Every February, residents of the tiny town of San Juan de la Vega in Mexico perform the re-enactment of a four hundred year-old battle that took place between the local farmers and the wealthy landowners. According to legends, the farmers were sided by a local miner and rancher, and the town’s namesake, Juan aquino de la Vega, who was a Robin Hood type of person who robbed from the rich and gave it to the poor.
Unlike historic re-enactments where revelers dress in full costume and rage a mock war against each other, the feature of this re-enactment or festival is the detonation of handmade firecrackers by ramming them with sledgehammers. Explosive packets of fertilizers and sulfur are tied to the business end of sledgehammers and detonated by smashing them against rocks and metal plates. The firecrackers explode in a cloud of smoke and dust accompanied by flying shrapnel that tears through the flesh of onlookers.
Photo credit: Mike Corey
The participants take some sort of protection to avoid injury, such as wearing sunglasses, full-sleeve shirts, a hat and a neck scarf to cover the face. But these protections aren’t enough against the shockwave of the explosion. Participants are often knocked off their feet and the sledgehammer spins out of control. Sometimes rocks fly up into the men's faces or an eardrum bursts.
American photographer Thomas Prior, who was at the festival last year taking pictures, tells about a man who was rushed away after a piece of metal tore his forehead open, but who returned a few hours later, head taped up, to swing again.
The following pictures are from his book titled “Bomba”.
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