Nicaragua took the English Maypole tree and ribbons and added steamy Caribbean dancing.
Dirty Display of dirty dancing
In Bluefields, Nicaragua, people agree, “Maypole is not what it used to be.”
It was an elegant polka in which smartly dressed women held hands and two-slapped around a fruit laden tree.
By 1993, this had become what older traditional dancers see as “a dirty display of dirty dancing”.
Maypole was probably brought to Nicaragua in the early 1830s by British settlers.
It spread from there with slave owners to the Corn Islands and later the lagoon.
The English ribbon pole dance may have been mixed with elements of Shango, a West African religion, featuring spirit possession.
The more sensual and rhythmic Garifuna Maypole dance has come to be called Palo de Mayo.
The wallogallo, or ‘glutton rooster’, is a highly rhythmic, trance-like dance performed to cure the sick.
The Maypole Festival has spawned its own genre of music.
Classic maypole (Palo de Mayo) music has upbeat Caribbean rhythms with lyrics describing local events.
In 1874, Moravian missionary J.E. Lundberg surely saw what was coming:
“It is now generally conducted at night, by moonlight, amidst a heathenish noise and it has become connected with great impropriety of conduct.”
greasy poles and chamber pots
Early in the morning a freshly cut tree is erected in each neighborhood and decorated with colored ribbons.
Prizes ranging from fruit to bottles of rum are hung from the highest branches.
Local residents set up beer stands around the tree while others prepare huge pots of mixed soup and other traditional dishes.
Some neighborhoods set up traditional games including ‘greasy pole’.
A wooden telegraph pole is greased up with pig lard and agile locals attempt to clamber up it to win the prize attached to the top.
Keep your eye out for locals drinking beer through straws from chamber pots – a Bluefields party tradition.
If you get passed the pot, relax. It’s probably freshly purchased for the event.
The month-long Maypole celebrations culminate in Carnival, a parade in the last week of May.
Each neighborhood troupe, decked out in flashy costumes, is accompanied by their own band as they dance their way through.
Here’s a great description of a Maypole Dance:
The females hike up their dresses to keep them off the ground and dance to tease their partner on the other side of the May Pole tree. The man steps around the tree in delicate chase, pounding the ground with his bare feet and folding his arms behind his back like…like a big chicken! He usually carries a rag and the crowd always cheers when he throws it to the ground, only to bend down to pick it up with his teeth. The man then gets closer to the woman who makes no mistake about wanting to be caught, and for a brief moment the dance climaxes with the two simulating sex as the audience goes wild and pushes in closer to see. It is always the female dancer who breaks it off, usually turning away laughing toward her friends who are the ones laughing the hardest.
Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.