Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Yadira Galdamez, Melvin Ponce perform the knife throwing act.

Pereira Brothers Circus Sets up Tent

In Central America, the circus is a working man’s ballet house. Circuses here are often travelling, family run businesses that provide entertainment for entire families. There is always risqué humor, and often mesmerizing performances of balance, skill, daring and strength.

While Hondurans are not considered circus fanatics, Roatan is a solid stop for traveling circuses and a circus comes to the island every few years. After a long period where the island had no circuses visiting, in early March, Pereira Brothers Circus erected their blue tarp on a flat, sandy path of land just east of the Roatan airport.

The man behind the circus is Julio Pereira, the circus’s founder. Julio represents the second of three circus generations in his family. “We live for the circus, we are the circus, and we will continue to live for the Circus,” said Julio as he say beneath the shiny tarp of his performance tent.

His father, Vicente Pereira, came to North America from Chile to perform in Barnum & Bailey Circus in the U.S. He was a trapeze acrobat and a clown. Vicente also performed in Mexican and Guatemalan circuses in the 1970s and 80s.

Julio and his brother Alejandro established their own circus in 2008 under an eight meter tent. “This [tent] was a very small one,” remembers Julio. Then the brothers expanded their stage and seating for a 13 meter tent. Now Alejandro Pereira performs in Guatemala, and Julio typically performs across Honduras.

Small family circuses like this one need their performers to be jacks of all trades. “I am a welder, an electrician, a driver… I do everything because we learn everything here,” said Julio. Twelve adults are part of the Pereira Brothers Circus and perform a variety of additional jobs. They help to erect the tent, set up acts, and help with the vending. The children traveling with the circus attend local schools while the circus performs at a particular location.

Julio represents the second of three circus generations.

The circus changes its performance every 15-20 days to attract repeat spectators. “We don’t have a scheduled route, nothing analyzed. We go where they want us,” says Julio Pereira. “One to two weeks before we decide where we go. It’s all improvised.”

There are around ten circuses performing at any one time in Honduras. Most of them originated from Guatemala where circus performances are much more popular. Seventy troupes constantly travel around the country, providing entertainment and diversion to Chapinos. “It’s a different culture here [in Honduras], but if you have a good show, the people do come,” says Julio Pereira. “We are small, but we have one of the best performances in Honduras.”

Indeed the Pereira Brothers Circus has several impressive acts. The show begins with a trapeze act, then there is a mesmerizing knife throwing act, a high tight rope walking act, silks acrobatics, and a motorcycle sphere-of-death performance.

The hard work of the performance artists has been paying off. Now, the family is investing in a bigger, 15-meter tent and new transport trucks. “We need more space for trapeze artists,” says Julio. His three sons have already picked up the family tradition. Now Maycol Pereira, Yino Alejandro, and Julio Esteven Pereira entertain the crowds. “Before, I did everything. Now they are performing,” says Julio Pereira, 43. “I am practically retired from the Circus.”

For the last 150 years, circuses have become a beloved form of entertainment for the working family in Central America. The origin of circuses in Mexico and Central America traces its roots to acrobats and jugglers who performed at bullfighting rings during intermissions all the way to the 1600s and 1700s. In 1785, a documented compañía de voladores, or “acrobats,” was written about in Mexico City. Another performance troupe named Compañía de Volantines del País performed balancing acts and a clown performing a hat dance called Jarabe in 1792. By the 1800s, travelling circuses called “carpas” (tents) became quite popular in northern Mexico.

In 1884, Francisco Sánchez and Ignacio Navarro (Pachito and Nacho) came to Guatemala. Don Nacho founded Circo Navarro in 1886, and that is still the oldest Circus in operation in Guatemala. It’s from there that the circus culture arrived in Honduras.

Ponce Brothers Circus, one of the first that came to Roatan, set up their tent in front of the airport in 2004. Their elephant attached via rope to a stake driven into the ground, would eat grass right by the island’s main road.

We are small, but we have one of the best performances in Honduras.

Times have now changed. There will likely be no more circuses with performing animals visiting Roatan. In 2017, Guatemala banned the use of all animals in circus performances. Despite several circuses resisting, the Animal Defenders International (ADI) organization confiscated any remaining circus animals and transferred them to the centers in South Africa. “This was a global thing. They forbade having animals in circuses,” says Julio, “You can even end up in jail because of that.”

That 150-year tradition of exotic animal acts is pretty much over in Latin America, where it is practically impossible to find an animal circus act. “This has affected the falling interest in the circus greatly,” says Julio.

Prior to the ban in Guatemala, and especially Mexico, most circuses had employed animals like elephants and lions as part of their show. “In circuses, the animals lived well, ate well, reproduced well,” said Julio. “Because we lived for these animals, they were taken care off like stars.”