Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting to know El Recreo

Saturday, 6-18-11

Today I went with the St. Boniface delegation to visit the canton of El Recreo, their sister community. I’ve been to El Recreo a few times before but I was excited to get to know the community better. Since there are 12 people here from St. B plus three translators and the Team we needed more than one truck to get there. (Just because we piled 21 people into the truck for a funeral does not mean it’s a good idea to do every day). The Team hired someone from El Recreo to drive half the group in his truck. At 9:00am we piled into the trucks and began the 25 minute drive.

As we got closer to the center of El Recreo someone set of cohetes to welcome the group. Cohetes are the loud noisemakers that are like fireworks without the lights. They’re often set off at the start of an event or when a priest enters town to give a special mass. We drove by the soccer field we’d be visiting later in the day and the evangelical church in town. When we arrived at the gates of the church we could see they’d hung decorations in the open area in front of the church. Everyone hopped out of the trucks and went to greet people.

Setting off cohetes

Driving by the soccer field

The evangelical church

Arriving at the Catholic church

Talking to the community

As a surprise, the youth/young adult group had a short performance for the delegation. The group was dressed in indigenous clothing and the performance was done in honor of their ancestors and Salvadoran traditions. Their performances are always exciting for the communities, especially for people who haven’t seen them before. It is also an important performance because there are very few indigenous people left in El Salvador since much of the culture has been wiped out. The Lenca, Mayan, and Pipil were the three dominant indigenous groups that occupied El Salvador during various times throughout history. In 1524 the country was conquered by the Spanish adventurer Pedro de Alvarado and made into a Spanish colony with resistance being crushed by 1540. Alvarado destroyed much of the native culture. By 1600 there were fewer than half indigenous people remaining in El Salvador.

Then in 1932 in western El Salvador there was a peasant uprising led by Augustín Farabundo Martí (for whom the FMLN is named) against the new government which was tainted by corruption. The leader of the government army, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, started a genocide against his own population. The peasant resistance was crushed by the army at a cost 30,000 lives, virtually eliminating indigenous people. Since most of the people that participated in the uprising were of indigenous origin anyone that looked or dressed like a native or spoke Nahuatl was killed by the army. This massacre is called “La Matanza” which means “The Slaughter.”

To avoid further violence, members of the indigenous groups severed their ties to their culture, adopting Western dress and the Spanish language as well as intermarrying with members of non-indigenous groups. In modern day El Salvador, it is estimated that 1% or less of the population is of exclusively indigenous descent. Thus, unlike neighboring Guatemala, virtually no one in El Salvador speaks an indigenous language, wears the clothing of their ancestors, or performs the traditions of the indigenous people who once inhabited this country. The people of El Salvador are struggling to bring back the culture and traditions of their ancestors. This is why the performances by the group in El Recreo are so fascinating and important.

This group performs not only in El Recreo but in other communities as well. I’ve seen them perform in the caserío of Alejandría for the celebration of running water and electricity and in the canton of Corozal for the celebration of their new church. They have several different acts, including one where they sacrifice a virgin, but the one today I’d not seen before. In this performance they included the Salvadoran myth of El Cipitío and his mother, La Sihuanaba.

La Sihuanaba
A Salvadoran legend exists about a woman with long and tangled hair covering her face, slim body and long nails, with enormous breasts that hang down almost touching the ground. She appears in the roads, rivers, and ravines especially to single and drunken men wandering late at night. Originally called “Sihuehuet” (beautiful woman), she had a romance with the son of Tlaloc, the god “Lucero de la Mañana” (Morning Bright Star), and became pregnant, betraying the sun god (Sol). Sihuehuet was a bad mother; she left her son to satisfy her lover. When Tlaloc discovered what was happening he cursed Sihuehuet calling her “Sihuanaba” (ugly woman). From that moment, she would be beautiful at first sight, but when men approach her, she would become a horrifying woman.

According to some villagers, Sihuanaba has been seen at night near rivers washing clothes and always looking for her son “Cipitío”, who was granted eternal youth by the god Tlaloc. According to the legend, every wandering man is a potential victim for Sihuanaba. However, she usually pursues conceited men and those who seduce women. Sihuanaba appears to them in areas near water late at night, taking a shower or comb her hair. People say that Sihuanaba shows herself as a young beautiful woman to captivate her victims. But once she has gained his confidence, she transforms herself into an ugly and grotesque woman, making her victims afraid for their lives and making them run while she laughs at them.

El Cipitío
Son of the Sihuanaba, “El Cipitío” is a very popular character among Salvadoran legends. He is a small and big-bellied kid that never grew up. El Cipitío eats bananas and the remaining ashes from wood rural kitchens, wearing a very large hat that moves with the measure of his walk. He appears at night as a scoffer spirit, making jokes, laughing, and dancing around his victims. According to some villagers, Cipitío throws pebbles to beautiful girls that go alone to wash clothes in the rivers.

Formerly called “Cipit”, and now “Cipitío” or “Cipitillo,” he was born of the relationship that his mother “Sihuehuet” had with the god “Lucero de la Mañana” (Morning Bright Star). The god “Tlaloc” condemned both the mother and son. The mother was sentenced to be a wandering woman and the son to eternal childhood. Despite being the son of a god Cipitío has the appearance of a poor child with a distortion in his feet, huge belly, and has the power to disappear from one place and reappear in another. Although harmless, El Cipitío is very obnoxious. Generally, he makes jokes and laughs at his victims. His name comes from the Nahuatl “Cipit” (Child) the same as “Cipote”, a word to refer to the kids in El Salvador.

Performers of the youth group

The ladies

It's Cipitio!!

Very scary

Dancing around Cipitio

There's Sihuanaba, the mother of Cipitio


Dancing with the handsome young men

This poor kid

Reunited at last

Take a bow

The whole group

Touring the Community
After the performance we had a brief welcome meeting in the church with the Directiva (community board). Antonio, a delegate of the word in El Recreo (like a lay minister), spoke briefly followed by Father Vince. While the Team, Kathy, and the group leaders of St. B had a meeting with the Directiva the rest of us had some free time to get to know the community a little better.

I went to the little museum run by the community that has several artifacts found in El Recreo. Some of the artifacts were found when they were excavating the land for the new church and others are from families in the community. The artifacts include grinding stones, arrowheads, pottery, lanterns, winches, shells, and anthropomorphic figures. The museum was helped and continues to be supported by an evangelical university in San Salvador. They have helped with carbon dating, creating signs about the artifacts in English and Spanish, providing glass cases for the artifacts, and they have given the museum books for their library.

When we’d finished looking through the museum we walked around town a little. Someone offered to walk with us to a bakery in the community. We walked past the school that we’d be visiting on Monday and stopped by the pump that supplies water to the entire canton. We passed another group that was on their way back to the church from the bakery. They had bought some bread and pan dulce. We continued on and could smell the bakery before we saw the building. They were working hard on an assortment of pan dulce when we arrived. After watching them prepare the pan dulce we saw the shelves where the bread is stored and picked out some for ourselves. I bought a bunch to take to the Pastoral House.

The meeting was still going on when we arrived back at the church. Several people were playing with the kids so I joined Jeannie and Donna in singing songs. We sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, the Hokey Pokey, and If You’re Happy and You Know It. It was a ton of fun and we were worn out by the time we’d finished. Thankfully, it was lunch time so we were able to take a break. We munched on sandwiches and chips inside the church.

Inside the church

One of many sweet faces


Father Vince saying hello

The musuem

An old jar

Broken pottery

All discovered in El Recreo

I like this piece


I love the displays


Water source for the community

Showing us the pipes below

Chatting on the road

Coming and going

Pan dulce!!

Showing us how the machine works

Hard work

Working to get off the outer layer of shells from coffee

Up close of coffee before it's roasted

TJ, the constant photographer

Cart used to haul water

Walking back to the church

Playing toss the lime

Time to sing!

Not sure what we were singing here


Giant mushroom

Spraying the fields

Home Visits
The delegation divided up again after lunch with some of us visiting a few older, homebound people in El Recreo while others went on farms tours. Since my background is in gerontology I opted to go see people in their homes. The delegation had brought small care packages to give to the families. The first family we visited was very close to the church. The man we visited there is 94 years old and is in a wheelchair; it is not easy to get around in the cantons in a wheelchair. He had significant hearing problems as well but we stayed to chat with him and his family for a while. He told us that he is lucky because most of his family is nearby and he has 40 grandchildren. Wow!! After talking we thanked them for letting us visit and moved on to the next home.

The next home was a little further up the road but close enough to walk. The man who lives in that house is also 94 years old and has hearing problems. He told us that he experiences a lot of joint pain and headaches. He also has less family support than the first man we visited. Though he has several children and 6 grandchildren he only has one son that helps him. The grandchildren don’t come to visit often. This is not an uncommon situation and it always saddens me to hear about older adults who don’t have much support from their families. When we finished talking we thanked him for his time and I gave him a big hug. As my grandpa used to say, “The best therapy in the world is a hug.”

One of the homebound people we visited

The second home we visited

Fútbol Time
Around 2:30pm we walked to the community soccer (fútbol) field, called a cancha, to watch El Recreo play Alejandría. I knew this was going to be fun. Alejandría is the community where the Pastoral Team is from and they had just formed their fútbol team this year. A couple weeks ago they went to practice on a bigger field since they don’t have a full-sized field in their community. Cecilia joked that I could be the madrina (godmother) for the Team to which I replied that Kathy would be the mascota (mascot). Fútbol teams here always have a madrina and a mascot. The mascot would be similar to mascots in the US and the madrina is the woman associated with the team who is kind of like the cheerleader. Kathy and I got a quick picture with the team before the game started. I put on a crown and Kathy had an elephant hand puppet she wore for the picture.

St. Boniface delegates Charles and TJ joined the El Recreo team for the game. They even wore the jerseys of the El Recreo team which I imagine were a little tight since they are bigger than the average Salvadoran. It was fun watching the game, especially since I prefer fútbol to American football, basketball, or baseball. It was raining a little at the beginning of the game but not much. All of the lush green surroundings and the clouds that had rolled in made for a picturesque setting for the game. The game lasted almost 2 hours and Alejandría eventually ended up winning.

Under the umbrella

Hola Kathy

The team from Alejandria

Watching the game

The whole field

Almost made a goal

There's TJ

Here come the clouds

Down he goes

Taking a quick break

Action shot

The fans


Corn Delivery
The truck with corn arrived around 4pm. Every family in El Recreo was going to be getting 200 pounds of corn (2 sacks) as a gift from St. Boniface. Corn is a main staple here and is used to make several important foods like tortillas, pupusas, tamales, and atole (a hot, thick drink made from corn). Many people are in desperate need of corn this year because the harvest last year was very poor. Right before it was time to harvest the corn and beans heavy rain came and wiped out a lot of the crops. This is a huge worry especially since people rely on the crops to feed their families. Many people do not have enough corn and beans to make it through the year and will end up buying them to feed their family instead of relying on their own farms.

The Directiva was present and someone from every family in the community showed up to get their corn. People got things unloaded and the Directiva got things ready. Soon we were ready to start. The Directiva called out the names of someone from every family and they came forward to get their bags. Everyone helped out, especially when the head of the family was female or elderly. The process went very smoothly and everyone ended up with their two bags of corn. It was a good way to end our first day in El Recreo.

The corn truck arrives

Umbrellas: good for rain and shade

Lending a hand

Do as the locals do

Lounging on their bags

Loading up the his cart

Riding back to Berlin with the futbol team from Alejandria

Sitting on the edge of the truck


Matt said...

What a day. It was really full of amazing things. The performance by the kids must have been really something. The futbol game looked like a lot of fun too.

Beatriz Reyes said...

This was such a beautiful blog article to read. I'm salvadorean american. I've been there many times and it was very rare to see someone without firm salvadorean roots traveling there. I loved this.