Carnival in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca is a five-day festival that begins on the Monday after Easter. Why is this? Carnival is celebrated around the world, and other places in Mexico and Oaxaca before Lent begins. I asked several local residents who said they did not know. It’s the way it has always been, they replied. Perhaps this timing of Teotitlan’s Carnival predates the Spanish conquest and goes back to an ancient pueblo springtime ritual. Does anyone out there know the answer?
Meanwhile, Day Two, hosted by the Mendoza Ruiz weaving family for their section, continued with the same fervor as the first day. The family invited me as a guest and to take photographs.
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Cooking teacher and chef extraordinaire Reyna Mendoza Ruiz prepared an incredible mole amarillo , traditional for Teotitlan del Valle fiestas, with the aid of an army of women. (I’m linking you to a recipe, but for the most authentic experience, come to Teotitlan for a cooking class with Reyna.) Her brother, weaver Erasto “Tito” Mendoza and owner of El Nahual gallery with his wife Alejandrina Rios, told me the meat was toro when I was served a bowl laden with the sauce covering a succulent meat, fresh potatoes, green beans and choyote squash.
The women had been up since 6:00 a.m. preparing for about 100 people who gathered for the 2:00 p.m. Teotitlan time midday meal. Alejandrina said the beef had been stewing in an olla since the early morning hours. Reyna offered me a spoon but I preferred the Zapotec way of dipping the fresh made tortilla into the spicy mole and tearing off a bit of the toro to eat together accompanied by fresh horchata.
As is tradition, the men are seated separately and served first. Then, a section of the table is cleared for the abuelos, mothers and children to sit together. Everyone drinks beer and mezcal as the band plays, the host family begins the bailando, the Zapotec line dance that is de rigueur at every function. Then, the masquers who danced in the plaza the night before (and all the next night) make their grand entrance.
Late in the afternoon, around 6:00 p.m. Teotitlan time, the group will exit the Mendoza Ruiz home and begin its procession to the plaza outside the municipal building in front of the rug market.
Again, the crowd will gather to watch the masquers make merry, eat nieves and cream-filled pastries, and sit mesmerized as sun sets. (Oaxaca time for the celebration is 7-10 p.m. through Friday.) Best estimates were a crowd of 500-700 people, so get there early to snag a front row seat!
We made our way there by various modes of transportation: by foot, by tuk-tuk, by car and by truck. I didn’t see anyone on the back of a donkey.
The merriment will continue through the night and into the morning, when the troupe returns to the Mendoza Ruiz family at 6:00 a.m. for another meal to fortify themselves for Day Three. As I write this, it is Day Three and I can hear the band in the distance. Today, the festival is in our section of town and another family will host the meal and merry-making. To be continued: food, beer, mezcal, dancing, music, processions, clean-up, and interconnected community.
P.S. I managed to take over 700 photos between 3:00 and 9:00 p.m. and culled them down to what I am showing you here using Lightroom, my new lifesaver! thanks to the Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop we just finished.