Tag Archives: Mexico

Taking Big Leaps–Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Wednesday, July 10, 2019–This group of new dancers start their three-year commitment to church, community and family this year. The most touching moment for me was to be in the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character in the Danza de la Pluma just before they set out to the church plaza to dance for three hours until sunset on July 9.

Grandma raises her hand to make the sign of the cross in blessing

Here I witnessed loved ones bestow their blessings on him. It was like anointing their son and grandson with the benediction of all the generations who came before, offering God’s favor and protection. It was as if all the young men over decades who participated in this sacred dance were present, too. It is an honor and a commitment to perform this service. I am told it is life-changing.

The ritual is repeated year after year, but the first year is a special test for a new group of dancers for their faith, endurance, strength, passion, dedication, coordination and precision. It is also an important exercise in mutual support. Dancers are not individuals. They are part of a team, and it is their team effort that underlies the essence of how this Usos y Costumbres community self-governs.

The Dance of the Feather, which tells the story of the Spanish Conquest from the indigenous point-of-view, is meticulously choreographed. The village symphony orchestra/band knows exactly what to play as the story unfolds. As each step is taken down the cobbled streets to the church, there is a cadence that is repeated in the retelling.

Parents of La Malinche help her prepare

In the altar room at the Moctezuma’s home, family members help each member of the group dress in their costume. This takes time since each element of the dress is an elaborate undertaking.

Dad attaches silk scarves that will fly like wings
Doña Marina, age six, fortifies herself to prepare for three hours of dancing
Grandmothers peel onions and garlic for the barbecue stew

Behind the scenes, another type of choreography takes place. It is the work men, women and girls and boys who do the food preparation and service. Every bit is made by hand. The chickens are slaughtered, boiled and the meat is shredded for tamales.

Each made by hand memela is the blessing of a woman’s hand
Drinking tejate — muy rico — a pre-Hispanic tradition

The toro (bull) is slaughtered and prepared for barbacoa de res. The tejate is stone ground by hand, with home roasted cacao beans. Can I talk about the memelas? I’ve never tasted anything so good — comal toasted corn patties, slathered with bean paste, fresh salsa, shredded Oaxaca cheese, a drizzle of shredded lettuce.

Natividad serves memelas to a guest

We feed each other because we take care of each other. Our survival and continuity depends on it.

This is a hallmark for Teotitlan del Valle and other Usos y Costumbres communities in Mexico. They function so well because of this bond. Mutual support is about respect for heritage and relationships. You do it because it is a value to the self, the other and makes the whole stronger.

Moctezuma flanked by La Malinche (L) and Doña Marina (R)

The dancers who participate in the Dance of the Feather embody these values, embrace them, practice them and model them for others.

Taking big leaps — the strength and prowess of the dancers

The dancing will resume again in the church courtyard on Friday, July 12, at 5:00 PM. Check Oaxaca Events for schedule and other festivities around town.

Village officials and guests offer support — feather crowns on the patio during a rest

As I said goodbye to family members of the dance group, they asked me to tell you how important their culture is to them, how they want to communicate the beauty and friendship of Mexico, and how strongly they are committed to preserving traditions, and extend an invitation to visit.

Church is symbol of faith — but the commitment comes from the heart
Clowning around with the Clown character — symbol of Aztec spy

There are two clown figures included in the Dance of the Feather. They serve multiple functions. Primarily they are the dancers’ helpers, holding crowns when a scarf needs to be retied, bringing water and rehydration drinks, communicating with the officials when a bio-break is needed. They also are jesters that provide fun, frivolity and antics to the story — a diversion of sorts.

They will tease and cajole audience members, like me. Jajajajaja. In the original story, they are the Aztec spies who disguised themselves to get close to the Spanish conquistadores and bring information back to the Aztec generals. There were two battles with the Spanish. The Aztecs won the first.

Parade of the Canastas and Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Opening ceremonies for the Dance of the Feather in Teotitlan del Valle always begin with a 5:00 PM Monday convite starting in the plaza courtyard. Convite translates into banquet, invitation, feast. Here, it is a procession that by my definition is a Feast For the Eyes.

Today, Tuesday, July 9, Los Danzantes de la Pluma will begin their full presentation at 5:00 PM in the church courtyard. Tomorrow, on July 10, they will start at 12:00 PM noon and dance until about 8:00 PM.

When I’m here, this is a desfile that I do not want to miss. This year is special, too, because a new group of dancers begins their three-year commitment to church and community. They will dance at every community-wide celebration as part of their promise to participate.

We got back to Teotitlan from the city just in time for the festivities to begin. Young women and girls as young as three years old, dressed in traditional fiesta traje, gathered in the church plaza with their ornate decorated baskets to prepare for the parade through the streets.

La Malinche (l.) and Doña Marina (r.) flank Moctezuma

We were waiting for the Danzantes to arrive. They had left the home of the Moctezuma, the head of the group, and walked behind the band for about a mile to the church. You could follow their path by the sound. In full dance regalia complete with corona (crown), rattles, amulets, and a costume that combines Spanish and pre-Hispanic symbols, they were a sight to behold.

I’ve written a lot here about the syncretism between indigenous spirituality and mysticism combined with Spanish Catholicism which comprises modern Mexico — Mestizo culture. Malinche is the slave given to Cortes who was his lover-translator. Remember, she was a slave and had no choice! Doña Marina is the same woman after being baptized in the church. The conversion is an important part of Mexican mixed identity.

The procession winds through village streets for several blocks

My Note: The Dance of the Feather is a re-telling of the conquest story through dance. It is part of Oaxaca’s oral history. Zapotec, the native language, is not written. In traditional villages, it is part of the usos y costumbres laws and traditions. The dance has become commercialized and performed by professionals during the annual Guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s auditorium. Please don’t confuse the commercial folkloric dance, which requires expensive tickets, with its original purpose.

Canastas are heavy, difficult to carry

There were probably four hundred people assembled, including villagers who would follow the procession through the streets. Accompanying the procession were official representatives from each of Teotitlan’s five sections, each a sponsor for a group of young women, plus other patrons who provide the means to build and maintain their canasta baskets.

On-lookers and blocked traffic. Patience is a virtue.

All along the procession path, locals assembled in front of houses and on corners to watch and to pay respects.

More … My Oaxaca Tienda Sale

I’m leaving for the USA on July 10 and I’ve made a second loop through my collection to offer a few more pieces for sale here. I’m now a size small-petite and most of these artisan made clothes are size large and extra large. Most are new, never worn, bought directly from artisans who asked me to help them. Personally curated!

Purchase must be made by Monday, July 8 to get into my luggage. I will mail from USA.

How to Buy: I have numbered each garment with price. Please send me an email norma.schafer@icloud.com and tell me which piece you want by number. Include your mailing address. I will send you an invoice and then bring the piece with me to mail to you after July 11. Mailing cost of $8 USD per package will be added. For Canada shipments, add $30 USD.

#1. Las Sanjuaneras, San Juan Colorado huipil, soft hand-spun native creamy white and coyuchi cotton woven on the back-strap loom, $325 USD
#2. Blusa, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, hand-embroidered collar, back-strap loomed, $115
#3. San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas, blusa, $85
#4. SOLD. Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas Gala Blusa, $225 USD, finely woven
#5. Michoacan, needlepoint cross-stitch, $185
#6. SOLD. Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, white on white gauze weave. Small head opening. $95.
#7. SOLD. Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. Hand-embroidered, $125
#8. SOLD. Amusgo, Oaxaca, $75 USD
#9. Amusgo, Oaxaca. Gauze weave with supplementary weft, $145.
#9. Khadi Oaxaca Quechquemitl, native coyuchi brown cotton, handwoven, $95

My Oaxaca Tienda: Sale

I’m leaving for the USA on July 10 and as is my custom before I go back, I loop through my collection and offer a few pieces for sale. I’m now a size small-petite and these beautiful clothes are large-extra large. They are never worn or gently worn, perhaps a couple of times.

How to Buy: I have numbered each garment with price. Please send me an email norma.schafer@icloud.com and tell me which piece you want by number. Include your mailing address. I will send you an invoice and then bring the piece with me to mail to you after July 11. Mailing cost of $8 USD per package will be added. For Canada shipments, add $30 USD.

#1. Santiago Jamiltepec blusa, backstrap loomed, cotton with embroidery, $68 USD
#2. SOLD. Las Sanjuaneras huipil, San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, hand-spun and woven cotton, natural dye with oxidized pomegranate, $285 USD
#3. SOLD. Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, from Dreamweavers cooperative, woven by Amada, with coyuchi native cotton, indigo and caracol purpura shell dye, $325 USD
#4. SOLD. From Remigo Mesta’s shop Los Baules de Juana Cata, back-strap loomed, cotton gauze, shimmering turquoise and rich brown colors, $165
#5. SOLD. Amantenango, Chiapas, cotton blouse, smocked, embroidered, $65 USD
#6. SOLD. Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, machine embroidered traditional blouse, $135 USD
#7. Puebla Mountains, embroidered and smocked blusa, fine detail, $155 USD
#8. SOLD. San Juan Colorado cooperative Jini Nuu, back-strap loomed blusa, $110 USD

Oaxaca Mango Ginger Shrub — A Drink, Not a Plant

What is a Shrub? you may ask. It is a drinking vinegar, usually a fruit concentrate that is added to sparkling water, tablespoon by tablespoon depending on your strength preference, to give it a zesty flavor. Since it’s non-alcoholic and slightly fermented, it is a perfect drink over ice for those who don’t want an alcoholic beverage.

It’s also good to add to sparkling white wine or for in the mixed drink fixin’s.

What to do with leftover pulp. Don’t discard it!

I came across a ginger shrub at a health food grocery in downtown Oaxaca. It was 50 pesos for about 2 ounces. That’s about $2.65 USD. Give it a try, I thought. And, wow, was it delicious added to club soda. I’m going to make some.

It’s even tasty with plain water over ice! Refreshing.

So, I researched recipes online. There was none for mango and none for mango combined with ginger. I had two very large and very ripe mangoes in the refrigerator. I’ll use them for this experiment.

Mangoes are plentiful here this time of year. They grow on the coast of Oaxaca and most of them are the size of a large man’s fist. They cost about 5 pesos each.

Shrub concentrate after filtering pulp from liquid

My Mango-Ginger Shrub Recipe:

Peel and dice the mango, separating fruit from pit. Put in a medium size mixing bowl. Total should yield 2 cups of fruit. Mash fruit until you get a pulp.

Dice 5 cubes of candied ginger. Add to mixing bowl. I buy the candied ginger here in Oaxaca at the health food store.

Add 1-1/2 C. apple cider vinegar and 1/2 C. balsamic vinegar to the bowl.

Add 2 C. Mexican cane sugar to the bowl.

Stir well. Cover bowl with clean dish cloth. Set a plate on top and put aside so as not to disturb. Let sit for 48 hours, stirring once every 24 hours.

Drain liquid from pulp. Pour liquid into glass jar or clean container and refrigerate. Will keep up to 3 weeks. To use, put 1-2 T. into a drinking glass. Add ice cube and seltzer water. Stir and drink.

Because this drink is slightly fermented and has a vinegar sweet sour flavor, I suspect it is also an excellent pro-biotic and belly soother.

Yield: About 8 fluid ounces.

All the recipes I read recommended that you discard the fruit after extracting the liquid. I say NO. Use it to top crackers with cheese and avocado. Delicious. Muy rico!