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Festival de la Mejorana, Folkloric Tradition that Started from a Promise to the Virgin of Las Mercedes

The National Festival of La Mejorana, is a Folk Project created in the mid-twentieth century by prominent folklorists from the Azuero region, including Prof. Manuel F. Zarate, Dora P. de Zarate, Jose Nieves Angulo, Pancho Castillo, Casimiro Smith, Reyin Espino, Toño Saavedra, Benjamin Dominguez, Dr. Baltasar Isaza, Juan Ehrman, among others.

The main objective was to rescue, emphasize and promote traditions, popular culture, and the work of the farmer, having the Mejorana instrument as the protagonist, and thus make the “campesinos” (farmers) feel proud of their customs.

La Mejorana, a Panamanian Musical Instrument

It is an original musical instrument from Panama, with a very particular size and sound. It offers the musical accompaniment required by the troubadour of the Panamanian “decima”.

It is still unknown exactly what is the origin of La Mejorana and its creator, however, it is believed that its invention comes from La Mesa, Veraguas province. This premise arises after the conclusion from generation to generation that “Mesano”, which is the torrent to sing “la decima” is born from La Mesa community.

This instrument is made with the best woods such as cedar espino, cedar amargo, balso and volador. In the past, chicken guts were used as strings, while today nylon strings are used.

A Celebration Born From a Miracle

Other attractions of the Mejorana Festival are of a religious order, since the Fiesta de La Virgen de Las Mercedes is celebrated at the same time, which is highly revered and attracts thousands of devotees for her day, which is September 23. This is because it is directly related to the festival, and it is that according to history, the daughter of Don Manuel Fernando Zarate became ill after being diagnosed with Leukemia, and he sought help from the Virgin of Las Mercedes, asking for the miracle of curing her. In return for the miracle, Don Zarate promised to organize a great festival in gratitude for her love and mercy, where the folklore of the region would also be exalted in a large-scale event in which the man from the countryside participated in his most noble sentiments.

The Beginning of a Great Festival

With the great news that the Leukemia had disappeared, Don Manuel Fernando Zarate began preparations so that his promise to the Virgin would be carried out in 1949. This is how a great festival began where different events of various modalities or categories take place, such as the La Decima Cantada contests, which are performed by young children and adults, accompanied to the sound of the mejoranera, whose lyrics show the feeling of the man from the countryside.

In addition to the aforementioned contests, one of the most outstanding is Las Carretas Parade (carts parade) and contest, which announces the closing of the festivity; This one in particular has a nature where the man from the field makes demonstrations of peasant work, evidence through these carts the tasks of the countryside from before the sun rises until sunset.

Photo: Panamá Vieja Escuela

Folk Activities Full of Nationality

Among the folkloric activities that are presented at the National Festival of the Mejorana we can mention:

• Written Decimas and Sung Decimas Contests.

• Mejoranera Contest.

• Children’s Drum Contest

• “Didio Borrero” Children’s Accordion Competition.

• Clothing Contest: Male and Female Modality of Work, among these we have:

• Masculine Ponytail (shirt) for Party.

• Montuna Festive Skirt.

• Participation of Folkloric Ensembles.

• Cart Contest.

Mejoranera Festival 2023

This festival will take place this year from September 20 to 26, and the preparation began with the coronation of Queen Madelaine Nicole Cedeño in November 2022. A path full of activities until the start of the 2023 National Mejorana Festival.

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