Friday, 11 March 2011

lanzarote's little devils - les diabletes

Masked devil dances are a big part of folk traditions worldwide, from Sri Lankan devil bears that ward off the unwanted harassment of unseen hands to Romanian rituals where the demonic masks are almost cute in their fur, textile and horned hat design. In Barcelona the Festival of Merce sees devils dance in the Lucifer fire runs and in Liberia, the six-metre high, black-masked, shell-adorned devils that Graham Greene described as wielding a power beyond good and evil in his 1930s travel book, Journey Without Maps, still dance through villages, bringing, apparently, happiness and reconciliation. In Lanzarote, Les Diabletes meld Moorish and slave superstitions, aboriginal and Christian beliefs in a harlequin-esque figure (above), part Padstow Obby Osses, part medieval-styled raver.

Centuries ago, les diabletes were incarnated as virile he-goats, and shepherds danced through Lanzarote's capital, Teguise, in goat-skins tarred with lard. Now they're the focal point of the pre-Lent period Teguise carnival and celebrations in other towns across the island, and they've also shape-shifted, becoming horned bulls with bright red tongues (as above), clad in red and black diamond-decorated jacket and trousers and decked out with bells.

They're meant to scare us, but les diabletes just end up looking mischievous, especially with those sticking out tongues. They have that mocking look, like jesters with a trick up their sleeves.

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