La Chatona is a female effigy and folkloric character most commonly associated with Benque Viejo del Carmen Town and surrounding western communities. She consists of a large female mannequin framed out of pleated bayal, a tropical vine. The hollow body frame enables a person to climb inside and dance her around.
According to orally transmitted folklore, La Chatona represents Tona, a beautiful woman from the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Men working in the Chicle industry of Western Belize, known as chicleros, would recount how Tona was hired as a cook after appearing one day at a chiclero camp in the mountains. As was customary, the chicleros and camp workers would end the day with lively music and dancing around the campfire. An excellent dancer, Tona quickly became a fixture at these social gatherings. Tona spent one season with the chicleros, and when she did not return the following season, many said that she had been bitten by a venomous snake on her way to Chiapas and subsequently died. The chicleros then created the figure of “La Chatona” in her memory. Over time the figure of La Chatona came to represent all the hard working female cooks at the chiclero camps.
Today, La Chatona is a much enjoyed figure and popular dance, particularly during the July Benque Fiesta, National Celebrations in September, and other festivities. She has a special tune which is played especially for her on the marimba.
Transmission and Safeguarding Practices
The knowledge of identifying and sourcing the raw materials, and fabrication of La Chatona is transmitted from generation to generation particularly in the Lara family of Benque Viejo del Carmen.
Continuity of La Chatona
La Chatona is a much loved fabled figure in Western Belize, and particularly in Benque Viejo del Carmen. Many individuals from the community say that festive events would not be complete without her dancing and entertaining the crowds.
Associated Cultural Forms, Traditions and Knowledge
Benque Fiesta, Marimba Music, Environmental Knowledge: Sourcing and Preparing Materials
Spaces for Enactment
- Benque House of Culture
- Private Residences
- Streets of Benque Viejo del Carmen Town, Cayo District
Communities and Groups Involved
- Benque Viejo del Carmen Town, Cayo District
- San Ignacio Town, Cayo District
Other Sources of Information
Berganza, Kevin. “The Chicle Industry in Western Belize: Socio-economic Effects of the Chicle Industry in Western Belize.” 2017.
Bolland, Nigel. Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology. 1988. Mexico: Cubola, 2003. Print.
Contributors to this Article (including Belize ICH Network Members, National Institute of Culture and History Staff, and community informants who participated in the Inventorying Process): Kenny Chan, Luis Lara, Phylicia Pelayo, Giovanni Pinelo, David Ruiz, Linette Sabido, Selene Solis