To be a male or female flower chair carrier –or silletero- implies to make a collective representation. Same as with the finished flower chair. In both cases, the participation process and the making is not limited to a single individual. The decorated frame condenses a plural family work at different stages and over several days; it’s the product of a collective effort charged with affection and the illusion of a victory.
It may happen, then, that the person who sets up the flower bunches in the chair frame may not be the same person who designed the decoration or the composition, or may not necessarily coincide with the one who built up the wooden chair frame or the one who cared for the garden for months from which the flowers came from. Every one pulls out all their acquired experience to make of every detail of the complex labor a manifestation of creativity.
Contemplation of this activity, sometimes very intense, sometimes very relaxed, makes people visiting the district on the eve feel amazement and admiration. We can notice the distribution of responsibilities and that in every family group there are specialists whose complementary and successive functions intertwine in a frame of extraordinary harmony and laboriousness.
There are many ways to accompany this process of the eve. These last years, hundreds of people organize excursions or pay for special tourist services to go and share this eve in any corner of the district. Visitors witness the activation of family and friendship links that make the night go by in the middle of a singular combination of emotions that express the frenzy and the anxiety of this festive eve.
The wooden frames were finished some days ago and were put at strategic places of the houses; the yards, the shady corridors and the social areas become laboratories of cooperation and responsibility where everyone knows his/her role. The elders learned it from childhood, and the grandchildren and great grandchildren who will participate as junior flower chair carriers now undertake an intensive learning that becomes an authentic initiation rite that night.
The flower bunches have been preserved in buckets with water, in the shade, to keep them fresh. In separate boxes, there are piles of carefully selected bunches of export flowers that will complement the decoration of the chair. Someone is in charge of trimming, regrouping and making them ready for installation.
In the kitchens, the stoves are red hot; some grills warm some arepas. A smell of barbecue comes from the neighboring house. There’s broth, stew or beans in big pots, ready to be shared. Someone offers a bowl of hot aguapanela accompanied with a slice of quesito —a kind of soft white salty cheese—; someone beyond offers an aguardiente —anise— flavored liquor. Joyful tunes surge form radios and stereos and it’s not strange that someone shows up with a guitar to improvise some verses.
Children enjoy this ambiance greatly. Neighbors and relatives who come from farther farms to pay a visit mix up with outsiders who gather around the delicate tasks relating the final touch to the flowery decorations. Photographic and video cameras pick up gestures and details. The flowers show their full freshness at their peak. Ponchos, scarves, and wrapping hot sweaters protect people from the cold of the dawn. People scarcely sleep if at all this night. The eve becomes an active vigil all the way, full of excitement, cordiality and best wishes.
Sun sets, and in the moonlight, the silletero and his family continue, throughout this, the last night, the colossal task of assembling the silleta.
Planned festive activities and parrandas (impromptu parties) sprout at convenience stores and by the wayside adding cheer to the cold Santa Elena night and warm accompaniment to busy silleta builders.
A few sips to stimulate the spirit. This, the last night, is short and the work ahead hard.
The division of labor among the family members facilitates the construction process of the Silleta. Thus, the social fabric is mobilized in pursuit of one common objective: the construction of the best Silleta.
The silleta’s architecture rises in the penumbra, where patiently and laboriously, the silletero leaves the imprint of his dreams.
Colors and shapes have now claimed their places as the coming evening glow engulfs them in its light.
On the eve of the event, the scrutinizing eyes of the creator and his helpers seem to give the “ok” to the almost finished Silleta. Pictured, Hernán de Jesús Soto Grajales, from Annexed Village of Piedra Gorda.
Many come to the festivities under the stars.
Santa Elena prepares to welcome the thousands of visitors who converge on the area on the eve of the Parade, while the Silleteros construct their flowering Silletas.
The Silletero Parade establishes strict rules on materials to be used on Silletas. Materials other than flowers and plants may only be used on Emblematic and Commercial Silletas.
Many are those who have the joy of traveling to Santa Elena on the eve of the Parade. The night combines both work and partying.
Everyone does their thing. The party spirit permeates both visitors and Silleteros.
By: Edgar Bolívar Rojas