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Monday, March 11th

Devils, bandits romp at Carnival in Spanish towns

By ALVARO BARRIENTOS Associated Press

A man plays a horn as "momotxorros " take part in a carnival wearing typical attire, in Alsasua, northern Spain, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. During the carnival "momotxorros" characters, who seem to have been resurrected from a prehistoric ritual, come out onto the streets wearing horns and hiding their faces under headscarves while dressed in a white sheet stained with blood. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

ALSASUA, Spain (AP) - Dozens of devil-like figures dance and convulse at the sound of cowbells, chasing onlookers with pitchforks in Alsasua as part of this northern Spanish town's Carnival.

Alsasua is one of several villages in this remote region in the foothills of Pyrenees Mountains that still honor these colorful local festivities whose origin in unknown.

Called "momotxorros" in the Basque language, these half-human and half-animal creatures display the skin of sheep on their backs and white long pieces of sheets stained with bright-red animal blood on the front.

A typical carnival dress known as a "momotxorro'' lies on the ground, in Alsasua, northern Spain, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. During the carnival "momotxorros" characters, who seem to have been resurrected from a prehistoric ritual, come out onto the streets wearing horns and hiding their faces under headscarves while dressed in a white sheet stained with blood. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

The heads are topped with the horns of a bull over a basket normally used for agricultural produce, and horsehair covers the faces of anonymous revelers taking part in the riotous celebration.

In this fashion, the "momotxorros" dance around bonfires and roam the cobbled streets of this town of 7,500 until everybody converges in a central square for a grand finale in which everyone dances in a big circle. By then, they are joined by other mythical characters including a billy goat, known locally as an "akerra" - representing the devil - and lascivious "sorginak," or witches.

People dressed as the traditional carnival characters "Zaku Zaharrak," or old sack, in Basque language, take part in a carnival parade in the small Pyrenean village of Lesaka, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. After sunset, covering their faces with white handkerchiefs, stuffed into sacks full of straw, and holding a stick with an inflated animal's bladder used to hit people, the "Zaku Zaharrak" characters parade for hours through the village dancing and singing while a band plays music. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

In the nearby village of Lesaka, residents dress up as the traditional Carnival characters "Zaku Zaharrak," meaning "old sack" in the local Basque language. After sunset, covering their faces with white handkerchiefs, stuffed into sacks full of straw, and holding a stick with an inflated animal's bladder used to hit people, the Zaku Zaharrak characters parade for hours through the village dancing and singing while a band plays music.

People carry a giant "Miel Otxin'', the symbol of the carnival, during an ancient rural carnival in the small Pyrenees village of Lantz, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. The carnival is a long-standing rural tradition in which the forces of good and evil confront each other in a symbolic battle. From Sunday to Tuesday, during carnival week, in the little village of Lantz, the legendarily evil bandit "Miel Otxin," represented by a doll filled with straw, is imprisoned and sentenced to death by fire. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Meanwhile, the townsfolk of the village of Lantz parade a giant "Miel Otxin", a legendary bandit and symbol of their Carnival festivities. The straw filling the "Miel Otxin" doll is removed and burnt.

These traditions have been celebrated for centuries, days before the official start of Lent, the 40-day period when Christians around the world prepare to mark Easter, the remembrance of Jesus' death.

They were banned during the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco in Spain, but have been revived since the early 1990s.

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Aritz Parra contributed to this story from Madrid.

A participant dressed as the traditional carnival characters "Zaku Zaharrak," or old sack, in Basque language, poses for a photo while taking part during a carnival parade in the small Pyrenean village of Lesaka, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. After sunset, covering their faces with white handkerchiefs, stuffed into sacks full of straw, and holding a stick with an inflated animal's bladder used to hit people, the Zaku Zaharrak characters parade for hours through the village dancing and singing while a band plays music. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

''Txatxus'' dance during an ancient rural carnival in the small Pyrenees village of Lantz, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. The carnival is a long-standing rural tradition in which the forces of good and evil confront each other in a symbolic battle. From Sunday to Tuesday, during carnival week, in the little village of Lantz, the legendarily evil bandit Miel Otxin, represented by a doll filled with straw, is imprisoned and sentenced to death by fire. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Young "momotxorros " rest on the ground before taking part in a carnival wearing typical carnival attire, in Alsasua, northern Spain, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. During the carnival "momotxorros" characters, who seem to have been resurrected from a prehistoric ritual, come out onto the streets wearing horns and hiding their faces under headscarves while dressed in a white sheet stained with blood. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

The head of a ram decorates the place where "momotxorros " celebrate a carnival in Alsasua, northern Spain, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. During the carnival "momotxorros" characters, who seem to have been resurrected from a prehistoric ritual, come out onto the streets wearing horns and hiding their faces under headscarves while dressed in a white sheet stained with blood. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

A "momotxorro'' covers his face with blood while taking part in a carnival in Alsasua, northern Spain, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. During the carnival "momotxorros" characters, who seem to have been resurrected from a prehistoric ritual, come out onto the streets wearing horns and hiding their faces under headscarves while dressed in a white sheet stained with blood. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

People dressed as the traditional carnival characters "Zaku Zaharrak," or old sack, in Basque language, prepare to take part in a carnival parade in the small Pyrenean village of Lesaka, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. After sunset, covering their faces with white handkerchiefs, stuffed into sacks full of straw, and holding a stick with an inflated animal's bladder used to hit people, the "Zaku Zaharrak" characters parade for hours through the village dancing and singing while a band plays music. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

People prepare to take part in an ancient rural carnival in the small Pyrenees village of Lantz, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. The carnival is a long-standing rural tradition in which the forces of good and evil confront each other in a symbolic battle. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

People prepare to takes part in ancient rural carnival in the small Pyrenees village of Lantz, northern Spain, Sunday, March 3, 2019. The carnival is a long-standing rural tradition in which the forces of good and evil confront each other in a symbolic battle. From Sunday to Tuesday, during carnival week, in the little village of Lantz, the legendarily evil bandit "Miel Otxin," represented by a doll filled with straw, is imprisoned and sentenced to death by fire. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Young "momotxorros " prepare to take part in a carnival wearing typical carnival attire in Alsasua, northern Spain, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. During the carnival momotxorros characters, who seem to have been resurrected from a prehistoric ritual, come out onto the streets wearing horns and hiding their faces under headscarves while dressed in a white sheet stained with blood. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)