National Folkloric Festival of La Mejorana

Guararé, Panamá - 2023


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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 17th, 2023  
9:00 a.m.

Traditional Junta for building the barrera (bullring) for the bullfights.

In the countryside tradition, tasks such as planting, harvest, home construction, and others, which require significant labor, are occasions when neighbors come together for a work gathering (junta) to complete the task. Music, yelling, singing, cooking, eating, and drinking are part of the routine from the beginning, but once the job is done, the party gets going in full force.

Improvised bull fights - Once the bullring is ready, you have to try it out, right?

8:00 p.m.

Crowning Ceremony for Her Majesty Madelaine Nicolle Cedeño Pinzón, Queen of the LXXI (71st) National Festival of La Mejorana, by Her Majesty Lucía Angélica Martínez Gesualdi, Queen of the LXX (70th) Festival.

Homage to Her Majesty Rosemary Segistán, on her 50th anniversary, and to Her Majesty Milagros Sáez Acosta, on her 25th Anniversary.

4:00 p.m.

Pilgrimage to the Statue of Professor Manuel Fernando Zárate (founder of the Festival). Special Program.

The statue of Professor Zárate is in front of the Festival's museum, which is a traditionally-built house just two blocks away from the main stage of the festival, walking down hill beside the church. As a historical note, the house, made of wood, mud, straw, and cañaza (a bamboo like material) was built by a junta, just like the bullring is built each year.

8:00 p.m.

5th Saloma Competition Ceferino "Fefe" López, at the Mejorana Palace (the Main Stage)

Saloma is a type of a-capella, ad-lib singing, mostly performed by men when they are working some difficult or long task. It often combines melodies with lyrics and melodies without lyrics, and it is usually sung in between some periods of traditional yelling. In the traditional popular "tipico" musical band, the woman singer also sings salomas, melodies mostly without lyrics, in between verses.

9:00 p.m.

5th Yelling Competition Jacinto "Chinto" Vergara (at the Main Stage)

This is not just any yelling! It consists of what could be considered "lines of a guttural melody". The pitch variation over time (the melody) and length of each line change as the performance progresses. This can be performed by a single man (or a woman, which is less common), but it is often performed by two people. The first person yells a "line" that the second person reproduces, and then the first person yells a second line, and so on and so forth. The back-and-forth lasts approximately one minute, but it can vary in duration.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2023  
4:00 p.m.

26th Children's Drumming Competition, at the Mejorana Palace (the Main Stage)

8:00 p.m.

12th Mejoranera Performance Competition "Gabriel Villarreal" for children.

9:30 p.m.

27th Sung Décimas Competition “Bernardo Cigarruista” (for adults).

9:00 a.m.

Beginning of the Great Tournament of La Mejorana with various vernacular expressions.

9:00 a.m. Children and youth delegations will perform their regional and folkloric projection dances in the Victorino Fulito Córdoba Encounter (at the Youth Performances Stage).
9:30 a.m.

26th Youth Accordion Competition Didio Borrero.

11:00 a.m.

45th Drumming Competition for Adults Gumercindo Díaz.

11:00 a.m.

49th Written Décima Competition Manuel F. Zárate, organized by Lions Club of Guararé. Prizes awarded at 4:15 p.m. at the Palacio de la Mejoran (the main stage).

12:30 p.m.

34th  Mejoranera Performance Competition Aristides Gil - Esteban Rodríguez for adults, sponsored by Melo Enterprises.

2:30 p.m.

Presentation of Award  Dora Pérez de Zárate to Wendy Tribaldos and Presentation of Award "Orden Manuel Fernando Zárate" to  Zoila Castillero. Gold medals and recognition plaques.

The late Manuel Fernando Zárate and his wife Dora Pérez de Zárate were the motors behind the founding of the festival in 1949.

3:00 p.m.

60th Accordion Competition Rogelio Gelo Córdoba for adults, sponsored by Panama's Ministry of Education (gold medal) and Cable & Wireless.

7:00 p.m.

Salve (Hail Holy Queen) and Procession in Honor of Our Patron Saint, the Virgin of Mercy.

Handcrafted / artisan fireworks.

10:00 p.m.

Continuation of the Great Tournament of La Mejorana. Adult delegations will perform their regional dances as part of the 29th Folkloric Dance Competition Lorenzo "Lencho" Vergara.

The Great Tournament of La Mejorana consists of performances and competitions in diverse vernacular expressions, some of which do not relate directly to mejorana. The word mejorana currently conveys several possible meanings: (1) the singing of décimas in the Panamanian folkloric style; (2) the music that accompanies the singing of décimas in the Panamanian folkloric style; (3) the dancing of the mejorana music without lyrics; (4) the small rustic guitar that accompanies the singing or dancing (also called mejoranera); and (5) these days, the festival itself.

10:30 p.m.

Homage to a “Cultor del Folklore” (folklore exponent/promoter/advocate): Professor Esteban Bustamante Leverone

11:00 p.m.

Festival Flag entrusted to the Flag Bearer for the Traditional Parade of Oxcarts on Sunday (Nissan Frontier).

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24th, 2023  
10:00 a.m.

Solemn Eucharist (Mass) in Honor of Our Patron Saint The Lady of Mercy.

10:00 a.m.

Gathering and organization of the oxcarts, delegations, and general public, in preparation for the Oxcart Parade. This is on Carretera Nacional (National Road) in front of  Juana Vernaza Primary School.

12:00 p.m.

Sung praises in honor of the Virgin of Mercy by décima singers and mejorana performers from the region, at the Mejorana Palace (the main stage).

Recognition to mejorana singer Ramiro Sandoval. Virgen de las Mercedes medal sponsored by Licenciada Nedelka Diaz.

A décima (also known as décima espinela) is the traditional, folkloric verse form used in Panama and several other Latin American countries such as Puerto Rico and México (Veracruz). It originated in Spain. Each strophe or stanza consists of ten eight-syllable lines, with the strict rhyming pattern ABBAACCDDC. It is sung in one of the many torrentes (styles) of mejorana, accompannied by the mejoranera (the small Panamanian guitar).

12:30 p.m.

Beginning of the Great Oxcart Parade led by the Flag Bearer for the Day. Two competitions will take place during the parade: the 32nd Tuna Competition Martina Castillo and the 26th Oxcart Competition Tiburcio Saavedra.

A Tuna, in Spain's tradition, is a group of musicians, singers, and dancers that parade through the streets. In Panama, tunas consist of one lady singing a verse and a choir of ladies (these days men sing as well) responding. The singing is accompannied by drumming. There are three types of drum in Panama: the repicador, which provides the syncopaded , mostly ad-lib accents, the pujador, which is slightly lower in tone and provides the rythm with a few syncopation excursions, and the caja, which provides the constant beat. The repicador and pujador are played with bare hands, while the caja is played with sticks.

In the case of the oxcart parade at this festival, a tuna accompanies each oxcart. Each oxcart is nicely decorated according to some folkloric theme and usually carries one or more people representing a particular custom from life in the country. Some of these can be quite funny. The queen, princess, and other ladies dressed in beautiful polleras (the Panamanian national female dress) also have one oxcart and one tuna each.

3:00 p.m.

Traditional Bullfights. In Panama, bullfights include teasing of bulls, but not killing and normally not intentionally hurting the animals. There is usually one or more hired bullfighters, but there will always be guys who are interested in showing off, and who will become improvised bullfighters or will ride the bulls rodeo-style. This can be dangerous, but it often is quite entertaining to watch. Once in a while a bull will escape the barrera (the bullring), which creates another particularly thrilling situation, especially when you are too close to the place where the bull breaks away. It is usually better to find a safe place from which to watch.

Guararé features one of the only two traditional bullrings in Panama. The other one is in Parita, Province of Herrera. The barrera (bullring) is built each year immediately in front of the porches of the houses that surround the empty plaza, leaving very little space for people to move around the bullring, except in the four corners, where the street intersections provide more space. In recent years, people have built a few rudimentary, elevated stands (palcos) in some areas around the bullring, which provide added comfort and safety; these stands are often reserved for owners and their friends. Most of the young people just sit on the bullring's fence, which is not always that safe but is part of the adventure.

6:00 p.m.

Award Ceremony for the Winners of the Tunas and Oxcarts Competitions, at the Festival Main Stage.

6:30 p.m.

Burlap Flag entrusted to the Flag Bearer for the Traditional Día Sereno and Great Atolladera (all of which happens the next day). This year, the flag bearer for the Atolladera day is Jhonathan Chávez, a popular accordion player and band leader.

7:00 p.m.

17th Children's Sung Décima Competition Félix Pérez.



3:00 p.m.

Día Sereno (Serene Day). Traditional cowfights. Great Atolladera (Mud Party) inside the bullfighting rink (barrera) (atollar means to put or get mud on - atolladera is when that happens as a group activity).

Tuna (dancing parade) with the Burlap Flag led by Her Majesty and her court and the flag bearer for the day.

It usually rains a lot in September in Panama. The second day of official bullfights is called the Día Sereno (Serene Day). That day the flag is made of burlap, and the queen's tuna actually goes inside of the barrera, where the cowfights stop for a while, lots of fireworks of various types will be ignited, and some of the party goers will be thrown in the mud or at least partially covered with mud, for fun. The queen, her court, and others in the tuna will usually dress in white that afternoon, to make the mud on their clothes even more visible. The tradition to wear white is said to have been started by Dorindo Cárdenas, a very popular and beloved accordion musician, singer, and songwriter who wrote the song "Décimo Quinto Festival en Guararé" (Fifteenth Festival in Guararé) among many other hits. That song was made popular around the world by Dorindo's friend, Colombian accordion musician Alfredo Gutiérrez, and in a salsa version by the Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. The song has also been covered by many other musicians/bands for many years. In the seventies, Dorindo was chosen as flag bearer for the Día Sereno and Atolladera for several years. Dorindo is still one of the most renowned and sought after "típico" musicians, and his band usually performs for popular dances several nights at the Festival. Dorindo was chosen as the flag bearer again, for the Day of the Atolladera, in 2017. People carried him in a taburete (a chair made of wood and cowhide) during the dancing parade with the Queen inside the bullring, just like the first time many years ago when he did not want to stand up to get into the atolladera and folks forced him to participate by carrying him in his chair.

7:00 p.m.

21st Female and Male Work Costume Competition Professor Dora Pérez de Zárate. Female: Festive Montuna Pollera; Male: Coleta Shirt. This takes place at the Mejorana Palace (the main stage). In addition to wearing their costume, participants perform some old-style country job of their choosing, such as sharpening a machete, making some traditional dish, or calling and feeding the chicken.

3:00 p.m.

Traditional Bullfights

7:00 p.m.

25th Violin (fiddle) Competition Escolástico "Colaco" Cortez and 45th Great Classical Night of Violins (the music is Panamanian folkloric fiddle music).

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27th, 2023  Traditional Gallota. This may or may not happen. It is not in the formal program.
Around 3:00 p.m., if it happens at all. A gallota is a female vulture. This event name may have originated, perhaps, because the day after the last day of the festival is so sad and streets seem more empty than any other day of the year, except for vultures that may have come down many years ago on such a day to get something from the trash. The townspeople may gather and have an additional but "unsanctioned" day of bullfights. In recent years, somebody on a horse inside the bullring has passed a hat to collect money to pay the bullfighters, and the party gets going again for one more afternoon. The day can be even better than the previous days of bullfights because there is a little less people and many of those present know each other. Will it happen this year ...?

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Note: in addition to the folkloric events of the festival, popular dances are usually organized at the various dance "jardines" in town, all located on the single up/down street that touches the main plaza, one block away from the church. These presentations and dances usually feature renowned Panamanian "tipico music" bands. Most of these presentations/dances start after 9:30 p.m., but some are afternoon events ("sarao"). The weekend around Oxcart Parade Sunday is usually the most important in terms of events and crowds. Also, there are plenty of food stands selling traditional Panamanian food around the event locations.

Las opiniones expresadas en estas páginas no son informaciones oficiales del Pueblo de Guararé o del Patronato del Festival Nacional de la Mejorana. Los productores y patrocinadores no asumen responsabilidad alguna por errores u omisiones en los datos presentados.

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The opinions stated here are not official information from the Town of Guararé or the Festival Nacional de la Mejorana Organizing Committee. The producers and sponsors assume no responsibilty for errors or omissions in the data presented.

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