Tag Archives: Carnival

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca It’s Dance of the Feather with Basketball and HonkeyTonk Fair

Los Danzantes and the Dance of the Feather, Danza de la Pluma

There’s a lot going on this week in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, where I live part of the year. Next to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Precious Blood and the annual saint’s day celebrations honoring the church founding with the Dance of the Feather, there is a carnival fair with kiddie rides, a basketball tournament, and the daily market. To say there is a traffic jam is an understatement.

Today’s Danza de la Pluma starts at 5 p.m.

How many basketball courts are there in Teotitlan del Valle? Who knows?

At the lighted court, two teams are competing while a crowd looks on. Basketball is a big deal here. This court, next to the village market and across from the church was completed last year, complete with grandstand seating and a raised platform for scorekeeper and the guy who does the play-by-play.

Playing basketball under the shadow of the 17th century church, Teotitlan del Valle

The tournament continues through the entire week and attracts young and older alike. This is important entertainment here. A new court was recently built in my neighborhood and each of the five administrative districts of the village will field their best team for this event.

Ball is in the air. Will he make the hoop? YES!

Some of these young men are talented enough to play for the UNC Tarheels, I think.

Meanwhile, back in the church courtyard, hundreds of visitors are watching

This is the third and last year of this 2016-2018 group of Los Danzantes. It is particularly meaningful now as they get ready to pass the baton to the next group who make the three-year commitment to their church and village traditions.

La Malinche, Moctezuma and Doña Marina hold court

Teotitlan is widely known for its Dance of the Feather. Each group tries to outdo those who came before. They are all capable of high leaps and dizzying spins.

Exit the church courtyard to a world of rides and games

Bright lights, loud music projected via huge loudspeakers, screams of delight from children, and booths filled with all types of cakes and cookies are just beyond the church courtyard.

In the distance, we see the sacred mountain Picacho, but who is paying attention? Surely not those who are playing bingo for a chance to win a large plastic trash pail or those tossing the ring with the hope to land a teddy bear.

Family and friends enjoying nieves, Oaxaca version of ice cream

Families and lovers stroll holding ice cream cones, called nieves here. The word means snow. This treat is more like sorbet or gelato. Moms and dads watch over their children who are deep into the moment.

A commitment to recycling, organic and inorganic waste baskets

I’m with my host family. We stop for esquites and boiled corn cob on a stick.  Both are slathered with mayonnaise, shredded cheese, lime juice, hot sauce and chili pepper.

Slathered corn cob on a stick, a Mexican favorite

The esquite maker — an art form, too

Back in the church courtyard, a mezcal toast — salud!

The tradition here is to give and receive guelaguetza, which represents mutual and community support. This includes the significance of gifting mezcal, fruit, bread and chocolate representing abundance for all. It is the responsibility of those more fortunate to help those in need, especially family members.

Members of the church committee distribute fruit to audience members

Stray dog stops play for a moment

Back at the basketball court, the tournament comes to a stop, interrupted by one of the many roaming dogs in the village that is searching for a scrap of food.

Shadows grow longer as the sun descends

The dancers have danced since 1 p.m. It is almost past eight o-clock in the evening. They take breaks with rest, water and Gatorade. There has been no rain so far, so this year the dancing has been a bit easier as temperatures hover in the low eighties (fahrenheit).

Moms watch their children at the rides.

This is a huge regional festival. People from other villages come to enjoy the party. Here, a group of women from Santa Ana del Valle watch their children and take a respite. I can tell where they are from by their elaborate aprons and pleated skirts, a different costume than what traditional women in our village wear.

The grand finale, a prayer by the dancers in the church courtyard

Inside the church, long lines to pay tribute to the altar of the patron saint

Night descends and fiesta-goers shift from church to the adjacent carnival

 

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Only Some Call It Carnaval

The Monday after Easter in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, begins a five-day ritual practice about sustaining community. This is an ancient tradition that pre-dates the Spanish conquest of 1521. Some call it Carnaval (aka Mardi Gras) but it isn’t. It is called Baile de los Viejos or Dance of the Old Men, according to my interviews with local Zapotecs who know the oral history and culture because they live here and learned the ancient lore from their parents and grandparents.

Today and tomorrow in Teotitlan del Valle, the procession starts around 4 p.m. local time (5 p.m. in Oaxaca) followed by the Dance of the Old Men in the Municipio Plaza.

Carnaval is a pre-Lenten celebration that we know all too well from the festivities in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. It is rooted in a Roman celebration that extended throughout Europe during the middle ages.

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Dance of the Old Men, the Viejitos, is a way for each of the five sections of the village of Teotitlan del Valle to give anonymous feedback to its elected officials, the president and the committee.  It is a self-governing mechanism that gives voice to each person in the community that is transmitted by the masked actors who represent them. The mime is a ritual about giving feedback, paying honor and tribute to leaders and keeping communication open for honest dialog.

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It’s true that the Dance has taken on a more carnival atmosphere, complete with food and drink and ice cream vendors. Children participate in the masked dancing and there is a frivolity in the air. But, this is a serious practice that ensures cohesion and lets the leaders know how well they are doing, if they are meeting expectations and where they may be falling short. Humility is rewarded here. Arrogance is not. Leaders are reminded that they are in their voluntary and elected roles at the behest of the people.

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This is a self-governing model for Mexico’s Usos y Costumbres villages, many of which are in Oaxaca.

The generation of grandfathers and grandmothers want their children to know that this is not Carnaval. It is an important, ancient Zapotec practice about how to live together peacefully, with self-governance. Let’s do our part to help perpetuate the accurate story.

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Oaxaca Mardi Gras with Jacobo and Maria Angeles

It’s Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, we have our own version of Mardi Gras or Carnaval in the Zapotec village of San Martin Tilcajete.  The people know how to put on a good party.

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A group of artists, collectors and supporters of Penland School of Crafts from North Carolina are with me and certified tour guide Rene Cabrera for a week. Our time is almost over but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write a blog post.

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Our days have been packed visiting artist and textile studios, attending workshops, rising early to get to markets, and staying out much too late dining in Oaxaca’s exquisite restaurants.

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Today we arrived in San Martin Tilcajete early to get a jump start on the comparsa that we were told would start at eleven in the morning. But, life in Oaxaca is on Zapotec time.  The Zapotecs know that whoever controls time controls the world.  In reality, the formal festivities didn’t begin until four in the afternoon.

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So we shifted plans, went to the workshop home and studio of famed alebrijes carvers and painters Jacobo and Maria Angeles. What was planned to be an hour demonstration of alebrije-making techniques became a full day of watching the carvers and painters become transformed into revelers and merrymakers.

PenlandMardiGrasBest20-10 PenlandMardiGrasBest20-9 Jacobo and Maria welcomed us and invited us to stay.  They are warm and hospitable people, the largest employer of talented painters and carvers in their village and do so much to promote the artisans of the village and Oaxaca.

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After lunch — anyone for a tlayuda? — several of our more courageous Penland participants were invited to join in the face and body painting to become part of Jacobo and Maria’s comparsa entourage.

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We then followed them down village streets, costumes with cow bells clanging, voices ringing in shouts, cheers and grunts, breaths panting, dust kicking up under our feet.

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It was ninety degrees fahrenheit in Oaxaca today and this was no easy task, keeping up with young men painted to the nines and ready to party.  We sucked a lot of water to stay hydrated and pulled sun hats down over our faces in protection.

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The smarter villagers huddled in the shade of their doorways to watch the revelers shout and clang up and down the streets.

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I’ve got a lot of catching up to do to keep you up to date. This week we did an indigo dye workshop and made shibori scarves, took a cooking class and made mole amarillo, visited San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site and entered the inner sanctum of Oaxaca artist Rudolfo Morales’ bedroom and studio.  We met painters and lithographers, learned about Oaxaca’s contemporary art scene, and tried our hand at making a woodcut. With a mezcal tasting, we learned about this Oaxaca art form and how this artisanal beverage is crafted.

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On Thursday, seven of us will be continuing on to San Cristobal de Las Casas to explore the art and archeology of that wonderful region.  More to come!

Carnival in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Continued

Carnival in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca is a five-day festival that begins on the Monday after Easter.  Why is this?  Carnival is celebrated around the world, and other places in Mexico and Oaxaca before Lent begins.  I asked several local residents who said they did not know.  It’s the way it has always been, they replied.  Perhaps this timing of Teotitlan’s Carnival predates the Spanish conquest and goes back to an ancient pueblo springtime ritual.  Does anyone out there know the answer?

 

Meanwhile, Day Two, hosted by the Mendoza Ruiz weaving family for their section, continued with the same fervor as the first day.  The family invited me as a guest and to take photographs.

    

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Cooking teacher and chef extraordinaire Reyna Mendoza Ruiz prepared an incredible mole amarillo , traditional for Teotitlan del Valle fiestas, with the aid of an army of women. (I’m linking you to a recipe, but for the most authentic experience, come to Teotitlan for a cooking class with Reyna.)  Her brother, weaver Erasto “Tito” Mendoza and owner of El Nahual gallery with his wife Alejandrina Rios, told me the meat was toro when I was served a bowl laden with the sauce covering a succulent meat, fresh potatoes, green beans and choyote squash.

   

The women had been up since 6:00 a.m. preparing for about 100 people who gathered for the 2:00 p.m. Teotitlan time midday meal.  Alejandrina said the beef had been stewing in an olla since the early morning hours.  Reyna offered me a spoon but I preferred the Zapotec way of dipping the fresh made tortilla into the spicy mole and tearing off a bit of the toro to eat together accompanied by fresh horchata.

  

As is tradition, the men are seated separately and served first.  Then, a section of the table is cleared for the abuelos, mothers and children to sit together.  Everyone drinks beer and mezcal as the band plays, the host family begins the bailando, the Zapotec line dance that is de rigueur at every function.  Then, the masquers who danced in the plaza the night before (and all the next night) make their grand entrance.

  

Late in the afternoon, around 6:00 p.m. Teotitlan time, the group will exit the Mendoza Ruiz home and begin its procession to the plaza outside the municipal building in front of the rug market.

    

Again, the crowd will gather to watch the masquers make merry, eat nieves and cream-filled pastries, and sit mesmerized as sun sets.  (Oaxaca time for the celebration is 7-10 p.m. through Friday.)  Best estimates were a crowd of 500-700 people, so get there early to snag a front row seat!

We made our way there by various modes of transportation: by foot, by tuk-tuk, by car and by truck. I didn’t see anyone on the back of a donkey.

The merriment will continue through the night and into the morning, when the troupe returns to the Mendoza Ruiz family at 6:00 a.m. for another meal to fortify themselves for Day Three.  As I write this, it is Day Three and I can hear the band in the distance.  Today, the festival is in our section of town and another family will host the meal and merry-making.  To be continued: food, beer, mezcal, dancing, music, processions, clean-up, and interconnected community.

 

P.S. I managed to take over 700 photos between 3:00 and 9:00 p.m. and culled them down to what I am showing you here using Lightroom, my new lifesaver! thanks to the Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop we just finished.

 

 

Carnival in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Carnival is a Catholic festival traditionally celebrated before Lent, six weeks before Easter.  In Mexico it combines masquerade, dancing, music and mucho mezcal and is usually a two-day event that goes long into the night.

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the rug weaving village located about 15 miles outside of Oaxaca city in the Tlacolula valley, Carnival begins the Monday after Easter and continues for five days.  The Teotitecos believe the time to let loose is after Easter Sunday.  Each of the five districts in the pueblo will host a daily festival that begins around 3 p.m. Oaxaca time.  If you come, look for the big red and blue striped fiesta tent that will cover the patio of the host home.

 

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We were told the festivities start in the municipal plaza at 5:00 p.m. Teotitlan time.  This can be very confusing since Oaxaca city goes on daylight savings time but in Teotitlan time never changes.  So, Oaxaca time is one hour later than Teotitlan time.  I have found it is important to clarify an appointment hour by asking: Oaxaca time or Teotitlan time?  Otherwise, you run the risk of being too early or too late.  The ancient Zapotecs believed that whomever controlled time controlled the world.  They adopted this from the Mayan concept of time. They were right!

 

My friend Merry Foss and I arrived in the plaza at 5:15 p.m. to find it empty.  The benefit was that we got a prime seat at the top of the steep stairway that was once the foundation of the ancient Zapotec temple.  We had a vantage point high above the plaza.  Soon, the abuelas with their grandchildren arrived and filled in the seats around us.  Merry had a conversation with the woman next to us who was wearing a traditional 20-year-old silk rebozo with an extraordinary hand-tied punta (fringe).  The discussion focused on the merits of weaving and wearing rebozos in cotton, silk or art silk/rayon, and how well they drape.  It was a good way to pass the time.

 

By 7:00 p.m. Teotitlan time, Carnival was in full-swing.  Vendors selling bags of potato chips seasoned with salsa and fresh-squeezed lime juice made their way through the crowd. Ringing the plaza were street vendors whose carts were filled with cakes, cookies, churros, cream cones, nieves with fruit flavors like tuna and limon, corn cobs on a stick smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with chili, and aguas de sandia or horchata or lemonade.

Nearly the entire village was present represented by all the generations.  The ceremonial aspects include honoring the village leaders who volunteer for one to three-years to keep the services operating.  They sit in prominent reserved seats.  The volunteer police force are present in new green manta cotton shirts and symbolic clubs.  They are watchful that every one behaves themselves.

 

The band tonight was in fine form and the music was definitely perfect for toe-tapping from the bleachers.

 

Oaxaca Photography Workshops offer cultural immersion, too.