Ambergris Caye Directory
San Pedro's Biggest Festival Back Then (Part 2)
By Angel Nuñez
Two weeks ago I commenced on a story of the biggest festival San Pedro put on and it was on the occasion of Dia de San Pedro, St. Peter’s Day on June 29, about one hundred years ago. All the preparations were done by village volunteers and now it was time to enjoy. For the fist song the Batab had selected 12 young men and 12 young ladies to dance and open the festival.
The men bowed to the girls and took off their hats. The girls curtsied and the men put their hats on again. There was a custom that if a man liked a girl, he could put his hat on her head. Some girls got several hats and some got none.
When this piece was finished the girls sat down and the Batab touched another 12 girls and this process continued until all the girls had danced. The girls sat down with the hats she had collected on her lap. The owners had to go to them and buy back their hats. Whatever money the girls collected was theirs to keep.
For the next hour, the two Chics made everyone laugh with jokes or imitations of different people. Usually they dressed up as husband a wife and put on their show mimicking women and men in the village. Then the band played Angaripola, a zapateado. The third set was a faster zapateado and then the fourth was el Torito, in which the men pretended to be bulls and the girls bullfighters. The fifth set was El Toro Grande in which the girls tried to trip the men, and if the men fell down, he was the big joke of the night.
Between sets the girls were served sweet biscuits and Chavannes red lemonade. Just before midnight The Batab announced that the normal dancing was over and that everyone who wished to dance may do so by paying a fee. The band struck up a waltz and the danced hall was soon crowded. No man was allowed to touch his lady even if it was his wife. They placed a handkerchief on each hand so that they would not make contact with her hands or her shoulders. This was the style of the days of Queen Victoria and the English influence of proper manners that swept Europe, America and even San Pedro. The dancers politely clapped their hands and often shouted ‘enco, enco’, the San Pedro version of ‘encore, encore’.
“At midnight we broke for food,” commented Danny Vasquez, “and then the dance went on until almost daylight.” The second day of festival started at nine in the morning. You had to have stamina in those days to survive. However at noon the Batab led a parade to the home of the Amo de hacienda and in Maya invited him and his wife to join the party. He graciously accepted the honor and the parade returned to the ‘enramada’ at the park while the bland played “Los Aires”. The Amo and his wife sat on rocking chairs. He placed his Panama hat (expensive hat) and placed it on his wife’s lap. He signaled to one of his servants who brought a box and he poured out its contents, 50 or more gold coins in U.S. $5.00 denomination, into the hat. Then the band struck another piece and each pair of dancers went in front of the Amo. He showed his receipt as proof that he had paid, and the Amo’s wife gave the lady a gold coin.
The band then played a waltz and only the Amo and his wife danced this piece. Then the dance continued all day long until six in the evening when all were ready to rest. The next four dances were similar to the first one. The seventh and last day, however, was called “Xtol”. Only men danced- half of them dressed as women. It was fun and all the villagers came out to watch this foolishness. Throughout this dance everyone was eating rice lab. Each woman had to bring a cup and a spoon and she would feed it to her partner to eat some too. The rice lab was never finished. One of the Chics who acted as comedian would go to men and ladies and wipe their mouths with a piece of cloth and then he would announce that the cloth was an old man’s underpants. Most people laughed, but once in a while someone would become very angry, especially if the person was not a Sanpedrano. This was the end of the Gran Fiesta, Dia de San Pedro and all villagers took it very seriously because they all venerated Saint Peter and wanted to honor him as best they could.
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