COSTALEROS: Holy Week’s Hidden Heroes

Under the hefty swaying weight of a paso (float), a team of hidden men prop up and support the cloaked wooden structure. Decked out in the distinctive headgear of coffee bags, historical remnants still worn to this day, the group rhythmically advance forward.

(One example of a Paso found during Semana Santa)

Below these ornate and substantive floats, costaleros must breathe through small holes dotted along the wooden edges of the platform. A feat of endurance despite the stifling heat and close quarters. Perspiring bodies must bear the load of antiquities, in where depictions of the Virgin Mary, Christ and other scenes from the Passion stand tall. With floats weighing as much as 5,4000 pounds, the pilgrimage from one’s church to the Cathedral is a well worn path that's been negotiated for centuries during Holy Week.

These herculean efforts can last as long as 8 hours and are supervised by the watchful eye of their capataz (foreman). It is he who’s solely in charge of the direction of the float and he alone who has the power to say when to move and when to stop. Just like as an orchestra has its conductor, costaleros have their capataz. Under his instruction, he’s responsible for unifying his men, setting the tempo, executing clear instructions and beats controlling the pacing of his costaleros. When he shepards his costaleros to stop, the 40 men underneath pause on their knees, catching a moment of reprieve.

(The Capataz of The Hermandad de las Aguas giving his preparatory speech to his Costaleros)

From the crowd, lining the narrow cobbled streets, a women steps forward. Despite her diminutive stature, her voice carries aloud a mournful saeta. A homage to the Virgin, her voice weaves a spell, hushing the watchful crowd and moving some to tears. Captivated and in reverence, they burst in applause as her tune reaches its operatic finale.The respite for the costaleros like these are short lived and it's time again for movement.

With a knock of his golden hammer attached to the float, the canopy sways as his collective of men heave together resting on their heels and holding the wooden beams aloft. They all launch into the air together and position the undercarriage of the float so that it meets its resting spot upon their shoulders. And so begins once again the precise processional dance down the streets.

Without the costaleros, there would be no Holy Week. Central to the parades these men carry the brunt of the week and are the pillars of the processions. In spite of the challenges of the role, to be a costalero is a high honour. Regardless of waiting lists for the role, months of training and potential injuries, its a position that remains coveted to this day. A testament to teamwork, perseverance, brawn and faith.

(Brothers in arms, costaleros of The Hermandad de las Aguas lined up, decked out in their distinctive coffee sack headgear)

To witness first hand these indispensable stalwarts of Holy Week and their leader who conducts their power, watch our penultimate film of the series La Semana Grande:

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