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At boozy festival in Cuba, villagers 'bury' man alive in 30-year-old mock funeral tradition

In this Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Divaldo Aguiar, who plays the part of Pachencho, is carried in a mock coffin during the Burial of Pachencho celebration, through a cemetery in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba. Cuban villagers stage a mock funeral and burial of Pachencho, with a living man playing the part of Pachencho, in a boozy festival that has become an annual tradition in this small town near Havana, held each Feb. 5 for the last 30 years. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)

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In this Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Divaldo Aguiar, who plays the part of Pachencho, is carried in a mock coffin during the Burial of Pachencho celebration, through a cemetery in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba. Cuban villagers stage a mock funeral and burial of Pachencho, with a living man playing the part of Pachencho, in a boozy festival that has become an annual tradition in this small town near Havana, held each Feb. 5 for the last 30 years. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)

SANTIAGO DE LAS VEGAS, Cuba - Cuban villagers staged a mock funeral and burial of a living man this week in a boozy festival that has become an annual tradition in a small town near Havana.

A tractor pulled a trailer slowly through the streets in the early morning carrying the man in a coffin and a four-piece tropical band. Behind it, dozens of people drank, clapped and sashayed to the music, as a white-haired woman pretending to be the bereaved widow wept loudly for the "deceased."

"What a good man he was," Carmen Zamora cried, dabbing at her eyes with a kerchief. "He's leaving me all alone. I don't want them to bury him in the ground. My God, no."

The celebration in Santiago de las Vegas, about 12 miles (20 kilometres) south of the Cuban capital, has been held each Feb. 5 for the last 30 years and is known as the Burial of Pachencho.

But the atmosphere is more street-party than funereal.

"I never miss this party. I tell my boss and take a day off work," said 50-year-old Rebeca Morera, shaking her hips to the music. "This is a tradition of my town where I was born and raised. We can't lose it."

The bash kicked off Wednesday with the slow procession to the local cemetery. Pallbearers carried the coffin of "Pachencho," who's known the other 364 days of the year as Divaldo Aguiar, to an open grave and used ropes to lower it six feet under.

A man masquerading as a priest in a flowing blue frock made the sign of the cross over the grave and muttered, "rest in peace." People blew trumpets, banged drums and tossed flowers.

Then villagers splashed rum into Aguiar's mouth from above, and he opened his eyes and climbed out of the tomb.

"Being reborn is the most beautiful thing there is in life," said Aguiar, who said he has played "Pachencho" for several years running.

The tradition was born on Feb. 5, 1984, when villagers got the idea of putting on a mock burial to mark the end of local carnival season. It took its name from the title of a play that had been shown in what was then the town theatre.

"Pachencho" is not representative of any real person, living or dead, explained Alvaro Hernandez, head of a learning and recreation centre that today is housed in the former theatre.

"He's a product of popular imagination," Hernandez said.

Following Aguiar's miraculous revival, the procession returned to the centre and the party went on all day long.

"This breathes life into a town that needs it because life is hard here," said Yaumara Solis, a 39-year-old homemaker. "Mourning a live dead man is not disrespectful to the dead — it's an homage to the challenge of life."

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