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'Silleteros' bear Colombia's flowery heritage on their backs

'Silleteros' bear Colombia's flowery heritage on their backs

Posted by PanamericanWorld on August 03, 2015

On the ranches of this community near Medellín, hundreds of farmers live among flowers of many colors and work days on end to keep alive the "silleteros" tradition, a symbol of the northwestern region of Antioquia and an artistic heritage of Colombia.

One of the "silleteros" is Luis Eduardo Londoño, a local flower grower predestined to dedicate his life to this tradition. He was born the day on which the first-ever Silleteros Parade was held, the main event of the Medellín Flower Festival that begins this Friday and will continue until Aug. 9.

"I started life destined to be a "silletero" when I was born on Aug. 7, 1957. So my roots go deep," Londoño told EFE.

He learned the tradition from his parents and has passed it on to his two daughters, a practice that began centuries ago when Antioquia's country peasants began strapping chairs ("sillas" in Spanish, hence "silleteros," or chair-carriers) to their backs, on which they transported goods, furniture, produce and even people, but which in more modern times gave way to locals carrying enormous flower arrangements on their backs during the yearly flower festival.

As a teen he helped family members put together flower arrangements and loaded them on the chairs on their backs when they were hired for this demanding work, which every year is a test of strength and endurance for the country folk taking part in the 2.4 kilometer (1 1/2 mile) parade with many kilos (pounds) of flowers on their backs.

Every year, Londoño swaps the characteristic calm of his El Jardín Ranch for the excitement of the most important festival held in this part of Colombia.

For this year he as already begun making some of the back-chairs to sell and has ordered the materials he needs for the flower arrangement with which he will compete on Aug. 9 in the Monumental Category of the parade, which some 850,000 people are expected to attend.

"When only 10 days are left before the festival I start to get nervous," he said.

While organizing a cluster of Senecio viravira, or dusty millers, an "immortal flower" stuck to the back-chairs with glue, he said he was sure to win the category in which his is competing.

"I'm going to play with the subject of Colombia. It's not about soccer, but about the problems we have in this country," he said, referring to the flower arrangement that could weigh 120 kilos (265 lbs.) and measure more than 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) from side to side.

To construct the monumental arrangement, he puts his live flowers together the day before the parade so they won't wilt. "The night before we don't sleep," he said.

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