San Pacho Festival takes hold of western Colombian capital

The San Pacho festival, a celebration held in the western department of Choco, is underway and will last until October 4. 

Every year, from September 20th to October 4th, the San Pacho Festival celebrates Saint Francis, the patron saint of Quibdo, the department’s capital, with music, dancing, religious processions, and enough partying to make Carnival seem like a week of pious reflection.

MORE: Western Colombia to kick off San Pacho Festival

‘Rumba’ rhythms and dance flows through the streets like rum, as the festive ‘Arco’ mass initiates 20 days of all-out celebration.

Since its inception in 1648, as an attempt by recently arrived Franciscan missionaries to convert the local natives to Christianity, the festival has always been a strange, harmonious mix of disparate cultures and traditions.

Today, the formal Catholic element is preserved in its original form, with images of Saint Francis paraded through the streets, to much pomp and ceremony. But the festival as a whole is more representative of the diverse ethnic roots of the Choco department, and the wider Pacific region in general.

Traditional African and indigenous garb and music are the focal point of a wild, pagan celebration of life, joy and cultural identity, that organizers say affirms the lasting influence of slave culture in Colombian society.

It was precisely that vibrant mix of conqueror and conquered that persuaded UNESCO to name the San Pacho Festival a World Heritage event in 2012.

MORE: Colombia’s San Pacho Festival makes UNESCO’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ list 

During the nearly three weeks of celebrations, alters are put up in each of the Qiubdo’s Franciscan neighborhoods, as food, dance, costumes and music surge throughout the city.

On October 4th, after 20 days of more “sancocho” stew and alcohol than most would care to think about, the city wakes in silence, as a religious procession follows a giant image of Quibdo’s patron saint through the streets, ending in the city’s main church.

A week from today, tourists and residents alike will give quiet thanks to Saint Francis, the protector of Quibdo, for all he has done for them throughout the year, and ask his protection for the one to come. It will be a special, thoughtful day.

But for now, the party continues.


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