Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Send In The Clowns: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Dance of the Feather Distraction?

Who are these clowns? What purpose do they have in the Conquest of Mexico story? The clowns are an ever-present, necessary part of the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma — story that recreates the Moctezuma-Cortez clash that we know as The Conquest of Mexico.

The distracting Clown, with La Malinche in background.

The Dance of the Feather features all the main characters: the Moctezuma (Aztec chieftain), Cortes, the warriors on both sides, the dual personas of La Malinche and Doña Marina …

and, the Two Clowns.

Deep in conversation, the chair dance, on July 8, 2017

Little is written about these clowns. However, I have the good fortune of knowing Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras who lives in San Jeronimo Tlacochuaya, just up the road from me.


Moises is very knowledgeable about Zapotec history. At dinner yesterday, he told me the musical score to the dance probably written in the late 19th or early 20th century, when the oompahpah German music became popular in Mexico. Others attribute it to the French.

Giving water to a thirsty Danzante

The dance is likely rooted in pre-Hispanic ritual and practice, incorporated into village feast days to celebrate the church throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca (Central Valleys) after the Conquest.

Quenching thirst is only one Clown task. Keeping the dance area clean is another.

He also explained the symbology of what the Clowns represent in the story:

What is a Nahual?

“Since the dance represents the Conquest, these clowns or “CAMPOS” represent the sorcerers Aztecs used to spy on the Spanish troops. These sorcerers developed the “Nahual” art, so while they were spying they were able to turn themselves into eagles, coyotes or snakes, and Spanish troops could not see that they were being spied upon. Because of that, their masks are not well-defined. They could pretty much represent any animal. Their function in the Dance now is to entertain, steal kisses, clear the area, help dancers etc.”

The pair of clowns, with the chair dance.

There is a prescribed sequence to the days of the Dance. Each day features a different path of the story line, until the last day, when the conquest is brought to conclusion.

Mindful of Los Danzantes’ needs, a practical task

In the end, as the story goes, Mexico thrives because of her strength in syncretism — the blending of two roots, indigenous and Spanish, the union of Cortes with La Malinche, producing a son named Martin, which defines the beginning of the modern state.

Omnipresent, and critical to the Dance of the Feather

 

 

 

Oaxaca #DAYOFDINNERS Raises Funds for MALDEF

Twenty-two Oaxaca, Mexico, residents and visitors came together yesterday in Teotitlan del Valle to share food and community, think and talk about injustice, what being “the other” means, our vision of hope for the future, and what divides us and brings us together as human beings.

Our Oaxaca, Mexico #DayofDinners Group

The #DAYOFDINNERS was organized in the United States as a way to address the polarity and viciousness that has taken hold of the nation.

Welcome to Oaxaca Day of Dinners

Partners included Women’s March on Washington, People’s Supper, Take on Hate, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, I am an Immigrant, United We Dream, The Movement for Black Lives.

Our clean-up crew: Jacki, Merry and Roberta

Jacki Cooper Gordon and I chose to co-host this potluck supper as a fundraiser for MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. We raised over $200 USD. I am certain they would welcome your donation, too, and it’s tax deductible (USA).

Yummy food, great company, conversation

A discussion guide was sent to me by the Day of Dinners organizers, and we used some of the questions as a launching pad for conversation. We were urged to keep our conversations personal, to share our individual stories, provide space for each of us to speak and be heard, to curtail the rant about dysfunctional political leadership.

We raised over $200 for MALDEF

For me, it was a wonderful time to better know friends and acquaintances who make Oaxaca home, and welcome visitors.  I was especially grateful that we had a mix of men and women, native and foreign-born, to gain perspective about culture, tradition, politics and privilege. Can we reconcile differences? How?

Teotitlan del Valle tamales with chicken, mole amarillo, made by Ernestina Chavez

Guiding principles and conversation teasers: Give us your life story in 1-minute!

Hosted by Norma and Jacki in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Pineapple white mousse cake to finish it off!

 

 

 

 

 

WARP Oaxaca Walking Tour: Textiles and Folk Art

Last Sunday, a group of ten WARP conference participants gathered in the lobby of our hotel at 9:30 a.m. We set out for a day-long walking tour of textiles and folk art, concentrating on a few superb venues to see the best of the best.

Walking around Oaxaca on a Sunday morning.

I had set meetings up in advance with two of Oaxaca’s most distinguished shops where the finest textiles are curated and sold, Arte Amuzgo and Los Baules de Juana Cata.

Efigenia, with exquisite Amuzgo huipil, rare caracol purpura (purple snail) dye

I asked the owners if they would select five to ten of their most outstanding textiles, explain the dye and back-strap weaving process, and talk about the maker and the region of origin.

Rare silk + Egyptian cotton huipil, indigo + caracol purpura dyes, San Mateo del Mar

Both are doing an outstanding effort to rescue lost weaving traditions by encouraging villages to bring back an art form on the edge of extinction.

Baby alpaca translates to traditional Mitla weaving, theme of corn + cacao beans

Both have galleries in the historic center of Oaxaca where they offer a market for indigenous artisans to show and sell their work.

Amazing indigo, native coyuchi cotton and caracol purpura blusa, Amuzgos

They give attribution to the weavers, too, by including their names and villages on the hang tags of the clothing.

On the colonial walking street, Macedonio Alcala, Oaxaca

But, first I thought it was important to offer a backdrop to Oaxaca, by explaining a bit about her history and culture. I invited Janet, who was born and raised here, to tell us about her city.

Gold-leaf interior, Santo Domingo Church, Oaxaca

Our first stop was at the cathedral on the Zocalo, where the story of Colonial Oaxaca begins. We then walked up the Alcala, making a coffee stop, a shopping stop for hand-made paper earrings (on special request from Louise), and gathered in front of Santo Domingo Church.

Like a tapestry, silk and Egyptian cotton huipil

Here, we talked about the conversion of indigenous people, the construction of the city, the power of the Dominicans, and the wealth provided by cochineal.

The underside is as beautiful as the front!

With a stop, too, at Andares del Arte Popular before lunch with a welcome from manager Eric Chavez Santiago, by the time we landed at Los Danzantes, hunger had overtaken us. Lots of walking, but we didn’t even complete 10,000 steps!

Efren at Los Baules de Juana Cata explains dedication to preserving Oaxaca textiles

Organic blue corn tortillas, Los Danzantes, Oaxaca

The aperitif, fresh frozen mango mezcal and agua de tuna

Here, I will not bore you with our seven course tasting menu that I ordered in advance.  It included grilled watermelon salad. Coconut shrimp. Rib eye tacos. Wild mushroom lasagna. Let’s go straight to dessert.

Chocolate casacada with house made vanilla ice cream, raspberry drizzle

And, if that wasn’t enough, another taste of my other favorite at Los Danzantes:

Goat cheese flan with toasted, caramelized nuts, honey and chocolate sauce

Oh, and fresh fruit. The figs were out of this world.

I ordered this so we would all stay healthy.

Back into the world of textiles, I want to show you some other beauties that we had the privilege to see this day.

Cochineal dyed silk on Egyptian cotton, embroidered, Ayutla

Irene’s find at Arte Amuzgo

Lollie and Elaine holding down the dressing room fort

Gauze weave cotton by Francisca Palafox, San Mateo del Mar

Getting a closer look

Rare green and coyuchi cotton, native to Oaxaca, Amuzgo

Oaxaca is a vast treasure trove of textile wonderfulness. In the colder mountain regions, the cottons are triple-ply and thick for warmth. Along the coast, the weave is much lighter gauze to cover-up but to also deal with hot, humid weather. Some villages weave. Others work in embroidery.

Close up of Mitla wool rebozo, with traditional corn and cacao pattern

There is a reintroduction of silk weaving, and wool is a perfect wrap around material for rebozos (shawls) to protect from winter chill in the valleys.

Stacks of fine garments at Los Baules de Juana Cata

Early Sunday morning, a perfect time for a stroll in Downtown Oaxaca

Jumping for Joy at Oaxaca’s Jardin Etnobotanico — Ethnobotanical Garden

North Carolina State University students and faculty jump for joy, a tradition

While I edit and process over 1,500 photos from last weekend’s WARP textile conference in Oaxaca, I thought I’d share with you the last set of photos from the May 2017 study abroad program with North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Sciences from Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden. 

Tuna, the fruit of the nopal cactus, is rich in Vitamin C, makes a delicious drink

The garden was rescued from the hands of developers. In the last century, it was a military horse stable, a shooting range and a garbage dump. The plan was to build a luxury hotel on the site. But, through the efforts of Maestro Francisco Toledo and Alejandro de Avila, and others, the area next to Santo Domingo Church and monastery became the beautiful garden that we know and enjoy today. It opened to the public in 1998.

Cactus trees, over 20 feet tall, offer shade; Santo Domingo backdrop

Our bilingual guide, Georgina Rosas, was exceptionally knowledgeable, explaining that the gardens are divided into the diverse ecosystems that reflect Oaxaca’s desert, mountainous and tropical landscape. One can only enter the garden and explore it through an organized tour.

Guide Georgina Rosas explains botanicals to NCSU student Matt

The English language tours are on Thursday and Saturday mornings, starting at 11:00 a.m.  Tickets are a modest 100 pesos per person — well worth the two-hour walk through the plot. It is off-season and we were lucky.

Reflecting pools and organ cactus fences frame the space

There was our group of sixteen people, plus another four visitors on the public tour. A small gathering in comparison to winters when there can be 30 to 40 people participating.

Flor de Mayo in full bloom hot pink and yellow

It was delightful to be in the garden during the spring blooming season. The Flor de Mayo,  as it is known here in Oaxaca, was resplendent in color. We know it as plumeria rubia or frangipani. Of course, the landscape design students loved seeing it, picked up the dropped petals, and the young women attached them to their hair behind their ears.

300-year-old Biznaga cactus, rare and endangered, an unusual, mature specimen

The tropical section of the Jardin Etnobotanico is a lush oasis filled with palms, fruit trees and a dampness that mimics the climate of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. Tucked into the far corner of the garden, beyond the plant propagation area, is a two-story glass greenhouse.

A metal bridge at the top of the greenhouse for long views

The greenhouse was designed by Mexican architect Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido. It is a transparent structure with a center staircase that we could climb for a second-story view of the city and adjoining countryside. Georgina says on a clear day you can see the distant village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Looking down through the glass to earth below

We came to find out that Professor Ricardo Hernandez from NCSU is one of the world’s leading experts on greenhouse lighting. He took a special interest in this structure.

Orchids, bromeliads, moss cling to branches, drip in humidity

I think what the garden does best is connect the dots between past and present, and gives us an outlook to conserve the future of our planet. The plants are intimately connected with the indigenous people of this region. We get a perspective for this listening to Georgina.

The Garden is a teaching laboratory for Mexicans and visitors alike.

We hear about agave as a beverage and fiber source. How the leaves are pounded, washed and then the fibers woven into clothing and field bags.

Professor Anne Spafford explains something she sees to student Ricky

We see the stand of corn, growing with squash and beans — all native to Mexico, her gift to the world — and the agricultural system of milpas.  This is the interdependent chemistry exchange between these three plants that give sustenance for the people, and when grown together, nutrients for the soil.

Beneath the walkway, an ancient aqueduct

Sourcing and conserving water has always been a key part of living in Oaxaca. Georgina explains that there was a water capture system and that water came to the city center from San Felipe del Agua in the foothills above the town.

Maize crop, native to Oaxaca, non-GMO, higher fiber and nutrients

When the Jardin Etnobotanico was first conceived of, the space was barren, bare. It needed to be excavated and prepared with raised beds.  In the process, they discovered an ancient water system and well here, as well as a path that led to what we now know as the Pan-American Highway MEX 190.

Cactus flower, another beauty in the Jardin Etnobotanico, nestled among pulque

Today, rainwater is collected in cisterns beneath the patio of the garden as one of the many conservation measures.

Amazing place for reflection and photos

I’d like to personally thank Jardin Etnobotanico founder and curator Alejandro de Avila B. for permission to publish the photos I took in the garden. The space is unique, featuring only Oaxaca plants. It gives us remarkable perspective into the diversity of people and regions in this magnificent Mexican state, and the interdependence of plants to people as source of food and shelter.

This is definitely a space for meditation and contemplation

I also want to thank Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Juliet Sherk for putting their trust in me to organize this study abroad program for North Carolina State University. It was a pleasure to work with them and to know their very talented students.

Nopal cactus flower

This tropical tree produces fluffy seed pods that indigenous people harvested and spun for clothing fiber.

Seed pods emit fluffy tufts

Oaxaca is textiles, culture, history, people and plants. If you want to know all of Oaxaca, please take time out to visit the Jardin Etnobotanico, at the corner of Reforma and Constitucion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: Crocodiles, Iguanas, Mangroves at Ventanilla Beach

Rooster in the rain, plastic bag lens protector

It was a rollicking day in the skies over Oaxaca yesterday as I made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle from Puerto Escondido via Mexico City, where Tropical Storm Beatriz was having her way with us.

Sheets of rain cover Aeromar window. What do you see?

Sheets of rain fell as I took off in the little Aeromar turboprop. In Huatulco, the news wasn’t so good as flights were canceled, and one North Carolina State University student who decided to stay a couple of extra days, couldn’t get home as planned.

Iguana, happy on a log.

But, I’d like to back-track. Another highlight of the NCSU study abroad trip to Oaxaca was a visit to the Ventanilla lagoon between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, where fresh and salt water mix to support cormorants, crocodiles and iguanas.

Crocodile protecting her nest

The bio-diverse tropical ecosystem is home to white and red mangroves, too.

Under the umbrellas in the rain forest

This is a protected area accessible only by canoe, paddles powered by local guides who volunteer as part of the preservation project of the region.

Let’s take the long view and protect our planet

Our admission fees help support the ecology of the region and the endangered species.

Red mangroves, an endangered specie, Ventanilla Lagoon

We started out by van in a down-pour with no inkling of the storm to come the next days. It was wet, wet, wet and I had to cover my camera lens with a clear plastic bag that I bought from a local food vendor on the beach.

Through the jungle swamp, Ventanilla lagoon, Oaxaca

I think the resulting images give you a sense of the wonder, the tropical humidity, and gauzy landscape shrouded by clouds and rain.

Diving bird drying its wings

By afternoon, the rain cleared. We spent the rest of the day enjoying lunch under the palapa and swimming in a Puerto Angel protected cove. (more about this in another post)

Cicadas hug a tree trunk

First stop en route, fresh coconut juice at roadside stand, Highway 200

We made a stop along the highway to sample fresh coconut, both the milk and the flesh. It was a refreshing break from the heat and gave us a chance to meet some of the local people who make a living harvesting from nearby trees.

Amber, a doctoral student, enjoying fresh coconut milk

Eating fresh coconut with salsa, roadside stand, Pacific Coast Highway 200

An offering of fresh, spicy peanuts — too hot for me!

Anna, Brianna, Kia and Makayla, camaraderie

A marker on the roadside, so we know where we are

Crocodile pond reflections

Professor Ricardo Hernandez and guide talk about preservation, biodiversity

In the lagoon, the families who protect the wildlife explain that they rescue parrots, alligators, crocodiles and monkeys that have been kept in captivity.

David wanted to take this species home, rare color

When the pets get too big and the owners don’t want them anymore, the refuge offers a safe place where the animals and reptiles can be cared for.

Ricky explores the wildlife refuge. These white tail deer were rescued.

Diorama feels real, snap, crackle, pop

David, enjoying the adventure

At the beach, examining the flora, a dreamy gauze

Reptile eggs have a soft, leathery shell. These chicks were just hatched. The reserve has a program to rescue and release.

Baby crocodiles, just hatched

An important message for us all, despite what Agent Orange says

Sea bird takes flight

Endangered sea turtle, National Turtle Center, Mazunte

NCSU, National Turtle Center, Mazunte, Oaxaca

There is also a reforestation project to protect and preserve the mangroves.