When living in Guatemala or Chiapas, along with many other parts of Mexico and Latin America, one the first things a person needs to get accustomed to is the boom of rockets exploding. Generally they just shoot and explode without any actual colors or fancy pyrotechnics. I don’t know how many times new visitors have asked me about the explosions.
Are they firing guns? Is there a holiday? Should we be concerned? Is it the rapture?(OK, no one has asked me that one, yet.) Has a revolution started?
Bombas or exploding sky rockets have been part of the fabric of life in this part of the world for a very long time. In Anne Maudslay’s book, “A Glimpse of Guatemala and some notes on the Ancient Monuments of Central America,” she says, “To anyone not already used to the ways of the Spanish peasantry, one of the first things that strikes one as curious in Central America is this constant firing of rockets in the daytime.”
She wrote these words in the 1890’s and had no intention of being what might be considered slightly derogatory, nor do I. Here is the rest of that short story.
"No ceremony is complete until the swish and report of a rocket have been heard. The pilgrim when he reaches his native village fires a rocket to announce his arrival. It is the expression of joy at a fiesta, and it is the last rite necessary for the repose of the dead. A story is told of an Indian cacique who was taken to Spain to the Court of Charles V. As the emperor passed through the corridor after the morning levee, he caught sight of the cacique and addressed him with a few words of welcome, and then added : " Tell me, my friend, what would your countrymen be doing at your own home at this hour in the morning." Now, it had been most strongly impressed upon the cacique that should the Emperor ask him any questions he should say nothing in reply which was not strictly and accurately true. This oft-repeated counsel had sunk deep into his mind, so after a pause he raised his head and said, "Senor, mis paisanos estan tirando cohetes" ("at this hour my countrymen are firing rockets"). The Emperor smiled and passed on, but meeting the cacique again at midday he repeated the question and received the same answer. Again in the evening he called the Indian to him and said, "Now that the sun has set and the work of the day is done, how are your countrymen amusing themselves? " " Senor," replied the cacique, "my countrymen are still firing rockets." "
The book is a fantastic travelogue and commentary from the perspective of a traveler in 1894. She travels with her husband Alfred Maudslay, one of my archaeological heroes, through Chiapas and Guatemala. Here is a link to this book on line at the Internet Archive.
So, back to bombas, they are just a part of life around here. Even though I love things that go boom, my first few months in Guatemala I was constantly getting jarred by the random explosions at random hours of the day or night. Now I barely notice them. They are most commonly used for birthdays, church holidays, anniversaries, neighborhood celebrations, saints days(of which there are hundreds), religious rites, parades, store openings, home christenings, christenings in general and any event worth marking. They are also used on the days leading up to these events.
I have two short videos I made during the Festival of Guadalupe just before Christmas. The month of December is one of the most active for the use of anything that goes boom or bang.
The first video was shot in San Pedro La Laguna on the night of the Festival of Guadalupe, December 12th, about five years ago. For this holiday in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, they go all out. Each neighborhood seems to try and out do the next neighborhood by lighting more, larger and louder fireworks than the block before. One of the traditions there is also for men to put on a half barrel shaped bull costume thing that is covered on the outside with fireworks that shoot out into the crowd as he runs through it. It’s a loud and insane night of pyrotechnical excess and one of my very favorite things in the entire world. I’m sure people are injured, but I have never actually seen it happen. If they did this in the USA, the lawsuits and emergency room visits would keep lawyers and insurance companies busy for a year.
The second video is from San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas Mexico. I shot this in early December of 2010 at the Church of Guadalupe in the neighborhood, or barrio, of Guadalupe as it was just gearing up for the Festival of Guadalupe a few weeks later. In this video they have lain a trail of gunpowder down the middle of the street for about 4 long blocks and placed what are essentially quarter sticks of dynamite every few feet. This is all done without any police or fire department supervision. There are no ropes or signs of caution, yet amazingly no one gets hurt and everyone has a blast, literally.
These are some extreme examples of the noise and rocketry. Generally the rockets and bombas are more the size of really big bottle rockets.