A Photoessay by Cristina García Navas
The Queen of Sheep Beauty Pageant is an offbeat Colombian beauty contest that parodies other common beauty pageants in the country revolving around local agricultural products or cattle animals. The contestants of this competition, which has been celebrated for fifteen years during the month of July in the central plaza of the town of Nobsa, in the department of Boyaca, are not women, however, but real sheep wearing original costumes made by their owners.
The animals are dressed up as current national soccer and cycling idols, such as James Rodríguez and Nairo Quintana, or as bucolic shepherdesses and sheep clad in traditional regional woolen garments, known as ruanas. With their costumes, contestants seek to catch the public’s attention, as those who receive the most enthusiastical clapping from the people gathered in the plaza are declared winners. The Queen, Vice-Queen and Princess of Sheep are playfully personified as women contestants by the presenter, who refers to the “tears in the eyes” of the winner, Catalina, at the moment of being declared the “Universal Queen of Sheep” (“la reina universal de la oveja”) of 2016. By humanizing sheep, the Queen of Sheep Beauty Contest (Reinado de la Oveja) parodies the way women are objectified in beauty pageants, and judged as animals in a breed show. The pageant is, however, followed by a fashion show showcasing the latest and most accomplished ruana designs, sold at the plaza during the day, whose models are exclusively women and girls, although the garment is traditionally more often worn by men.
This contest is held during the “World Ruana Day” (Día mundial de la ruana) to give exposure to the traditional warm woolen Colombian ponchos traditionally worn in the region of Boyaca, and woven by more than 300 artisan families from Nobsa, who earn their living by making these traditional garments.
The Queen of Sheep contest is accompanied by entertainment, humor and musical shows, as well as by pedagogical activities about the artisanal process of wool production in the region, such as sheep shearing and the display of spinning, weaving, and sewing, usually by women.
Cristina García Navas is a Ph.D. Candidate in Latin American Literatures at the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. This research travel was possible thanks to a Summer Grant from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.