By: Cary Chaviano / Ilustration by Francisco Pacasio Blanco (Blanquito)
For the past 27 years the people of Santiago de las Vegas take to the streets on February Fifth for a celebratory funeral of a mythical character named Pachencho, who returns to life to the rhythm of drums and shots of rum.
The residents of Santiago de las Vegas, an old town west of Havana that used to be focused primarily on tobacco growing, have not always been in agreement about this traditional celebration. On the anniversary of the town’s 1882 founding, during Carnival time, in 1984, the first Pachencho’s wake was held. The practice was adapted from a humorous 1901 Cuban play about a man who pretended to be dead.
With time, however, the inhabitants have not only come to accept this festival, but now value it as a tradition that has more participants every year.
The controversial character of the dead man was played for 25 years by the town shoemaker, “Blanco”. After his death, the role was taken by various other residents of Santiago de las Vegas. This year, Divaldo Aguiar, 46, played the character brilliantly.
During the mock funeral, the alleged dead man is ceremoniously carried through the town streets in a coffin pulled by a tractor. His “widow” and a fake priest accompany him to the local cemetery as part of this simulated festival of death. As the funeral procession goes by, the villagers greet Pachencho, who sometimes sits up in the coffin and smiles at his fans.
Upon arrival at the place of burial, and to the amazement of local residents, Pachencho revives to the rhythm of infectious Cuban music and then joins his widow and the priest for drinks of rum. After all the bustle, the residents of Santiago de las Vegas return to their daily lives until the next Fifth of February, when once again they will happily take to the streets to celebrate “Pachencho’s Wake.”