One of the great things about travelling is randomly coming across little performances and events in the local community. In the past week in León, I have come across 3 such events, but the biggest by far was the Noches de Mitos y Leyendas in the Central Park in front of the León Cathedral on Saturday night.
Like most of the open-air Latin American public performances I’ve seen, this one beat to the rhythm of its own drum. And although I could understand everything that was being said, I was perplexed by the long pauses (“dead time”) and false starts to the music that so are often part of these things. But the fireworks to open the show were very cool, it was a really big crowd, and the MC was selling the current government for all he was worth (it is an election year in Nicaragua).
There were a couple of reenactments of some of the legends, and there was a procession of the most famous mythical figures, who danced randomly around the stage like crazies.
But my favourite was the dance of the Giantesses – Gigantona’s Dance.
All of this inspired me to visit the Museum of Legends and Traditions while I was in León this time – something I’d been a bit ambivalent about. So glad I went!
The museum is housed in an old gaol – The 21 – named after the year it commenced operation (1921). It was used by Somoza to detain and torture prisoners during the long dictatorship, and you can still see some of the cells, the torture wells (for water torture) and the old walls.
There are also simple black murals depicting events that took place in the gaol, including illustrations of several of the tortures that were enacted there. A rather graphic description of these tortures (in English and Spanish) is also available if you are inclined to read, but you can get the idea from the illustrations.
In amongst all this, in a very surreal juxtaposition, are the mannequins (many made from papier mâché) and other artifacts that illustrate some of the most famous myths and legends of Nicaragua, and León in particular. I thought they were brilliantly done, and each of them had a short description of the myth or legend in both Spanish and English.
My absolute favourite installation was the Nahua Oxcart – one of the most popular legends of León – which recalls the abuse of the Indians by the Spanish and which announces death. The work that went into this was amazing!
Another favourite was “The Black Woman Camila” who came to León from the Atlantic coast and who always wore black and carried an iguana on her chest as her good luck charm.
Outside in the courtyard there were also murals depicting several of the legends, like this one of the Golden Crab and the Indian Chief Adiac.
All in all, it was well worth the 50 Córdobas for the visit to the Museum of Legends and Traditions – really interesting place!