanings regardless of who dances it.


What is the history of El Palo de Mayo?

The tradition dates back to the 17th century.

It is attributed to the English the origin of this custom of dancing around a tree to greet the harvest production, and at the same time, to celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria (May 25). The rhythms played were the waltz, the mazurka, and the polka.

The coastal historian Donovan Brautigam, maintains that the way of taping and braiding the tree effectively came from England and that it was called May Day, for being the name with which the Anglo-Saxon culture calls the first of May.

Nevertheless, in other countries of Europe also this type of dance and festivities were realized around a tree, and also they were rites related to the fertility of the crops, but we can say that its presence on our coast antedate to 1850.

From England, the Palo de Mayo arrived in Jamaica at the beginning of the 19th century, where it became very popular and took root in the creativity of the Afro-Creole population. From there it was exported to the coasts of the continent.

In Nicaragua, its presence is already evident around 1850.

The first songs came from Jamaica, Providence, and Belize, others were already created in Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields.

How is the Palo de Mayo danced in Nicaragua?

palo de mayo nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Palo de Mayo is danced and braided.

According to Lizzie Nelson, traditional instruments such as the tortoiseshell comb with a sheet of cellophane paper, the donkey's jawbone, the scratcher, the banjo, a tin can to carry the rhythm and the washpam were used for the festivity.

The essential element in the dance is the cult of fertility, the ritual of rebellion of the woman in her cadenced dances, synchronization, love, color. Their songs deal with themes of denunciation and protest.

The Creoles have expanded their rhythms accelerating their beats, today a Palo de Mayo is danced with a soca, with a mento, a calypso, a punta, without altering its festive spirit, maintaining the sensuality of the exotic Caribbean.

African rhythms and sounds fused with Caribbean rhythms have been maintained despite the influence of the media and the times. Afro-Caribbean musical expressions are part of the national identity of a multilingual and multicultural country where the population of black descent is a minority.

The Palo de Mayo festival, with its rhythms and dances of strong African influence, is the most popular and representative of the Nicaraguan Caribbean. Its expression enjoys popularity, not only in Bluefields during the month of May, but all year round. In the Pacific, it is common to find these same dances in cultural and recreational centers.


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