The silleteros are closely linked to the history of Antioquia and Colombia. The ceremonial permanence of the occupation of silletero is represented in the traditional Silleteros Parade, which is held in Medellín every August. The silletero has become the emblem of the city and of the Flowers Fair.

 

In the colonial period, when some almost impassable mountain paths didn’t allow the use of beast of burden –such as oxen, donkeys or mulessilleteros made possible the exchange of products and the mobilization of travelers between very distant places. Their ability consisted of bearing loads of up to 75 kilos on their back over considerable distances. Some travel chronicles from the late 19th century describe disciplined caravans of a hundred silleteros walking the mountain paths.

The occupation of silletero also existed in some other regions of the country, such as Valle del Cauca, Quindío, Nariño and Chocó, until the train and the car gradually effaced them from the scenery. The figure of the silletero persisted in some places of Antioquia and Chocó well into the 20th century.

From their very origin, there were two silleteros categories: the first one was the freight carrier who exclusively carried goods, the most varied objects from national industry as well as of overseas origin. Tableware, porcelain, tools, pianos, furniture, machines, religious images and the traveler’s luggage were entrusted to the carrier’s ability over long distances.

The other specialist, the silletero himself, transported travelers and was known as faquín, caballito, peón de tercio, sillero y peón de brega, following the region. These names show the extent of the geography they served. Described as musclebound, conversationalist and helpful individuals, they were responsible for carrying the person on their back and protecting the traveler’s life. With a deep knowledge of the region, their conversation skills alleviated the traveler’s hard journeys.

 

The silleta and the silletero adapted themselves to the modernization of Antioquia and the country; thus, in many farmhouses the silleta persisted as a useful instrument associated with the transportation of sick or defenseless people, or to carry the produce. Inparticular, the farmer at Santa Elena made a clever use of it to commercialize his products in Medellín. The city got then familiarized with the silletero, a vendor of flowers and vegetables who walked along downtown streets but also in neighborhoods delivering his produce to families on request. It was very common to see them in the most important markets like Cisneros Plaza or the Flowers Plaza, and at church steps, until they became an eye-catching character incorporated into the daily city scenery.

Nowadays, the silleteros from Santa Elena have become ceremonial figures. From their old role of flower and vegetable merchants they have turned into authentic flower craftsmen. Using their outstanding manual skill, they make the silletas, those original and elaborate compositions of high esthetic sense they exhibit in their yearly parade.

Most of these silleteros and silleteras live in the rural setting of the Santa Elena district and, like any other farmer of the region, they devote themselves to cultivating potatoes, vegetables, flowers, strawberries and blackberries as well as to caring for their cattle and poultry. Some of them have continued the tradition of trading their flowers and vegetables in Medellín; others have gotten a job in a company or in the government and still others have undertaken college studies.

In his role of silletero, this farmer has become one of the most valued symbols of Medellín, according to the results of a poll made over a decade ago by means of coupons attached to the utilities bills. This great honor for the silleteros is rewarded with prizes, clapping and expressions of admiration crowds shout at them as they parade on the streets. Additionally, thanks to contracts they sign with the mayor’s office, they are paid for participating, according to the different categories established for the silletas.

 

The image of the silletero has gone beyond the local sphere and in it Medellín has a dear emblem for its national and international projection. Delegations of silleteros, on the mission of ambassadors of the city, have participated in parades in other cities and countries. Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Bogotá, Rome, Canberra, London, Madrid, Miami, New York, and Barcelona have received the visit of our silleteros who have paraded exhibiting their colorful load, impregnating those remote places with warmth and brightness and making them hear the echoes of a tradition that the Silleteros Parade praises by means of the rhythmic and colorful conquest of the streets and the hearts of thousands of spectators.