Tag Archives: meaning

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

 

 

 

Is Mexico’s Day of the Dead Like Halloween? Muertos Photos in Black and White.

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, 2015. Selenium filter ala Ansel Adams

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, American Federation of Teachers strike for fair wages, 1960’s, Los Angeles. Selenium filter a la Ansel Adams.

We just finished a week of publishing a Day of the Dead Photography Challenge over at the Facebook site I manage, Mexico Travel Photography. You might want to jump over there to take a look at some amazing shots of this spiritual celebration of life and death. Consider joining and participating if you are not already a member.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

What everyone loves about Mexico is her vibrant color. Everywhere. Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of life and death. There is nothing more vibrant than the flowers that adorn altars and grave sites, market life and costumes.

But, this post takes a turn to Black and White Photography.

Four crosses mark this family plot where generations of people are buried 10 years apart.

4 crosses on family plot where generations can be buried 10 years apart. Copper filter.

A friend asked me today, what is Muertos? Is it like Halloween?  My answer is definitely NO … and SORT OF.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Here is my short-version explanation: When the Spanish came to Mexico in 1521, they co-opted an indigenous ancestor worship tradition (Day of the Dead) and overlaid it with All Saints and All Souls Day observations. All Saints’ Day begins with All Hallows Eve, or Halloween with deep Catholic religious and spiritual tradition.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos, Oaxaca city.

All Souls’ Day commemorates the faithfully departed and is most closely linked to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Skulls in the market. All altars have some form of them.

Skulls in the market. Most altars have some form of them.

The Spanish were very smart conquerors. Rather than obliterating the religious practices of indigenous people, they integrated observances to make conversion much more palatable. It is possible that Muertos was celebrated during another time of year. As with most other rituals, it moved to coincide with a Catholic feast day.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Before the Spanish conquest, Dia de Los Muertos had no link to Halloween. In recent years the US images of pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, black cats and gauzy synthetic cobwebs have migrated across the border as Mexicans born in the USA visit their family in cities and villages throughout the country. We see this blending of commercialism and ancient tradition throughout Oaxaca.

Calavera sculpture, cutting stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

Calavera (skeleton) sculpture, chiseling stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

I’m editing my photos first using Lightroom, a Photoshop editing tool. Then, I convert these photos to SilverEfex, a free black and white software editing tool now owned by Google. It’s easy to download. You can choose filters, film type and manipulate the histogram if you wish. I’m having fun with it and wanted to share what I’ve done with you.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a fresh gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle. Intentional?

In case you are interested it takes me from 2 to 4 hours to make a blog post. This includes selecting and editing the photos and then writing the text (or vice versa!) Thank you for reading and following.

Names, Identity and Change: Why Norma Schafer

Perhaps you have noticed, or not, that my name on the masthead of this blog has changed to Schafer. I thought I might offer an explanation. If you don’t care, just stop reading, delete this post and Move On. This is not about Oaxaca or Mexico or my recent trip to Spain. This is personal. In my creative writing and the work I have published on Minerva Rising, I have learned to write from the depths.

When I married in 2002, I took my husband’s surname. This is something neither of his first two wives had done. In doing so, I believed it would honor him and signal a strong commitment to this union.

Many years earlier, I had taken another man’s name when it was conventional custom and after the dissolving of this first marriage, I kept that name for a very long time because it also belonged to my son.

The man I married in 2002 became my recent ex-husband.  He was Husband Number Two. I was Wife Number Three. Soon, friends told me, there will be a Wife Number Four. I realized it is time for me to put that identity completely behind. Some said, it’s a nice name, you can keep it. But names are symbolic of something else.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-136

As a woman, I have always carried a man’s name, starting with the name of my father. I never liked my father’s name although I loved him very much. It is awkward to say, lengthy, unusual and must be spelled at each introduction. For me, it never fit.

My mother’s family name has resonance. I experimented with spelling (just like they did at Ellis Island) first selecting Shafer. I tacked it on to the married name to ease into a public transition to change. How long does it take? Maybe a year? Do readers even notice? I wasn’t sure. Now, easing into another name is not an option.

What I also know is that I also want to reclaim my identity through my last name. The spelling Schafer makes sense. It means scribe, an ancient Jewish record-keeper, then later a theologian or jurist. I am a contemporary record-keeper of Oaxaca art, culture, history, etc. I document what I experience through photographs and words.

I researched various spellings of my  mother’s family name that has both German and Ashkenazi Jewish origins, and made a choice. Please join me in celebration of Norma Schafer and new beginnings.

Please let me know if you have any questions: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Today, I am leaving North Carolina, returning to Northern California to visit my 99-year old mother and sister, and then will get back to Mexico in early June. It’s been quite a journey.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice 2016