It's a fireball fight! Salvadoran villagers fling burning rags at each other

Fri Sep 2, 2016 10:25am EDT
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El Salvador's annual church festival in which young men throw fiery, gasoline-soaked rags at one another in the streets, took place on Thursday (August 31).

Local residents in the town of Nejapa, located some 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of San Salvador, gather every year, on this date, to hurl fireballs at one another in honor of a huge volcanic eruption in 1922 that forced all of the residents to abandon the town.

Younger fireball throwers, see the event as a "rough" tradition.

"It's a tradition which is very ours. The risk is that one. We know the rules of the game. You know you're going to get burnt but it's part of the adrenaline, part of the adrenaline to feel the fire. Each one of us, those you see here, is conscious they can get burnt. They can get hurt. It's a rough game to throw balls of fire and they are thrown hard," said festival participant, Carlos Diaz.

Local churches and their worshippers have embraced the tradition with urban legend saying that the hot lava that flowed from the volcano was actually the local Christian Saint Jeronimo fighting the devil with balls of fire.

The fireball hurling is meant to remember the old town which was destroyed in the battle.

"My grandmother told me (festival's origins) it's when the San Salvador volcano erupted. The firereached the town and it reached the doors of the church. Because according to our beliefs in Nejapa, that is why San Jeronimo doctor is our patron (saint). Because when he set-up his crucifix and took a fireball, he knelt down and that is where the fire stopped," said Nejapa resident, Mayra Quijada.

The festivities have been going on for over a decade and consist of opposing groups launching palm-sized fireballs at each other.

Authorities fear the festival might one day get out of hand because there are no rules, but despite the apparent dangers, few serious injuries have been reported.