A highlight of the Latacunga year is its renowned Mama Negra fiestas, commemorated twice in religious and secular festivals within a few weeks of each other. The fiesta is thought to have derived from the expulsion of the Moors from Spain or the astonishment of the local indígenas on seeing black people (the slaves that the Spanish had brought here to work in nearby mines) for the first time. The colourful religious celebration (also called the Santísima Tragedia) is held on September 24, with brightly costumed paraders and various mischief-making characters: the white-robed huacos, the whip-wielding camisonas, and the belle of the ball, a blacked-up man gaudily dressed as a woman – the Mama Negra. In the midst of this, the focus is supposedly the Virgin of the Iglesia de la Merced (known as Our Lady of the Volcano because she is believed to have saved the city many times from Cotopaxi’s eruptions), who is paraded through the town and up to El Calvario, the concrete monument on the hill to the east of town. The flamboyant secular Mama Negra festival usually begins on the Saturday before November 11 (though the big parades have been scheduled for the Friday in recent years to discourage excessive drinking) and features the same cheerful costumes and characters, marching bands and street dancing. The festive mood continues with cultural events and bullfights until November 11, the day of Latacunga’s independence.

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