Entertainment and Events
Guararé is synonymous with the Mejorana Festival, which is just about the only reason visitors come to this remote town. There’s little in the way of entertainment at nonfestival times.
Every September, Guararé hosts La Festival Nacional de la Mejorana, Panama’s biggest and most important folkloric festival. The weeklong festival was started in 1949 by a small group of local folklore preservationists, and through the years it has ballooned into one major party.
The festival is named in honor of a Panamanian song form called the mejorana, which is played on a small, five-string guitar called a mejoranera. Just to make things confusing, the instrument itself is sometimes called a mejorana, as is a traditional dance that it accompanies.
The festival’s celebrants are so determined to preserve tradition that the town banned by law all modern or foreign music and dance during the festival. Even playing a six-string guitar is forbidden.
However, the festival does attract hundreds of folkloric dancers and musicians whose styles diverge from the mejorana tradition. They come from far beyond the Azuero heartland, varying from performers from Bocas del Toro in western Panama to the African-inspired congos dancers of Colón in eastern Panama.
Competitions are held for the best performer in all kinds of categories, including competitions for both the best spoken-word and song-form décima, a traditional Spanish poem consisting of 10 eight-syllable lines, and a saloma competition for the best Panamanian-style yodeler.
A queen is chosen each year. She wears a pointed crown and presides over the festivities from her throne when not dancing with different groups in her gorgeous pollera.
Other attractions include bullfights, a parade of super-elaborate floats pulled by oxcarts, fireworks, strolling musicians, and handicraft booths. Each day an abandadero (standard-bearer) is chosen to lead that day’s events.
Probably the wackiest part of the festival is La Atolladera, which very loosely translates to “Day of the Mud Fight.” It’s a day to sling mud at your friends. The queen and her court show up in pure white outfits just so winging mud balls at them is all the more satisfying. Good times.
The festival is a big deal and attracts Panamanians and tourists from all over the country. Give up all hope of finding lodging in Guararé without a reservation made months in advance. Las Tablas is the nearest town, but it may be necessary to look for a place in Chitré, 25 kilometers away, or maybe even farther afield.
The Mejorana Festival is always held in September, though the dates and length of the festival vary yearly. It’s always pegged to the town’s commemoration of its patron saint, La Virgen de las Mercedes, which lasts for nine days, climaxing on September 23–24. The Mejorana generally dovetails with the end of that religious observance and lasts about a week. Check with ATP for exact dates and a schedule of events.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition