By Professor César Cedeño Domínguez
From the colonial days all the way to half of the past century, the mud houses better known as “casa de quincha” were one of the primary housing styles used by the Azuero population. The construction process was always accompanied by rituals, celebrations and chanting native to the region and the activity was named mud splatter assembly “Junta de Embarra”.
Generally speaking, the construction of a “quincha” house entails 4 consecutive stages:
The first stage is basically to make the decision to build a house and then extend the invitations to friends and family along with some logistic actions such as leveling the ground, selecting the spot to extract the soil, straw, reeds and to procure the necessary water to build up the walls and structure of the house.
The second stage entails assembling the wall structure or caging of the house, then breaking and watering the soil. At this point people start to set up the area where food will be served including stoves and tableware. A cow is sacrificed to feed all the workers and guests. Once these tasks are accomplished, they place flags on top of the house as a symbol of the godparents of the activity. When the night is about to fall they prepare the rice and corn that will be consumed during the assembly. The sounds of pounding and venting the rice accompany the rhythm of the violins and the sound box and the journey ends with the “tamborito” a Panamanian tradition that involves dancing and is performed to the beat of the drums, stomping of feet, clapping and chanting.
The third stage is the assembly day, the day that the walls are covered with mud. The day starts grinding the corn that will be used to make rolls and “tortillas” not Mexican tortillas, but rice patties that are fried to a crisp. These items are typically served along with coffee and tripe. The hard work begins when people create a line with arms around their neighbor’s shoulders and step back and forth in the mud mixed with hay over and over until it is properly mixed.
Once the mud is mixed they shape and cut mud bricks and place and spread them in the walls in the caging. Some people kick the mud bricks with the back of their heel with a lot of grace while others catch it. During this process alcohol shots are passed along to cheer up the workers. When the work is advanced other guests are called to replace the tired workers so they can eat lunch and take a break. Lunch normally consists of beef soup and white rice. When the walls are covered with mud, they lift up and carry the new owners around the house to then splash them with mud in a moment of fun and joy, showing the town that the assembly has concluded.
Once the house is turned over to the owners they practice the ceremony of lowering the flags and publicly call the godfathers of the activity who handed over alcohol, wine, soft drinks and sweets to end the journey with the cheerful “tamborito”.
The final and the fourth stage happens afterwards with setting the roof and conditioning the house with special finishings such as polishing, whitening, the addition of baseboards, frames, doors, windows and ornamental elements such as lighting and latticework.
In recent months Panama 9°80° Lifestyle & Travel Magazine was invited to participate in a “Junta de Embarra” organized by Cubitá Boutique Resort & Spa. Cubitá has taken the admirable mission to rescue and enhance Panama’s folklore.