The joy of living at Pachencho's wake

The joy of living at Pachencho's wake

Heritage & Traditions

By Gabriela Santiesteban

Thanks to the work and grace of the tasty Cuban music, the typical drink, rum, and the unprejudiced good humor of many residents, the Cuban town of Santiago de las Vegas, once a year, has turned a singular funeral service into a whole celebration: the wake of Pachencho.

The day summons on February 5 the inhabitants of that and other areas, who enthusiastically attend the celebration, in which a presumed deceased resurrects the joy of living, in a celebration that debuted in 1984 to commemorate the constitution of the Lyceum of Santiago de las Vegas, a town about twenty kilometers south of Havana. 

Instruction and Recreation Center founded by renowned heroes of Cuban history in 1882, the Lyceum, which to this day continues to radiate culture, is the site of the simulated wake and the starting point of the burial of Pachencho, a neighbor of the place who plays that role.

The procession advances towards the cemetery through several streets of the town accompanied by a musical group that interprets congas and rumbas, and the residents join the procession. From the open coffin, the "deceased" greets the neighbors, while a supposed widow, who from time to time sighs a lamentation, and a false priest, are singing, dancing and drinking rum.

In the cemetery, a presumed lover usually appears, while the descent of the deceased into an open grave is accompanied by a funeral march. After the farewell to the mourning, a toast is made and rum is also poured on the face of the living dead, who gets up to dance with those present in the midst of a great merriment, which continues during the return to town.

According to versions, the party arose by exchanging ideas for the celebration of the Lyceum's anniversary, incorporating the traditional carnivals, and it was conceived to reproduce the anecdote narrated in the work of brothers Gustavo and Francisco Robreño, “El velorio de Pachencho”, released in 1901 and reprinted in various periods, always with great success.

Other sources point to 1937, when the musical group Piquete Santiaguero was created, in charge of closing the parrandas of the town, when, in the middle of a conga, a will was read, the duel was dismissed with a symbolic “Burial of the carnival ”.