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UNESCO Declares Venezuela's "Dancing Devils" are Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Thursday’s declaration of Venezuela’s “Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi” as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a recognition of the multiethnic and pluricultural quality of the country as enshrined in its 1999 constitution, said Vice Minister for Cultural Diversity Benito Irady in statements today.

“It is an exceptional achievement. It recognizes one of the most significant manifestations of our popular traditions and highlights a history that from the 17th century to the 21st century has constantly been passed from generation to generation,” Irady said, speaking at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

The minister emphasized the Venezuelan government’s efforts to protect and elevate the cultural values of the nation, saying: “As of the 1999 constitution immense efforts have been undertaken to protect the patrimony and create cultural values.” 

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage is defined as traditions or living expressions inhereted through oral traditions by the ancestors of a population that constitute an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of globalization.

UNESCO also notes that the transmission of knowledge has a social and economic value for both minority and majority social groups in a given country.

About the Tradition

In San Antonio de Yare in the coastal state of Miranda, Venezuela, Catholic mass is held each year in honor of the Feast of Corpus Christi in late May or early June, an annual Roman Catholic holiday commemorating the presence of Christ in the Sacrament. As part of the festivities, “Dancing Devils” honor the patron saints and show their devotion to Saint Francis of Paola.

On the eve of Corpus Christi, the members of the confraternity of the Dancing Devils of Yare, both men and women, dress in red clothing and colorful masks. They carry rosaries and palm crosses and approach the Saint Francis of Paola Church to wait for the opening of the main doors and in the presence of the worshippers, they ask for their blessing to begin their rituals.

The devils dance to the music of traditional string and percussion instruments and move through the streets of the town as worshippers carry maracas to ward off evil spirits. At the climax of the celebration the devils kneel and surrender to the Sacrament, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil, and they are blessed by the priest.

This religious tradition arrived in 1582, and hence has 400 years of history in Venezuela. In 2002, the Dancing Devils were declared Cultural Patrimony of the Nation, and a decade later, they presented their candidacy to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
AVN / Press – Venezuelan Embassy to the U.S. / December 6, 2012

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