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El Salvador’s Talcigüines: Whipping Sinners in Holy Week

On Monday, seventy devils whipped every person they encountered in the central square of an agricultural town in El Salvador to “punish” them for their sins, in a centuries-old Holy Week tradition.

Those in charge of delivering the lashes are the “talcigüines,” devil-men in the Nahuatl language, who dressed in red robes and hoods dispense justice once a year in the square of Texistepeque, 83 km northwest of San Salvador.

The festivity, which brings together hundreds of people, begins in the morning with a mass in the church of San Esteban, and then the talcigüines go out to the square to punish people for their sins.

The leather whips make those who receive a lash scream in pain. To escape the punishment, many people seek refuge in nearby businesses, but others remain stoically in the square and receive the lashes with smiles.

“Faith moves us and it’s really a great adrenaline rush to have participated in this magnificent event and atone for all my sins […], it has been a unique experience,” said Carlos Ochoa, a 40-year-old public employee who traveled almost 100 km from La Libertad to receive lashes. The message “is that good will always be above evil,” added 20-year-old talcigüín Kevin Salguero.

This tradition, based on the temptations Jesus had in the desert, dates back to the Spanish colonial period, when representations of biblical passages were made for the indigenous people. “We are the members who do not let this tradition die,” said 24-year-old lawyer Mauricio Ávalos, a talcigüín for five years.

Admission to the select group of devils is not easy, as there must be a vacancy available, which only happens when a member dies or emigrates. There are no women among them. The whipping session ends at noon with the arrival of Jesus Christ, played this year by Elmer Sandoval, a 23-year-old soccer player.

Dressed in a purple robe, the representation of Jesus is received with applause and displays of joy by those present, including foreign tourists.

With his cross in his left hand and a bell in his right, Jesus confronts the talcigüines, who fall to the ground in a row. The talcigüines are exempt from all guilt for delivering lashes, according to a municipal ordinance.

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