The Parachicos are a vital part of a traditional annual celebration in the small town of Chiapa de Corzo in the state of Chiapas, that dates back several centuries. The fiesta as it is celebrated today is a combination of ancestral native traditions with customs that developed during the colonial period. The festival's prehispanic roots are evident in the decorations, costumes, foods and music, which are all created with traditional materials.
The Legend of the Parachicos
There are several different versions of the story that tells of the origins of the Parachicos, but most of them have many of the same elements. According to local legend, during the colonial period, María de Angulo, a wealthy Spanish woman, had a son who was ill and unable to walk. She traveled to Chiapa de Corzo, which at that time was known as Pueblo de la Real Corona de Chiapa de Indios, with the hope of finding a cure for her son. An herbalist told her to take her son to bathe every day for nine days in the water at Cumbujuyu, a nearby natural spring. The woman followed the advice, and her son was healed.
The Parachicos represent some of the local people of the time who would dress up, dance and make funny gestures to entertain the son of Maria de Angulo during his illness. The Parachico was a jester or clown, whose purpose was to make the sick boy laugh. The name comes from the Spanish "para chico" which translates to "for the boy".
Some time after the boy was cured, the town suffered a plague which destroyed the crops, leading to a severe famine. When Maria de Angulo heard of the situation, she returned and, aided by her servants, distributed food and money to the townspeople.
The Parachicos are recognized by the costume they wear: a hand-carved wooden mask with European features, a headdress made of natural fibers, and a brightly colored striped serape over dark colored pants and shirt, and an embroidered shawl around the waist as a belt, and colored ribbons hanging from their clothing. They carry hand rattles which are locally known as chinchines.
The Chiapaneca is the female counterpart to the parachico. She is supposed to represent Maria de Angulo, a wealthy European woman. The traditional clothing of the Chiapaneca is an off-the-shoulder dress that is mostly black with colored ribbons running through it.
Another character in the dance is the "Patron" - the boss, who wears a mask with a stern expression. and plays a flute. Another participant plays a drum while the Parachicos shake their chinchines.
Fiestas de Enero
The Fiesta Grande ("Great Fair") or Fiestas de Enero ("Fairs of January") take place every year for three weeks in January in the town of Chiapa de Corzo. The town's patron saints are celebrated during the festival which is held over the dates that mark their feast days: Our Lord of Esquipulas (January 15), Saint Anthony Abbot (January 17) and Saint Sebastian (January 20). The dances are considered a communal offering to the patron saints.
Processions and dances begin the the morning and conclude at sundown. A number of different sites are visited, including churches and other religious sites, and the municipal cemetery as well as the homes of the priostes - the families who take custody of the religious images during the time between the festivities.
Parachicos as Intangible Heritage
The Parachicos, as well as the celebration in which they perform, were recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2010. The celebration was included because it is passed on through generations, with young children introduced to the tradition from a young age.
See the full list of aspects of Mexican culture which have been recognized: Mexico's Intangible Heritage.
If You Go
If you have the opportunity to travel to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas during January, head to Chiapa de Corzo near the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez to see the Parachicos for yourself. You can also make a visit to the nearby Sumidero Canyon and San Cristobal de las Casas.