The heavens opened yesterday afternoon to welcome a new priest to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Perhaps, the ancient Zapotecs, in their infinite wisdom, said a special prayer for the rain god, too. It is corn-planting season.
The torrents came just as the celebration was to begin in the church courtyard, starting with a procession of young girls, soon-to-be women, with symbolic religious baskets to carry atop their heads. Needless to say, everyone ran for cover and the procession start was delayed. It rained about eight inches in less than an hour and a flood ensued
This is a very special occasion. Very. It has been decades, perhaps longer than most can remember here, even the grandmothers, that a Catholic priest has been assigned to perform permanent, regular service for the village. The regional religious center for the area is in the neighboring village of Tlacochahuaya, and one circuit priest has served many villages in the valley, scheduling religious rites according to who needs what, when.
Everyone in Teotitlan del Valle is ecstatic. In honor of this event, there is a mass this morning (Saturday) followed by tamales for everyone. I’m told the village expects more than 3,000 people in the church courtyard this afternoon.
As is customary, the occasion will be marked by Los Danzantes, the famed group of young men who make a three-year church commitment to serve God through performing the Dance of the Feather whenever the volunteer church committee calls on them.
For the girls, this, too, is a special occasion. For some of them, it will be the first time they will have participated in a desfile and it means a lot. They wear colorful hand-embroidered blouses, traditional woven wool wrap skirts usually dyed with cochineal and tied with a wool sash adorned with pom poms. This is what the grandmothers wear every day. But times are changing and the dress is worn only for ceremonial purposes by the younger generations.
In the photograph directly above, you can see the girls gathered, with the heavy canastas or baskets resting on the ground. They are waiting for the procession to begin. To the right, on the pillar of the inner courtyard of the church, is a Zapotec stone carving taken from the temple on the site and embedded into the church wall by the Spanish to attract the locals to the new religion.
The rites of passage in Mexico has been an important part of indigenous culture for centuries. The roots of these celebrations pre-date the conquest and one can imagine what it may have been like during the time of the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs at the height of their civilizations by being here now.
That’s why it’s so meaningful to participate as a visitor. Please consider:
- Day of the Dead Photography Workshop Tour–October 2014
- Portrait Photography Workshop Tour–January 2015