In Nicaragua, a unique and extraordinary tradition takes place each year, where individuals engage in a peculiar ritual of whipping each other with dried bull penises. This ancient religious practice, known as the dance of the ‘chinegros’, is performed in honor of the town’s patron saint.
San Juan de Oriente, a municipality located in the southern part of Nicaragua, hosts this four-century-old tradition to commemorate Saint John the Baptist’s day. Men, children, and some women participate in this event, either to seek atonement for their sins or simply to experience an adrenaline rush.
During the ritual, challengers, often without protective gear, lash each other using ‘chilillos,’ whips made from the dissected penises of bulls. Videos capturing the event depict the immense power of these weapons, capable of tearing the skin upon impact. Competitors sustain cuts and various injuries during these fierce battles, attracting large crowds of spectators.
🚨🚨No, no es pleito 😅
Baile tradicional de Chinegros en Honor a Santa Ana en Niquinohomo Dos promesantes bailan y se dan de latigazos con al son de musica de chicheros.
Esto es cultura y tradiciones de 🇳🇮🇳🇮#PLOMO19 #VencemosVenceremos pic.twitter.com/0Z2b1XPJWm
— Antonella (@alexaplomo79) July 26, 2020
The makeshift whips resemble swords, featuring handguards made of leather, which provide the only form of protection to the fighters. Footage reveals male participants striking each other with these homemade weapons, with some emerging from the battles with more severe injuries than others. Deep cuts and scars adorn the backs of the fighters, who persevere in enduring the pain until one surrenders by raising their chilillo in the air.
The dance, rooted in indigenous origins, has been performed in San Juan since 1585. Approximately 60 percent of the town’s 3,000 inhabitants have reportedly engaged in this sport during their lifetimes, considering it not only a tradition but also a personal commitment and sacrifice dedicated to Saint John.
Noel Amilcar Gallegos, a Chinegros researcher with over two decades of experience, explains that the whip symbolizes a sacrifice offered to Saint John. While some historians associate the ritual’s name with its African slave origins, Gallegos argues that it existed in pre-colonial times before undergoing adaptations.
The tradition has evolved from self-inflicted acts to a contest between individuals of similar size and age, expressing gratitude for favors received from the patron saint. Despite the apparent intensity of the ritual, the people of San Juan regard it as an integral part of their culture and identity.
Critics may perceive the ritual as savage or unnecessary, but for the people of San Juan, it represents a cherished tradition and a solemn promise.