Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Mega Market for Muertos: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

They tell me tomorrow’s market on October 31 will be even bigger in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, as everyone prepares for Dia de los Muertos.

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Huge trucks filled with oranges are parked in front of the church. Vendors sell copal incense, at least five different varieties of marigolds, brilliant magenta rooster’s crown, pecans and walnuts, lots of handmade Oaxaca chocolate and pan de muertos — the special bread of the season made with butter, knotted and topped with a Jesus or Mary milagro.

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Beyond the market courtyard is Picacho rising to a pristine blue sky as if making a special blessing on the village.

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Later, I get water delivered to fill the rooftop cistern. Danny tells me his abuelos will be here with his family for an extra day this year, arriving from the underworld on Saturday and departing on Monday.

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It is a festive time. The cane branches will arc over each home alter to provide a door for departed loved ones to re-enter and visit their families. They will be guided by incense, the scent of flowers, the smell of hot chocolate, tamales and mezcal.

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Death and life are one, integral to what it means to exist. This morning I hang papel picado and little cut-out-doll skulls across the patio. Vases of marigolds and incense fill the house where I live with memory for my own father and grandparents.

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Soon, my son will arrive and we will join comparsas and family meals. It is a festive time in Oaxaca.

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Pop-Up Show + Sale — Huipils from San Felipe Usila, October 28, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • Pop-Up Huipil Show and Sale from San Felipe Usila
  • at Restaurante La Olla, Calle Reforma #402, Oaxaca, Centro Historico in front of Las Bugambilias B&B
  • Tuesday, October 28, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — One day only

I must confess that I left two great huipiles behind in San Felipe Usila and I’ve been ruminating for three days, since I returned to Oaxaca last Friday afternoon, about how to get them to me!

So, this morning I created a Pop-Up Huipil Show and Sale to make the trip worthwhile for two families who live in this remote mountain village in the Papaloapan Region of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca. I spent a couple of hours hunting them down and then making the arrangements!

Please come and support these incredible weavers whose work you will recognize from the Guelaguetza Dance of the Flor de Piña. Prices start at about 1,500 pesos for pieces made on a back strap loom with intricate designs incorporated into the weft.

Meet the Longino Tenorio Mendoza family and the Hermalinda Inocente Isidro family. Together, they will bring about 40 pieces with them for you to see and describe their work.

I will need a fluent Spanish-English speaker to volunteer to translate, please! We will ask them to talk about their work, their lives and the designs they create.

Just a few examples of what you may see:

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Tuxtepec, Oaxaca: Huipils, Dance of the Pineapple Flower and Guelaguetza

Oaxaca’s July Guelaguetza features some of the most glorious traje — indigenous dress — throughout the state. But few, if any, surpass the beauty from the state of Tuxtepec.

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I am on a textile tour to discover the artistry of some of Oaxaca’s most remote villages. The evening our group arrives in Tuxtepec from Veracruz, we are treated to a fashion parade. Featured are the region’s woven and embroidered garments that we will see over the next several days. It’s like attending a sneak preview!

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They varied from the more simple daily wear of traditional women to those that are more elaborate and reserved for special occasions.

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The presentation is organized by Jose de Jesus Hernandez, known as Chucho. He teaches dance and has a collection of authentic dresses. Chucho explains that fifty-eight years ago there was a movement to return to the roots of the region by the younger generation. That’s why the Flor de Piña dance was created.

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I realize that all the different huipil designs in this one dance at the Guelaguetza is a compilation to express the diverse weaving and embroidery styles of Mazateco and Chinanteco communities that are part of Tuxtepec.

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As our week together comes to a close, we return to Tuxtepec one last time. Dance master Hector Arturo Hernandez meets us at the hotel, teaches us the Flor de Piña dance steps and brings huipils from his collection to show and tell. I would say we were not equal to the task of keeping up with the strenuous foot work of the dance!

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More than one hundred and eighty young women audition to represent these Chinanteco and Mazateco villages. Only thirty-six are selected, says Don Hector Arturo, who has been teaching the Danza Flor de Piña for the past thirty-five years.

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He recruits and selects the dancers, and serves as the narrative voice for the Tuxtepec delegation at the Guelaguetza. As soon as I hear him speak, I recognize him. Our models for Don Arturo’s collection are women on the tour.

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In 1958, the governor of Tuxtepec decided that the jarocho music and dance presentation at the Guelaguetza did not fully integrate Tuxtepec with Oaxaca, since jarocho is a part of Veracruz identity. So, the Danza Flor de Piña was choreographed and orchestrated to the poem of native son Felipe Matias Velasco.

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By doing this, the back strap loom weaving and embroidery of these remote Oaxaca villages became a distinguishing feature of the Guelaguetza, something that we all identify with its pageantry and with Oaxaca.

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Those who study Oaxaca culture and communities know that the term guelaguetza is NOT about this annual tourist attraction that is a dance interpretation of the word. It is a way of life, the foundation for maintaining community and mutual support in indigenous pre-Hispanic Mexican villages.

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Note: These finest quality huipiles range in price from 1,500 pesos to over 6,500 pesos. Some take more than three or four months to make. The current exchange rate is about 13 pesos to the dollar. The average wage of an agricultural or hourly wage worker in Mexico is 100 pesos or eight dollars a day. Tourism is Oaxaca’s economic engine.

How To Get There

If you are more inclined to travel independently rather than taking a tour, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175 to Tuxtepec. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.

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You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle Nacional. There are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Pedro Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz.

This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.

 

 

 

Textile Fashion Show: Journey to Remote San Felipe Usila, Oaxaca

For the past six days I have been on a textile journey through the Cuenca del Papaloapan Region where the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range meets the coastal plain of Veracruz. This has been off-the-beaten-path travel into remote villages where textile traditions, back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery techniques, manage to survive in a dominant culture invaded by polyester, machined fabrics and low-wage, Chinese-made clothing.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-8Travel took us overland starting from Veracruz, the oldest port in Mexico, south along the Gulf of Mexico to Tuxtepec, a jungle wonderland and gateway into Oaxaca state from the east.  Today, I’m featuring the indigenous dress of San Felipe Usila, the most isolated village of our tour.

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From Tuxtepec, it takes us three hours to get to Usila on a winding mountain road, half of which is unpaved. But, the gift of meeting some extraordinary weavers who are incredibly hospitable make the trip worthwhile.

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We are greeted with the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful pieces followed by a lunch of chicken and mole amarillo, and handmade tortillas fresh from the comal. Dinner is a delicious, home-cooked traditional stone soup that is a pre-Hispanic recipe originating from Usila. Overnight lodging in Usila is basic and clean. A hotel is located on the outskirts of town down a dirt road that turns to mud in the rain. It’s a rainforest here, so the climate is tropical, damp and lush.

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Many of the plants and animals of the region are reflected in the weaving designs including flowers, squirrels, corn, butterflies and the tree of life.  Every woman has her own interpretation of the mythic and actual world that is translated to cloth, so each weaver creates a different and very distinct design.

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We learn that the two headed eagle represents the duality of life, the good and the bad. We see quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, and the eye of god that offers protection. We are told about the four cardinal directions, how they are incorporated into the woven story and their pre-Hispanic significance.

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We hear that traditional women want to be buried in their wedding huipil so that their husbands will recognize them in the afterlife. We see that only the grandmothers continue to wear the huipil as a daily garment.

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For holidays, festivals and special occasions there is more elaborate dressing with the media-gala and gala huipiles, adorned with flowers, ribbons, lace and intricate detailing that is unparalleled.

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Many of the ancient techniques of back strap loom weaving to create traditional clothing has been lost by some villages. There is a dedicated effort to teach young women the techniques to keep the tradition alive. But, it’s a challenge. People everywhere want an education and higher paying jobs.

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Today, the major markets for these garments are textile lovers and collectors who purchase them in many fine Oaxaca galleries. Few dare to venture into the hinterlands to find these treasures on their own.

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Oaxaca Cultural Navigator offers in-depth, educational workshops usually based in one location to establish a sense of place. We are not a tour or guide service. I decided to travel with Tia Stephanie Tours to discover the source of this beautiful, ancient, woman-centered tradition. We moved from village to village across a wide swath of territory at a racer’s pace to get an excellent overview.

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If you are more inclined to get there as an independent traveler, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.

You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle NacionalThere are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Miguel Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz. This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.

Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.