Venezuelans Honor San Juan Bautista in Annual Festival

In Curiepe, an historic Afro-Venezuelan community, June marks the San Juan Festival. VA documented the opening of this year's annual celebration.


The San Juan Bautista Festival in Curiepe, Brión has roots in Afro-Venezuelan tradition and resistance as the site of a former cumbe (maroon society in English). On June 1st, the Cathedral’s bells chime at mid-day inaugurating the celebreations. Until dusk, Venezuelans gather in Curiepe’s Plaza Bolívar to usher in San Juan Bautista with Afro-Venezuelan druming and dancing.

Enslaved Africans during the colonial period in Venezuela would escape the plantations from June 23-25. These days were marked by festivities to celebrate the annual harvests and Juan Congo, whose image was transformed over time into the Catholic figure of San Juan Bautista. The community of Curiepe continues to pay homage to Juan Congo whose celebration takes place the weekend following San Juan Bautista. However, of the two celebrations,  San Juan Bautista has become the more prevalent in Venezuela.

Afro-Venezuelan communities across the country carry out their respective San Juan traditions from the coast to the central valleys. In Curiepe, along the Caribbean coast in Miranda State, the Tovar family has housed San Juan Bautista from generation to generation.

On June 23rd, they remove San Juan each year from his home and guide a procession throughout Curiepe. This year, San Juan will travel from the Casa de San Juan to the Cultural House and to church for mass. The celebrations, accompanied by Afro-Venezuelan drumming,  serve not only as a marker of the African influence in Venezuelan culture but also allude to the forms of communication between African peoples during times of resistance.