Palo Lucio: The "Art" of Greased Pole Climbing
In response to messages from our friends wanting to know more about one of last weeks Facebook posts, here is the blog you've been waiting for!
Saturday July 12th marked the 36th anniversary of Liberation Day in El Sauce, a commemoration of the ousting of the National Guard in 1979. Dance and musical performances as well as speeches filled the afternoon air, but the real show begins as the day comes to an end.
As the setting sun lights the faded façade of the church, several hundred people are gathered in the street to watch the trials, tribulations, and struggles of the brave young men climbing the palo lucio, a greased pole standing at around 20-25 feet tall. At the top of the pole is a ribbon representing the prize money of 4,000 Cordoba (a little under $150). But what is this whacky tradition and where did it come from?
The history of the sport is as hard to grasp as the pole itself, possibly coming from Europe out of a Naples tradition. Since then it and similar contests have spread throughout the world, including the Philippines where it is known as Palo-sebo (a tradition brought by the Spanish), England where it was once a festival favorite, and in the United States during Gloucester, Massachusetts' annual Greasy Pole Contest. While all contests are different, they all feature some prize(s) to be gained by reaching the top or far end of the pole, grease, and an entertaining show for onlookers.
As for the palo lucio's history in Nicaragua, according to the Enlace Project Research Institute of El Sauce (Google) and conversations with local Sauceños, the palo lucio is a traditional competition that has been widely used in festivals across the country for several decades(possibly having more older roots via the Eastern Coast), often, but not always during those for patron saints. Among the more popular is the palo lucio in Managua every year commemorating the patron saint of the city, Santo Domingo de Guzmán. That festival will take place at the end of July.
If its history still seems a little foggy, that's okay. The important part of the palo lucio is the experience, and the one in El Sauce is uniquely its own.
As the sun set and fireworks began to light the sky, the would-be climbers were busy reorganizing to create a human ladder in an attempt to bypass the first 8 feet of grease. The cheers for their innovation quickly became a collective groan as the inevitable happened with gravity proving to be the real winner of the palo lucio.