By Sylvan Hardy
When the clock ticks over to 2020 tonight, an observer with an elevated vantage point in Cuenca will behold an other-worldly sight: thousands of fires burning in the streets and a sky filled with smoke and fireworks. One of the city’s most dramatic traditions is the year-end burning of the monigotes, or dummies. Many more will burn earlier.
The monigote masks are painted to resemble everyone from presidents, city councilmen, and cartoon characters to wayward family members but, in general, they represent the old year. The masks are paper maché, some of them hand-made, and sell for $2 to $5 at locations around town.
The monigotes’ stuffing occasionally contain firecrackers and Chinese rockets which are set off during the immolations. These sacrificial offerings do not go gently into that good night.
Each year, several dozen Cuencanos show up in emergency rooms on New Year’s Eve, hit by fireworks as they attempt the traditional three jumps over the burning pyres. Cases of pyrotechnic enemas have been reported.
Many of the monigotes are works of art, but foreigners who want to rescue one from the fire for their living rooms should choose carefully. Some are filled with vegetable matter or even barnyard manure and tend to make unsavory house guests.
The days of monigote burnings — at least in the streets — may be numbered. The practice has been banned in some Ecuadorian cities, including Quito. The fires can damage asphalt and city governments say the cost of repairs isn’t cheap.
The monigote tradition dates back more than a century but its origin is largely a mystery. Although it is often claimed that the Ecuadorian practice began in 1895 in Guayaquil, following an epidemic, when the dead were burned in large pyers, others say the tradition goes back further, to the early 1800s in Cuenca.
Several history books report that the practice combines ancient Andean ritual with Spanish rites of the 1700s, most likely connected with the Feast of St. Joseph. Although it began in Ecuador, the tradition was spread, reportedly by Catholic priests and monks, to other Latin American countries.
Whatever the origin, the meaning of the immolations seems simple enough: out with the old and in with the new.
For the 45th year, the Amistad Club de Cuenca and the Unión de Periodistas del Azuay is sponsoring its New Year Eve neighborhood contest for best skits and satirical display. Twenty-seven neighborhoods are participating this year with the winner taking home the $9,500 prize
Extended bar hours
The government announced last week that revelers will be allowed to party hardy a little longer tonight. Bar hours have been extended from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Take care of your pets
The Cuenca veterinary association recommends that pet owners plan to be home with their pets when fireworks start exploding. Dogs, especially, tend to freak out when rockets are bursting in air, an association spokeman says. Among his recommendations are to take dogs for an extended walks before the pyrotechnics begin, play loud music to mask the sound of explosions, keep windows and doors shut and stay with your pets to keep them calm.
Beware the constabulary
There will be hundreds of national police and citizen guards on the streets tonight making sure the revelry doesn’t get out of hand. Among other things, they will be enforcing the new rule against burning dummies on tram tracks or on station platforms.
New Year’s Eve Dinner
Dozens of local resaturants and cafes are featuring special New Year’s Eve dinners. For details, consult the classified section of this website or GringoPost.