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Traditions & Legends
Probably Nicaragua’s most renowned cultural expression is “El Gueguense”. This original comedic master piece was created on the streets of Diriamba in the middle of the seventeenth century by “Mestizos”. The unnamed authors had the intent of mocking the Spanish authorities in a genius and creative way of rejecting years of oppression.
This artistic play was first performed in the Mexican-Nahuatl language as a street theatre right under the nose of the Spanish civil and military authorities. Nowadays "El Gueguense" is reenacted by hundreds of locals for San Sebastian during the Patron Saint festivities each January in Diriamba. The traditional costumes include men’s masks representing the Spanish governor, mayor, treasurer, and other commanding officials. During the theatrical play the locals, besides wearing the masks, wear costumes characterizing the traditional clothes of the Spaniards; pants, jackets, handkerchief, and golden-like beads.
“El Gueguense”, besides being the name of the play, is also the name of the main character. He introduces himself and his two sons as tradesmen before the Spanish governor. In an attempt to evade taxes, he starts convincing the Governor to marry his daughter with one of his sons. While persuading the Governor, "El Gueguense" uses unruly phrases, double meaning words, and confusing language. The play ends with great festivities in the Royal House. Because of its cultural value of indigenous resistance, UNESCO recognized “El Gueguense” as an Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
Another popular and remarkable cultural expression is “La Gigantona”. It is a very colorful and vibrant street play where the rhythmical sound of drums, popular folk verses, and dancing blend perfectly well to create this popular manifestation. It was also created on the streets by the Nicaraguan mestizos (a mix of Spanish and natives). There are four characters in this artistic work: La Gigantona, El Enano Cabezon, El Coplero and El Tamborilero.
La Gigantona is a type of a big doll, three meters tall constructed on a light wood frame and covered with a colorful dress and lots of ornamentations. She represents the big white Spanish woman with elegance and power. El Enano Cabezon is a small figure with a big head symbolizing the underestimated mestizo by the Spanish domination. El Coplero is the person who recites the popular folk verses and the Tamborilero is the one who plays enthusiastically the drum. Two young men go under La Gigantona and El Enano Cabezon figures, who take turns dancing at the animated sound of the drums. This tradition is taken through the colonial streets of Granada and Leon. Even more there is a special “Gigantona” competition that takes place each December 8th at the Central Plaza in Leon where local judges choose the best ornamented and beautiful “Gigantona”.
Legends could not be less fascinating for explaining and comprehending a great part of the Nicaraguan culture. One of the most famous legends is “La Mocuana”. The story goes that during the Conquest the Spanish, besides exploring a new land, were also looking for gold. The beautiful daughter of an Indian chief fell in love with a young Spanish man who promised to love her forever. His intentions were to find out where her father had hidden the gold. She was so deep in love that she did not realize he was deceiving her. She took him to a far cave where he was astonished to see such an amount of gold. He escaped to Spain but unfortunately he left her behind in the cave with no way out, eventually she went insane and managed to run away. Those people who have seen her say she is a big woman, with a beautiful body and long hair covering her face. She attracts men with her beauty into caves in order to lock them up.
Other famous Nicaraguan legends are “The Priest without a head”, “The Nahuatl Oxen Cart”, “The Crying woman”, “Chico Largo”, and other fascinating legends that have captivated the imagination of children and adults from generation to generations.