Preview: Teotitlan del Valle Celebrates Village Life with Basket Parade

The fiesta in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, is an annual event, always celebrated the first week in July. This year it continues through July 9.  I’m posting the schedule below for those of you in Oaxaca.

Gathering in the church patio, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

This is a festival that honors the village church, Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Senor Jesucristo. This is a religious event primarily that also includes La Danza de la Pluma (Dance of the Feather), daily masses, an adjacent carnival next to the market (making it impossible to park), fireworks, and lots of parties with tamales and mezcal.

Out in front of the parade, children with papier-mache animals atop bamboo poles

I couldn’t imagine a better homecoming than by celebrating the kick-off event by attending the Desfile de Canastas — Parade of the Baskets — that started yesterday, July 2 at 6 p.m. from the church courtyard.

Miles to go with a heavy decorated basket on their head

All ages take part, from children, pre-teens and young adults

Young women who have never married are selected by the festival sponsors to hold ornate and heavy baskets on their heads and process about three miles through all the village neighborhoods.

Village officials go with the young women through the cobbled streets

They are solemn. This is serious respect for traditions and religious life. Even three and four-year olds participate, helped by parents. Learning the culture starts young.

My friend Danny Hernandez with his daughter

Group photos in front of the 17th century church

How do I know the distance? I clocked it on my FitBit, starting right along with the group of hundreds, including the two bands, the Feather Dancers, the Canasta walkers, church and village officials, children out in front holding whimsical animals atop poles, various relatives and volunteers.

The children are a special feature of this event, joyful and eager to take part

As the parade wound through the village streets through all the five administrative sections, up hill and down, crowds of onlookers assembled at strategic corners. In every neighborhood, I passed people I knew. Since I’ve only returned three days ago, it was an opportunity to greet people and feel welcomed.

At the corner behind the municipal building, a crowd of all ages gathers

Hand-carved amulets and rattles are held to keep evil at bay

This custom of community celebration and mutual support goes back thousands of years in Zapotec life, long before the Spanish arrived to conquer Mexico, name it New Spain, and integrate Catholic rites into already existing spiritual/mystical practice. Today, we call this blending syncretism. Zapotec tradition has very strong roots here.

Los Danzantes stop to offer homage in each neighborhood

Today, joking with the children and the crowd is one of the jester jobs

Festival Schedule

Tuesday, July 3: The Dance of the Feather will start around 5p.m. in the church courtyard accompanied by the Band, followed by an extravagant fireworks display that usually doesn’t start until 11 p.m.

Wednesday, July 4: The Dance of the Feather starts at 1 p.m. and continues until about 8 p.m.

Thursday, July 5: This is a day of rest.

Friday, July 6: At 6 p.m. there is another procession with the beautiful young women of the village wearing their traditional indigenous dress.

Saturday, July 7: At 4 p.m. the Dance of the Feather dancers meet in the church for a mass, then at 5 p.m. the Dance of the Feather resumes in the church courtyard.

Juana Gutierrez with her niece.

Sunday, July 8: At 11:30 a.m. there is a procession through the village with Los Danzantes, and at 1 p.m. there is a Dance of the Feather ceremony in the church courtyard.

Monday, July 9: The festival ends with an 8 a.m. mass in the church.

The fair (feria) is filled with rides and carnival games — open daily.

Felipe Flores is on live camera for his California family

All of this is organized and produced by village volunteers. To be a member of the community, one must make a promise to serve. This involves being part of a committee for one to three-years, including the job of village president. Because this is a traditional indigenous Usos y Costumbres village that is self-governing, this is a responsibility by men, women and families who live here.

The jester. In the conquest story, he was an Aztec spy, invisible

Committees determine priority projects and moderate conflicts, levy local taxes and make village improvements. Even the police department is based on two-year volunteer service of one week a month — a daytime or nighttime duty.

The band in reflection

Quite a marvel in today’s complex, law-driven universe.

I hope you come and enjoy. It’s a wonderful experience to be here.

Santiago family sisters with grandsons. Their father was a danzante 12 years ago.

After the procession returned to the church courtyard, we met for a taco at Buky’s, under the lights of the tent, watching the children racing between the rides, enjoying the chill summer air.

El Buky for hamburgers and tacos al fresco

Outdoor dining Teotitlan style

Before the rides start up there is still fun

Opposite directions; street dog in search of food

12 responses to “Preview: Teotitlan del Valle Celebrates Village Life with Basket Parade

  1. Really enjoyed returning through your images – to this more exciting and wonderful of the Teotitilan del Valle ceremonial cycle. Luckily, because of your introduction, I ended up living there for 7 months and got to witness this.
    Are you using your iPhone 8+…? I’m noticing the almost 3-D (or is it H-D) spatial quality. I’m love those two fantastic lenses and am just scratching the surface of what they can do. Carry on Norma and continue ‘bringing it LIVE’ from Oaxaca!!! LOVE it!!!

    • Hi, Sheri. Yes, all photos taken with my iPhone 8+. Truly a marvel of photography innovation. Someone passed me on the parade path and said, You are REALLY going light. I said why should I carry a heavier camera when this one does (almost) the same thing. Very happy with this technology. I did edit all photos in the iPhone and then imported the best to Lightroom for final touches.

      It’s great to be back and sleeping all night in this wonderful high desert chill air. Days warm. Nights cool. Just perfect.

      Happy to have found you as a friend and bringing you to Teotitlán. Life reveals.
      Besos.

  2. Thank you Norma for your excellent documentary and pictures. I have been to Teotitlan Del Valle in the winter so I have missed this wonderful festival. One of the reasons I love Oaxaca is for the indigenous cultures that surround the city tucked away in the various Puebla’s. I am so envious of a culture that preserves the traditions of its ancestors and am in awe that even the young are enthusiastic participants. I wonder if they know how lucky they are to have such deep roots and such festivals.

    • Yes, our region has rich indigenous culture that deserves to be honored. So family centric and people here respect their traditions. Mostly, it’s because the family unit with extended family is intact because work is local and artisan focused. But, the world here is changing, too, as young people leave to the cities for better paying jobs and educational opportunities. Cultural connection runs deep, though, since Zapotec communities in El Norte hold their own Dance of the Feather, and many return, when they can during summer vacations to teach their children while visiting family. Thanks for reading and commenting Bev. I appreciate it.

  3. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Maybe next year I should visit Oaxaca in July, in addition to February. The costumes and ceremony delight my heart.
    In regards to your lovely thin dog, I have forwarded your plea to my friend, maybe she knows someone in Rojas who wants him. If there is a way he could be rescued to the US or Canada, I would contribute to the financial costs. I simply have no idea how to do this myself.

    • Looks like Janie will try to adopt Beezie and take him back to NC with her when she leaves in early August. She’s starting to work on the process. I don’t know what the cost is for all of this. We’ve gotten gifts from friends that is helping to cover food and vet services. If you felt so inclined, you can send money to my PayPal account oaxacaculture@me.com and I’ll be sure it will get used for vaccinations, licensing and transportation costs.

      Most of the traje (costumes) are pulled out for the celebrations. They are no longer part of everyday wear except among the grandmothers. Always glorious to see the needlework and weaving, along with the traditional jewelry. Moms lend their best to their daughters for these occasions.

      Thanks for everything, Kate. You are a wonderful support.

  4. Looks like you returned just in time! What a beautiful festival. Enjoy

  5. What fun! We must plan to be there some year. Your photos are beautiful.

  6. Dear Norma,
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful event; I don’t think I will ever be in Teotitlan Del Valle in July, so I really enjoyed seeing it through your lens. I hope someone reached out and helped you with the thin, sweet looking, dog #4. I, too, have a neighbor dog that shows up every few days for a bowl of food and some head scratches. His owner died in March, and it seems the person who ended up with him isn’t around much, and feeds him sparingly. Sigh. Animals at the mercy of humans.

    • Well, your summer climate in NoCal can’t be beat. Enjoy the life. I’ll try to keep you abreast with what goes on here when you can’t be here. When I’m here, too, and not in NC. The Beezie has disappeared for the afternoon so missed today’s evening feeding. And, so it goes. Mercies at the hands of man and dogs.

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