Perennial Colombian flower festival blooming for 60th year

World Today

Flowers are a big business in Colombia. In 2016 the world bought more than a billion U.S. dollars’ worth of blooming botanicals from the country.

Every year, the pride that Colombians take in the industry is on full display an the Medellin flower festival.

CGTN’s Michelle Begue attended the celebration’s most memorable event.

Thousands of spectators look forward to the last event at Medellin’s 10-day flower festival: around 500 people parading through the streets with majestic flower arrangements strapped to their backs.

“We are sort of the Michelangelo of nature when it comes to designing these beautiful arrangements,” Ramon Emilio Garcia said.

These men and women are called the “silleteros.” The nickname comes from the Spanish word for chair, because locals used to strap real chairs on their backs. Silleteros have been parading in the festival for 60 years, but the inspiration for what they do goes back much further.

“The tradition comes from the necessity to carry food, flowers, even the sick, because hundreds of years ago in Santa Elena there was no transportation,” according to silletero Rigoberto Rubio.

Each participant designs their arrangement about two months before the parade, but the fresh flowers are placed on them just 24 hours before.

The final preparations require work up until the last minute, and often more than just one person.

“This job is done by the whole family. The children, siblings, cousins and parents,” Milena Rodriguez said. “That is our biggest pride. The most important thing I’ve inherited from my father is to be silletera.”

Arrangements can weigh more than 80 kilograms, and are carried for two kilometers. It can be a challenge for the young and the old alike, but many feel it’s a tradition worth continuing.

“My parents were founders of the Silleteros,” according to 76 year-old Stefany Ramirez. “So I follow their example.”