Every year 12th August is the date of the town parade in Piribebuy.
That date marks the anniversary of the Battle of Piribebuy in 1869. This was one of the final battles in the War of the Triple Alliance. At the time of the battle Piribebuy had for some months been the temporary capital of Paraguay.
The loss of the battle brought that period to a close as the remainder of the Paraguayan forces retreated further into the interior of the country.
Every town throughout Paraguay has an annual town parade. Usually these are on the date of the foundation of the town.
The reason things are different in Piribebuy is that during battle the town’s records were lost, along with the date of it’s foundation. So instead 12th August was chosen marking as it does the most significant event to have taken place in the town.
Thus matters remained until a few years ago when a copy of the documents confirming the foundation of Piribebuy were found in an archive in Asuncion. These showed that the town was actually founded in March. However rather than changing the date of the parade it was decided to have it remain in August in memory of the battle.
In Piribebuy as elsewhere in Paraguay the annual parade is one of the biggest events of the year. One that is looked forwards to and planned well in advance.
Every school and collage from the town and surrounding countryside takes part with every child from pre school to university looking forward to being involved.
For at least a month before the event everyone is practising for several days a week. I live some distance from the centre of Piribebuy but even so every day in the lead up to the parade can hear the drummers practising.
Every school trains a team of drummers. These are both male and female. In addition to these there are baton twirling girls and flag bearers. The largest of the schools will have a whole forest of flags whereas smaller ones will just have two or three accompanying the pupils who have been chosen to carry the school banner.
To carry the school banner is generally the privilege of the top boy and top girl.
For the largest of the schools there will also be blocks of students in their smartest uniforms following on behind the others.
The town’s streets are even repainted ready for the parade. The thick white lines give everyone, especially the smallest, something to follow. Then up in the air the streets are strung with flags and banners.
To show just how much the children look forward to getting involved, on a Saturday afternoon in the weeks before the parade it is common to see a group of children spending their afternoon being drilled, marching along one of the town’s streets in perfect unison.
After all the preparations have been completed and everything put in place the day of the parade inevitably arrives. The town is ready for the parade.
Many businesses shut on 12th August so that their owners can watch the parade. Some though like cafes remain open and have one of their busiest days of the year. On no other day is Piribebuy so filled with crowds.
With so many taking part in the parade and each passing along the route slowly so as to get the most out of all the preparations they have put in it takes a long time for everyone to march past. From early morning right through to mid afternoon.
All this requires good organisation and everyone knows when their turn will be and who they will follow. And of course where they need to be in relation to all the other students from their school.
I went to watch the parade and it filled almost the whole day. I was in town before 9 AM and the parade had already started. It was then gone 3 PM before the final group filled past.
Every student is in their smartest dress. It is usual for a few new or extra bits of uniform to be required just for the day of the parade.
All the schools know roughly when they will be parading and gather together at the start of the parade route an hour or so before their time is due. Fine if you are 18, but not so much fun if you are 5.
Then as space is freed up at the start of the parade route they are formed up into blocks ready to start filling past the awaiting spectators. The pavements all along the route are filled with spectators all day long. Most of the town turns out to watch. Some even bring their deck chairs.
Once at the bottom of the long straight road that leads up through the town the various blocks spread out and the different schools leave gaps between each other.
The month of drilling everyone has had now shows. Everyone keeps in formation and in straight lines. There is also a good bit of matching on the spot to allow every school and every student to see and be seen.
As I stood and watched everyone slowly pass by sound of the drums never stopped. There was always one group of drummers nearby.
Amongst the groups there were a few in more original dress. A few in traditional dress, some as soldiers, some as nurses, some as monks and nuns and even a horseman in 19th century dress.
In previous years there have been beauty queens in open top cars and reconstructed versions of buildings. Every year there is always something a little different.
Finally after more than 6 hours the parade drew to a close as the local fire brigade drove slowly past.
Then all that remained was for those like myself who had stayed to the end to head home and the props such as drums and batons to be packed away carefully for next year.
A town parade is always a colourful affair. Something that the whole town feels part of. To be in a Paraguayan town on the days of it’s parade is a joy and a privilege. It is though undeniably a long day so finding a good vantage point and keeping it is vital.
If you happen to be in Piribebuy or any other town on it’s parade day do make sure that you get to see at least part of it.