Symbols of Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dancer’s shield
On December 12, the Virgin’s Feast Day, the Dancers gathered in the church courtyard at around noon and continued with intermittent breaks until 8:00 p.m., when they went to the house of the Mayordomo Fidel Cruz for respite and supper.
Entering the festive church courtyard to watch the Dancers
These celebrations are important on many levels. They continue long-standing traditions, many of which pre-date the Spanish conquest.
Los Danzantes in the late afternoon shadows
They reinforce community, build cohesiveness among the young men and their families, they honor church and tradition, and they attract tourism — an essential part of this Zapotec rug-weaving village.
Dancers taking high leaps as shadows catch them
It is almost impossible to visit here for the first time without going home with a beautiful tapestry.
Inside the church, the altar honors Mexico’s Queen, La Reina de Mexico
The weaving culture is reflected in the dancers’ leggings and on the shields they wear. Many of them use pieces that were made by fathers and grandfathers twenty or more years ago.
Leggings are handwoven tapestry loomed wool in ancient Zapotec design
If you look closely, the weaving is fine, detailed and is a work of art.
Transluscent scarves float through afternoon light and shadow
As I stayed through the afternoon, I caught some of the long shadows as the sun set. After so many years of taking photographs of Los Danzantes leaping, shaking rattles, demonstrating their fortitude and strength, I was searching for a way to capture the scene in a different way.
Volunteer committee members pay respects
As the important village usos y costumbres committee members entered the church courtyard, many visitors, including me, moved to the periphery to give them seats of honor. As I moved around the circumference, I noticed how the shadows of the dancers became an extension of their bodies in the backlight of late afternoon.
Grandmother and grandson watching. The young ones dream of becoming dancers.
A spectacular clear day, warm in sun, chilly in shade
The band is an essential part of every fiesta
Children play atop the courtyard cross.
The Oaxaca Lending Library brought a group to watch. All visitors welcome!
Guadalupe atop canastas (baskets) for the December 10 parade
Side door entry to church from interior courtyard
A new altar adorns a niche under renovation inside church
If you visit, please make a donation for renovations
Folded chairs waiting for occupants, inside courtyard
Canastas waiting for return to storage, until the next time
Playing with shadows, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
The three-day celebration in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, leading up to December 12 to honor Mexico’s favorite saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, started on December 10 with a 5 p.m. calenda (procession) that began in the church courtyard.
Parade of the Canastas winds through village streets for three miles
But, I arrived early, at 1 p..m., to find a couple celebrating a wedding in the church, followed by a group of cyclists from Teotitlan who arrived at 2 p.m. at the end of their journey from Juquila. They had pedaled 36-hours in a caravan complete with altar and bicycle repair sag wagon.
Bikes parked in church courtyard while cyclists receive blessings inside
A photo diary of the afternoon:
Celebrants holding fragrant poleo, part of the calenda ritual
You need to understand that in the hierarchy of religious symbols, the Virgin of Guadalupe is at the top. She is the embodiment of the pre-Hispanic corn goddess melded with the Virgin Mary by the conquerers. She is mother earth, goddess of nature and symbolic of life and the empowerment of women. God and Jesus are next in line. It’s what we call syncretism here.
Cousins Maya and Alicia were among the hundreds of young women chosen
Men volunteer to accompany, carry the bamboo baskets for relief
Onlookers at street corners take photos, applaud, acculturate children
And the band plays on, actually two of them!, accompanying Los Danzantes
At intervals, Dance of the Feather participants stop with a dance
Grandma Juana, Baby Luz, and Mama Edith along the way
Little girls are acculturated early to the importance of community ritual and tradition
This serape is old, woven in the 1960’s I was told
The young women started out at the homes of the Mayordomos, Fidel Cruz and Bulmaro Perez, who both live on the main entry road to the village, almost to the main highway, MEXICO 190 (Panamerican Highway). At the end of the night, they were tired. Mayordomo definition: The chief sponsor, organizer and funder of an major village event.
Yes, these baskets are very heavy. They walked at least five miles.
Watching from the second story along the parade route.
Ixcel Guadalupe gets ready to start the calenda from the church courtyard.
This dancer’s protective shield was hand-woven by his father years ago
After all had assembled in the church courtyard, the procession began: first the children holding papier-mache stanchions of turkeys, ducks, chickens, and dogs. Then came the chief of the fireworks, sending spiraling smoke bombs into the air, then Secundino (age 90+) playing the traditional Zapotec flute.
Barbara, David and Jo Ann came from California and New Mexico
He was followed by the Danzantes (Dance of the Feather participants), then the young maidens in traditional dress holding elaborate, heavy baskets on their heads.
All ages enjoy the pageantry
Since there were two mayordomos, there were two bands and two groups of young women, sponsored by each. It was quite a spectacle.
The calenda: firecrackers, music, giant balloons, children with duck, turkey flags
I decided to follow and the pace was easy enough that I found myself often midway or at the front of the group — until I recognized village friends, stopped to chat, and got left behind, only to dash to catch up again. The three miles went quickly.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico
Dance of the Feather group with Moctezuma, La Malinche and Doña Marina
At the end, I joined Barbara, David, J0 Ann and Beverly for a quiet dinner of homemade memelas, yogurt jello, atole, and fruit provided by host Bulmaro Perez and family. I brought the cuishe mezcal!
Assembly in the church courtyard at the end of the calenda, at dusk.
Tonight, Monday, the fireworks start at 9 p.m. The last fireworks I attended announced for 9 p.m. got going around 11 p.m.
I’m not sure I can stay up that late!
I took the dogs on a long, three-mile walk out to the border of our neighboring village, and I’m not very energetic.
Today’s walk in the campo, with a new discovery: swimming hole
Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 12, the Dance of the Feather begins in the church courtyard, they say at noon and will go until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. followed by another calenda of the church committee.
Leaping Danzantes. They get off their feet.
The Juquila bicyclists’ sag wagon
Long live the Queen of Mexico, Virgin of Guadalupe
For those of you planning to be here on December 12, to celebrate Mexico’s most important saint, you may be disappointed! Not much is happening by then unless you want to attend the church mass.
Complete schedule for Teotitlan’s Virgin of Guadalupe Celebration
I know this poster is hard to read. So, here is the cut-and-paste I did for Sunday, December 10, schedule.
Sunday, December 10, schedule
At 3 p.m. on Sunday, the celebration continues with young women of the village dressed in traditional clothing and canastas (baskets) filled with flowers, who gather in the church courtyard with the Dance of the Feather dancers.
At 4 p.m. begins the Calenda (parade) along the main streets of the village, accompanied by the band.
At 7 p.m. they arrive at the house of the First Mayordomo C. Fidel Cruz Lazo.
The schedule for Monday, December 11, 2017 is …
Monday, December 11, schedule, Teotitlan del Valle
Looks like Monday, is the big day. At 2 p.m. there is a celebration of mass with vespers. Then, at 7 p.m. will be the calendas followed by a castle of fireworks at 8 p.m.
Hope to see you at the Calenda!
The Mayordomos and Committees who make the celebration possible!
Union Zapata is a small pueblo that is at off the Pan-American Highway Mexico 190, near San Pablo Villa de Mitla, about five miles from where I live. They grow organic corn, squash and beans just like many villages throughout the state of Oaxaca.
Native corn, indigenous to Oaxaca state, at the Feria Biodiversidad
Blue corn tortillas, one of my favorites
But, the native crops indigenous to Mexico are at risk as more farmers plant seeds that they can afford to buy, to sell produce in a competitive economy where retail price drives most decisions. Cheap corn introduced by commercialization is taking over Mexico.
Farming family from the Mixe region of Oaxaca
Farmers from all parts of Oaxaca state gathered in Union Zapata on Saturday, December 2 to promote their ancient crops. They came in vans, cars, trucks and buses from the mountains, coast and valleys, from remote communities that adhere to tradition. They are proud to show the produce that results from their labor. The native species have provided for the complete nutritional needs of native people for 10,000 years.
Carbon dating sets Mexican squash at 10,000 years old
I went to the fair with Carina Santiago, noted Teotitlan del Valle chef and owner of Restaurante Tierra Antigua, and Kalisa Wells, professional cook and caterer from San Diego. I am fortunate to call them friends. I had no idea what to expect and what I saw was amazing.
Rafael Mier holds Jaguar Beans, a rare, ancient strain
Carina and Kali introduced me to Rafael Mier from Mexico City and his aunt Caterina. Rafa’s grandparents came to Mexico City from Northern Spain. They were farmers. In the middle of the city they raised animals and crops. They grew up with their hands in the soil.
Are Mexicans more concerned about conserving chile varieties?
Today, Rafa leads a conservation NGO called Tortilla de Maiz Mexicana to educate farmers and consumers about the importance of growing, buying and eating native corn. He tells me that throughout Mexico, it is now difficult to find the real food that provides the complex carbohydrates-protein exchange needed for a healthy diet.
Some of Mexico’s corn diversity. There are 59 landraces.
Even if we believe we are eating native, organic corn in Mexico, we are being deceived. Tortilla and tlayuda makers are using processed corn they buy in bulk, pre-soaked so that it can be prepared faster. And, that’s what’s being sold in most village markets and at the tortillerias where machines spit out white corn tortillas, hundreds to the minute.
In the United States, there is a similar story. We want bright yellow corn, big juicy kernels, uniform in size and texture, easy to peel and consume with butter — melt in your mouth. This is genetically modified to suit American taste.
I could not believe the color of these squashes. Eye popping.
This corn has little nutritional value and converts immediately to sugar. Monsanto can export it to Mexico and sell it cheaper than the corn small scale farmers produce themselves.
Farmer-weaver from San Juan Colorado, Costa Chica
Corn is a staple in Mexico. When GMO corn converts to sugar as it metabolizes, indigenous people suffer from diabetes. This is a HUGE health issue here. I can tell you this from personal experience, since many of my local friends struggle with the disease, have amputations and die.
Organic coyuchi cotton from the coastal highlands of Oaxaca
San Juan Colorado and San Pedro Amuzgos handwoven huipiles at the fair
Some of us adhere to the Slow Food Movement. We want to know who makes our food and where it comes from. This is a way to eat what we believe, to ask questions about food sourcing from restaurants and cooks.
My late morning snack: organic blue corn stuffed with chicken and chilis
These are native hibiscus flowers used for drinks and stuffing enchiladas
I liken this to the #whomademyclothes movement started by the Fashion Revolution. I want to know where the cotton, silk and wool comes from. I want to know if plants and cochineal are the dye materials. I want to know if my clothes are mixed with polyester or rayon. I want to know who sewed them and were they paid fairly.
Order pumpkin pie from Jorge Daniel Bautista, Union Zapata, tel: 951-421-4697
Education requires commitment and social activism. Yes, it is difficult in our world to be a purist with so many hidden ingredients. But we can try! Isn’t that what counts most?
Teotzintle, the grain that corn was hybridized from in the Oaxaca valley
Teotzintle, a Nahuatl word, is the world’s original corn. It was discovered in the nearby Yagul caves and dated at 8,000 years old.
Pre-hispanic Amaranth is a great source of protein
The biodiversity of Mexican corn gives us 59 different varieties
After the fair, Rafael and Caterina joined us at Tierra Antigua Restaurant where Carina brought out her specialties of Mole Coloradito and Mole Negro for tastings. But first, we had her yellow organic corn tlayudas, followed by red corn mamelas.
Carina’s red corn mamelas, a delicious appetizer.
Carina’s husband, Pedro Montaño, has a milpa (field) where they grow only native corn and they use this exclusively for the tortillas and tlayudas they prepare in the restaurant.
Restaurante Tierra Antigua specialty of Mole Coloradito and Mole Negro
New and vintage masks from San Juan Colorado
The program receives limited funding from the government of Mexico, and this year, its 7th, the organizers sought donations from private individuals in order to hold the fair. It was only for ONE day. Transportation was provided for the participants who came long distances, but did not include overnight lodging.
Yira Vallejo from Pierde Almas mezcals was a lead organizer.
If I had known about this in advance, I would have alerted you in the days before to come out to the Tlacolula valley to enjoy the day. I hope to do this next year.
How you can get involved? Contact
Yira Vallejo at email@example.com, www.pierdealmas.com
If you are a U.S. university professor who wants to learn more about Mexico’s native plants and food, please contact Norma Schafer. Oaxaca Cultural Navigator organizes study abroad short courses and educational programs for faculty and students for cultural exchange.
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