Henning lived for several years in El Salvador, working as a teacher. He is Co-Founder of the SAY ZONTE! project. Writing for this blog is his way to give s.th. back to “el pulgarcito.”
Traditions of El Salvador: Las bolas de fuego
Most of the traditions of El Salvador are not unique. They do exist all over Latin America. “El Día De Los Muertos” (Day od the Deads), for example.
But there’s one tradition in El Salvador that is unique indeed: “Las Bolas de Fuego de Nejapa” (The Fireballs of Nejapa).
Each year on the 31st of August, the people from the small village of Nejapa celebrate this risky festival, where people hurl “fireballs” against each other. The “fireballs” are cotton balls drenched with turpentine and oil.
Las “Bolas de Fuego”: What’s it all about?
Since 1922, two groups (about 50 men) are fighting against each other by hurling fireballs thru the air (and against each other). Most of them wear protection, but for some of them, it also seems to be kind of a test of their courage.
Not everyone from Nejapa has to participate. Mostly the young men from the community are part of this spectacle because they probably like the rush of adrenaline into their bodies.
The authorities of Nejapa fear that one of the most exciting traditions of El Salvador might one day get out of hand because there are no rules. But it already exists for about 100 years. Until now, there weren’t any severe injuries despite the apparent dangers.
The background of one of the weirdest traditions of El Salvador
Two versions are existing that are trying to explain this tradition.
The first one is a religious one. They are fighting against each other as a symbol of the eternal conflict between the good against the evil (the devil). The “good part” is supposed to be the Christian Saint Jeronimo (San Jerónimo) fighting the devil who is hurling fireballs at him.
The other version of the origin of this tradition refers to the volcano close to Nejapa. The eruption of the volcano “El Playón” close to Nejapa destroyed the settlement in 1658.
What can you expect visiting “Bolas de Fuego” in Nejapa?
It would help if you asked a reliable tour guide to visit Nejapa on the 31st of August. In Nejapa itself, there’s not much to see. So you can make it a half a day trip, or you decide to stay there overnight and visit the historic center of San Salvador the next day. Also, you can visit the volcano “San Salvador.” Up there, you have a beautiful view of the city.
The festival “Bolas de Fuego” in Nejapa itself is a big event so that you can expect many people there. Bands are playing, people are dancing in the streets, and it’s also an excellent possibility to try typical Salvadoran food (Click here to read our articile abour typical Salvadoran Food).
We recommend not getting too close to the action, because it can get a bit wild. Please don’t get distracted by your cellphone or something, because you might want to see the fireball first before it hits you.
Finally, you should watch this video to get an impression of what you can expect to visit one of the most exciting traditions of El Salvador: “Las Bolas de Fuego.”