FeatureFolklore

Let the Games Begin!

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So, this is a thing. In the small town of Chocolá, located about 136km west of La Antigua Guatemala in the Guatemalan department of Suchitepéquez, Good Thursday and Good Friday feature huge skirmish between hundreds of “Judíos” (“Jews”) and a small group Centurions. The “Judíos” are basically townspeople dressed up as ravaging monsters who go mess with a drunken actor playing Jesus. “We represent the guard of Jesus while the Judíos mock him,” explains Anibal Carrillo, one of the Roman soldiers.

Early on, a group of Centurions patrols the empty streets of Chocolá, a former German-owned finca that was expropriated during World War II and subsequently became a town. They are led by a blunt-machete-wielding Angel with metal wings as they go from house to house. Once they find the town’s Seer, the king of the Centurions, a black-clad crusader on horseback, joins their ranks to continue the patrol. It’s worth noting that the Seer’s only role in this whole thing is to feed the Centurions and be found.

Luis Palaj, playing the Angel, walks beside a cement sport center, in the town of Chocolá. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

After a few hours, the “Judíos”, dressed in colourful clothes and masks that land anywhere between beautiful and grotesque, take to the streets. They gather by a teutonic-looking church where some food stands and impromptu bars have sprung up out of nowhere in the middle of the morning. People get liquored up as a small procession leaves the church, indicating that, upon its return within roughly 45 minutes, the “Games” will begin.

According to Anibal Carrillo, who has been playing a Centurion for the past six years, the “Judíos” represent the passion of the Christ since they drag some poor, drunken sod dressed up as Jesus around town, mocking and humiliating him. The Centurions, on the other hand, are guided by a devilish Angel to aid Drunk-Jesus and rescue him from the crowd. They use their swords (a.k.a. blunt machetes) and clubs to hit the “Judíos” on their backs to drive them away.

A man prepares himself for the “corrida” with the Centurions in a bar in the nearby town of “La Ladrillera”. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The team of Centurions consists of 12 members sporting all white clothes, and 12 members wearing black. Mr. Carrillo explained that the ones draped in white are lower-ranking Centurions, so they’re only allowed to use clubs to hit the “Judíos”. Once they graduate to their black attires, they receive a blunt machete to whop at will. The “Judíos” also sport big sticks as weapons; however, they’re not allowed to use them to hit the Centurions back during the event.

Once the games begin, the group of 24 Centurions chase around the hundreds of people dressed up as “Judíos”, hitting them on the back with their respective weapons. The Centurions make a point of going after the “Judíos” who are wandering about obliviously with particular fury. This is a process that’s repeated about eight times. During this part of the event, the Angel is the most vicious fighter of the Centurion group. After the last run, the King of the Centurions fights against the King of the Judíos, a sword-wielding (again, blunt machete) sort of red-knight-devil-looking-thing, on horseback. It is absolutely worth noting that most people participating in this activity have been drinking since early in the morning to endure the harsh blows of the clubs and the blunt machetes.

Centurions are cleansed by a local seer. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

After the last fight, Drunk Jesus gets crucified at around noon on Good Friday. Once the actor playing him is strung up on the cross, the backs of the “Judíos”, marked sharply by the blunt steel, finally get some rest. Until next year, at least.

The Masks
Similar traditions can be found in northern Suchitepéquez in the towns of Aldea Guineales, and Santo Tomás La Unión. The costumes are made by local tailors, and can cost anywhere between Q.60 (8.18USD) and Q.100 (13.63USD). The masks in Chocolá are made by applying papier-mâché on molds made out of soft clay. The more ornate masks are carved out of wood in the nearby town of Samayac. There’s only one surviving mask-maker there, who is known as “El Zancudo” (“Mosquito”). According to him, the most popular wooden masks are those depicting dogs.

Judíos in front of the church of Chocolá. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

 

Judíos walk on the main road of Chocolá, right by the market. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The man who plays jesus waits to be tied and turned by the Judios. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

 

Judios mock Drunk Jesus. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Drunk Jesus falls down as he is pulled by the Judios. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Judios flee from the heavy handed Centurions. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Luis Palaj, the Angel, hits a Judío with his blunt sword. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Before the crucifixion, Jesus is painted and made ready. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Jesus is crucified in Chocolá, surrounded by Judios. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The beaten-up back of one of the judios. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

 

 

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