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Widows and Devils. A Short History of Masks in Ecuador

October 1, 2009

diablo and viudo


In Ecuador, on New Year’s Eve Day, little children dress up as little devils, supposedly looking for bribes to keep the Año Viejos out of hell.  Año Viejos are explosive-stuffed papier-mâché effigies that are scorched each New Year as a symbol of burning the old year, hence the name “Año Viejo.” These Año Viejos are usually politicos, cartoon characters, sports stars and celebrities that have made an impact in the last year. Six years ago I burned Osama, and last year I gave Chavez the match.

The traditional way, the way it used to be done when times where simple was a bit more personal. The Año Viejo was created out of your old clothes and filled with sawdust and crammed with fireworks of all colors and sizes. Then these sawdust filled clothes are given a papier-mâché head. But people are lazy and the papier-mâché statues run so cheap that most everyone buys a pre-made one. Those who stick with the traditional way are usually idealists.

The burning of the Año Viejo also involves the many social implications of burning someone alive. You have “viudas” (widows) and “diablitos” (little devils). The viudas are always men dressed in black drag who stop cars on streetlights or speed-bumps and mock cry shaking their tin cups, looking for money to burry their soon to be burned at the stake husband. If you give them money they will even do a little dance for you and if you don’t they will mock cry some more or maybe flick you off.

These widows are a sight to see. They are most common in the coast, so it is amusing to see short muscular fishermen dressed in black and stuffing their bras with toilet paper.

Then the bribing comes into the game as it always does below the Tropic of Cancer, and especially below the Equator. In come the diablitos, little children playing the devil. The kids bear cardboard masks adorned with cotton balls to give the appearance of a grey beard. These children shake their cups too, but they are more effective than the viudas, in that they hold a rope across the road, and force you to stop. Little guerillas in the making. The cardboard masks are my favorite part of the celebrations. It amazes me to see how much people make out of so little. And beneath those masks little smiles are hiding, because everybody loves playing the devil.


Analia Meira

Ruta del Sol



One Comment leave one →
  1. October 17, 2009 12:34 pm

    Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.

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