Follow Me Photo Study Tour: Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration through the eyes of your camera, with those who lives here? This is a walking study tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more!

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Amateur photographers who have a range of skill, from no experience to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.

 

 

 

 

Teotitlan’s Dance of the Feather: Taking Big Leaps

The Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma — is a cultural phenomenon in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca — Oaxaca’s central valleys. It’s especially true here in Teotitlan del Valle where the church feast day celebration is perfected to an art form.

Leaps and fancy footwork define Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feathers

If you are in Oaxaca now through the weekend, you will want to come out either today, July 5, or Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9, from 2 until 9 p.m. when the dancers will act out the complex story of the conquest, and the battle between the Aztecs and Spaniards.

I’m told that it’s the indigenous people who always win in this version of the story!

Dancing in front of the Moctezuma, who is flanked by Dona Marina and Malinche

Doña Marina/La Malinche represent the same woman and syncretism of modern Mexico. Yet, this is a personal story about conquest, slavery and how a woman became maligned as part of the cultural history.

Skill, athleticism, concentration for dancing

I’ve attended this annual festival almost yearly since 2006, when cousins and nephews of my host family made their three-year commitment to dance in honor of community, religion and customs. Their last dance was in 2009.

They dance this way for up to 12 hours, with few breaks.

This is the second year for the group that is dancing now. They have one more year, and then the feather headdresses are passed along to the next set of young men. This is not a performance, it is a serious act of commitment.

In the church courtyard with sacred mountain Picacho watching over us.

As I sat and then stood, and then wandered around the periphery, I was reminded how much energy goes into this endeavor. And, how energizing it is to give witness to this tradition that has gone on here for decades, maybe even centuries. The entire pueblo comes out to pay tribute and applause.

La Malinche, represents Cortez’ indigenous slave who becomes Dona Marina, convert

This is a pre-Hispanic tradition that was incorporated, like many others, into the Catholic church saint’s day celebrations. In reality, it is an oral history through dance and mime and music.

All come to watch, the abuelos (grandparents) and ninos (children)

Inside the inner church patio, the canastas (baskets) sit, ready to be stored for another year.  Young girls wearing traditional dress carried them on their heads the night before. The parade through the streets touches every neighborhood.

Canastas, with notations about neighborhood, mayordomo (sponsor), when made

Onlookers take seats under the corridor for shade

On the other side of the church wall, on the streets surrounding the permanent village market, is a different scene. It’s a carnival. Games, rides, food stands, music compete for entertainment.

Juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional life

This experience is mesmerizing for children. It’s like a circus mid-way or a Midwest USA State Fair.

The kids love it, pure fun, cotton candy, fast, fast.

Take a seat. Grab and go tacos al pastor. Win a teddy bear. Oh, yes, the pastries, ice cream and candy are divine.

This is an intricate web of bamboo scaffolding. See the Dancer, top left.

Back inside the church courtyard, the men are setting up the scaffolding and fireworks for the 10:00 p.m. show. It’s called a Castillo or castle.

It’s a complex structure of bamboo with spinning parts, explosives attached!

And the dancing continued until sunset — puesta del sol — when the church bells rang and the dancers set their headdresses down on the brick floor until the next day.

Dusk brings the snack vendors to feed the fireworks watchers

I couldn’t stay up that late! But, I watched from my rooftop in the distance.

 

A mile away, I can see the church and flags, hear the delight

Footnotes of History — Dance of the Feather

About 500 years ago the Spaniards conquered the Zapotecs of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.  Many indigenous people died, and it is said that the population was reduced by 90% during the two centuries that followed. From the stories of the battle, this beautiful dance emerged, which is carried out in certain cities in the center of Oaxaca, and is also a part of the Folkloric Festival called Guelaguetza in late July.

Dancers catch their breath, walking in a circle, rattles shaking

LA DANZA DE LA PLUMA, is originally from the town of Cuilapan de Guerrero, a municipality adjacent to the town of Zaachila and the municipality of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan.  The dance is as old as Oaxaca culture and still preserved. The main characters are a Moctezuma, a Malinche and the converted Malinche who became known as Doña Marina, plus the two jesters or mockers.

Women watch relatives from under the corridor

 

Children grab a birds-eye perch to get a better look

Balancing this heavy headdress is not easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yagul Archeological Site: Oaxaca’s Hidden Treasure

Yagul is one of those magical places in Oaxaca that not many people visit. When I first went there in 2005, it was mostly rubble, secreted away up a hill beyond Tlacolula, on the way to Mitla. Access was (and still is) a narrow, cracked, pot-holed macadam pavement.

Stunning view of the Tlacolula valley and beyond

In those intervening years, there has been progressive archeological restoration, with good signage, uncovered tombs, and vistas of the Tlacolula valley that are unparalleled.

Over the rock wall, the valley below

I guess I love this site most because of the caves where the remnants of early corn (maize) was carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago. It tells the story of human kind in Mesoamerica, the resourceful people who developed the edible kernel from teosintle.

Yagul has a ball court, too. About the same size as Monte Alban.

There are cave paintings here, but they are not open to the public. One can only enter by arrangement with INAH and go accompanied with an archeologist.

How old is this cactus? Others, the size of trees, dot hillsides.

I also love it because of the peace, tranquility, the wind on the mountain top, the open spaces with extraordinary views, the ability to walk and climb unfettered by masses of visitors piling out of tour vans, unbothered by vendors selling replicates and fake jewelry.

Judy and Gail descend from the highest platform

Climb to the top of the mountain to discover another tomb. Imagine that you are standing sentry, guarding the trade route between north and south, protecting your Zapotec territory.  Once a foot path, the road is now called the Pan-American Highway.

A recently uncovered passageway beneath a mound

Yagul is only about seven miles from where I live. I take friends there who come and visit. In June, Judy and Gail went with me. As I roamed the land, I realized that there has been more unearthed there in recent months: Two entry ways at the top of one of the mounds.

Where recent dig uncovered an entrance

There are lots of mounds in this valley. Most of them are said to be archeological sites waiting to be unearthed.  They have been covered for centuries by dirt, rocks, weeds. The Mexican federal government does not have the resources to uncover them all.

Original limestone plaster walls of Yagul

There are a handful of small sites under restoration along this route from Oaxaca to Mitla.  Near Macquixochitl is Dainzu, a significant site undergoing restoration.

Wild flowers in rock outcroppings, rainy season

Close to Tlacolula is Lambiteyco with a small museum. When I drive along the road, I see foundations of platforms that could once have been temples.

Courtyard of one of the ancient residences, Yagul

Few stop at these sites. Why? Perhaps because they are not as fully developed as Mitla or Monte Alban. Perhaps because they are not as famous or promoted as heavily. They offer tourists an opportunity to explore and imagine what lies below.

Frog sculpture near the tomb, where you can climb down and enter

Yagul is a great destination for families where most of the area is accessible to walking, hiking and climbing.  If you are so inclined, bring a picnic or a snack. Sit under the shade and think about life here centuries ago.

Cactus trunk, woody, strong enough for shelter

It’s worth it to come out here and stay a few days to explore the region — a nice contrast to the city. Stay in Teotitlan del Valle, at either Casa Elena or Las Granadas B&B. Both offer posada-style hospitality at reasonable cost. Hosts can arrange local taxi drivers to take you around to visit the archeological sites.

Taking a break under the shade

Videos–A World of Makers in One T-Shirt: #whomademyclothes

Today, I’m setting out to take visitors from Australia to meet some of the Oaxaca weavers of fine textiles who work in natural dyes. They make the finished product. But it gets me to thinking about all the people who were part of the creation process.

I think, today, I will ask our weavers, Where does the dye come from? Where does the wool come from? Who spins it? What about the cotton? Is it imported? Grown in Mexico? Commercially spun? This whole discussion makes me more curious!

Here is a short, one-minute + video from NPR sent to me by Judi Ross. It’s beautiful and personal. It’s a visual story worth taking time out to see.

 

#whomademyclothes

I think its fascinating to think about all the people in the world whose hands have touched what we wear.

Saludos,
Norma

https://apps.npr.org/tshirt/#/you

Who Made My Clothes? Digging Deeper Into Fashion and Consumption

Who Made My Clothes? is a program of the Fashion Revolution. I’ve been following them and its co-founder Carry Somers since she came to Oaxaca in February 2016 to take one of my natural dye and weaving textile excursions.

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

I introduced her to some of the weavers who make my clothes and the rugs that adorn floors and walls where I live in Teotitlan del Valle and Durham, North Carolina.

When I got notice of an online course Who Made My Clothes? produced by Exeter University and Fashion Revolution, I decided to sign up.  The first of three sessions over the next weeks went online yesterday. I’m eager to tell you about it.

But first, what also prompted me to pursue this course was the discussion we had during the WARP Conference about recognizing and naming the people who make our garments.

African indigo tie-dyed cotton that I sewed into dress and skirt

This is true here in Oaxaca, where many of us value, buy and wear beautiful locally made dresses and blouses. If we can afford it, we might buy from Remigio Mesta’s Los Baules de Juana Cata, from the Textile Museum Shop, or from Odilon Morales at Arte Amuzgos. Buying fewer pieces and choosing better quality can be one justification for paying a higher price.

This is a mantra of the Fashion Revolution: the high cost of fast fashion, disposable clothes. Who is paying the price? Our planet and the workers.  In the end, we are, too because we are contributing to a system of over-consumption.

  • 75% of garment workers are young women
  • the world purchased 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago
  • in the USA in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes ended up in the landfill or incinerator

If we buy on the street, we have no idea who made the garment or what they were paid for their labor. Usually, it’s a reseller who takes this work, either buying outright or on consignment.

  • What are we doing to make our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to mend our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to buy at up cycle/thrift sales?
  • What are we doing to buy directly from the maker?
  • Do we read labels? Check clothes “ingredients?”

The WARP conference was also about fashion designer theft, talk of label switching by designers in the NYC fashion industry, and mainstream appropriation of indigenous cultural patterns.

A challenge in this week’s online lesson was to read about the 2013 tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, when more than 1,100 people died, mostly young women. From this rubble, the Fashion Revolution was born.

The women in the building were making clothes for brands we all know: Gap, Walmart, H&M, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Questions came up: Who is ultimately responsible for worker safety? The brands, the subcontractors, the government? All of the above?  How does one person make a difference?

Family mourns death of loved one, Rana Plaza, Bangladesh

So, the course developers are asking me to look in my closet, evaluate what’s there, choose my favorite garment(s), ask whose lives are in the making of these clothes? What materials: cotton, synthetic, linen, flax? How old is the oldest thing in my closet?

The dress and skirt I made (above) last week, took me hours of labor, a total of about four days. I’m particular. I like French seams. I also made my own pattern. I appreciate good garment construction and fabric.

There may still be room in the course.  We have a week to finish the first module, and its insightful, reflective and purposeful to ask: Who made my clothes?

If we care about the food we ingest, we can also care about what we choose to say about ourselves in what we wear.