Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle, Nine Days of Awe

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico celebrates the winter holiday with a posada on nine nights before Christmas Day, starting on December 15. Starting yesterday afternoon and going into the night, I participated with a small group of visitors from the USA, Canada and Ireland interested in joining me to explore the history, culture and traditions of this Zapotec-Catholic practice, rooted in Spanish-European practice.

Entering the house where Mary and Joseph will rest, December 22-23

Posada means inn or we might know it better as a roadside tavern where weary travelers take rest for the night. The story of Mary and Joseph as they make their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem to pay the Roman tax is well-known. They find a stable for animals to sleep in on December 24 in Bethlehem when the inn is full. This is where Jesus is born.

The altar room at the December 21-22 Posada

Here in Teotitlan del Valle it is a little more complex, a mix of spiritual seriousness and long-held ceremony.

I went in advance to ask permission of two host families that sponsored the posada on December 22 — the home where Mary and Joseph were brought on the night of December 21 and the home where they would be carried to on the night of December 22.

Procession leaving one house for another

Only family members are usually invited inside the home, although all of us in the village can take part in the candlelight walk when the religious figures are carried from one house to the next.

Piñatas celebrate birthdays, and this one is no exception

There is a posada today and the last one is tomorrow, December 24. The host family for the night of December 24 will go with the Church Committee to the December 23 host and ask for blessings. A string of fragrant jasmine flowers is placed on the litter that carries Mary and Joseph to their next resting place by the head of the village religious committee.

Making the transition from one house to the next, symbolic

This is also symbolic of a smooth transition, expressing care and trust. There is ritual around community trust here that is essential to village survival and well-being. It is not written by codified by behavior over thousands of years.

Church altar boys guide the way with lanterns

You might think the Posada is a purely Catholic tradition inherited from Spaniards, but it incorporates the Zapotec practice of Guelaguetza. This is NOT the July folkloric dance so popular in Oaxaca. It is a way of community and family support to ensure survival and to meet needs and obligations.

Reindeer dancing from rooftops in 60 degree F. weather

The Posada is also adapting to contemporary lifestyles and mass communications. Blinking reindeer dance from rooftops here and blue icicles drip from roof lines. Frosty the snowman has a red nose that glows. Imagines of snowflakes are projected on adobe walls. The United States of America has infiltrated traditional culture.

Icicles aglow illuminate the cobblestone street

We are seamless, we are universal, we are adapting. One Posada host family has a daughter living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and two children. Another Posada host family lives in Moorpark, California, but maintains strong cultural ties to Teotitlan del Valle, where university educated children return regularly to visit grandparents and maintain their heritage.

It takes a village (of family members) to cook, wash, clean, serve

Our group talked with Pedro Montaño about how Christmas has changed in Teotitlan, comparing current practices and the more simple approach of a generation ago, when the crèche assembled with homemade wood figures, forest grasses and moss from the Sierra Juarez mountains nearby.

Learning about posada history from Pedro Montaño

Then, piñatas were filled with fruit and candles were carried to light the path since there was no electricity.

There is no judgment here. Only observation. There is plenty we can observe about traditional practices around the world and how they have changed as people have more disposable income and television teaches and creates aspirations.

Firecrackers and the band draw people out along the way

I always like to ask: What is authenticity? To change and adapt is part of the human experience. To expect that people keep their “authentic” practices is, IMHO, a colonial approach to saying, it’s okay for us to change but let’s keep them the way they are because it’s far more interesting for us.

Getting ready to carry Mary and Joseph to their next posada

Happy Holidays. I hope you come to Teotitlan del Valle this year to experience this remarkable celebration for yourself.  The posada tonight will start aound 6 p.m. at the corner of Pino Suarez and Zaragoza near the new chapel.

Children learn to appreciate their culture with parental help

The sons of Fortino Chavez Bautista, California born, bred and educated

The procession is serious and somber.

We built a Nacimiento (manger) in honor of the old ways of decorating

 

 

 

 

Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat, June 22-29, 2018, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lifting Your Creative Voice Writing and Yoga Retreat

  • When: Arrive Friday, June 22  and Depart Friday, June 29
  • Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is our 8th year for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.  We welcome new, inexperienced writers and those who are more seasoned and want to go to the next level.  Some have published and many dream about it. We may write memoir, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and fiction. The workshop-conference is a haven for exploration and encouragement. Writers of all genres and ages are invited.

Who Attends? Women with something to say.

  • You keep journals, notes, drafts of unpublished material.
  • You write on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper.
  • You dream of writing and never have. Maybe you dabble.
  • Ideas percolate, and you want to capture and develop them.
  • You want to merge the written word with photos, drawing or collage.
  • Perhaps you have written and/or published a while ago, let the writer’s life lapse, and you want renewal and encouragement.
  • You are a writer, and may want guidance and support to continue an unfinished piece or publish it.

Teotitlan del Valle church built atop Zapotec temple

Friday, June 22 to Friday, June 29, 2018 

  • $895 per person private room with courtyard bath, shared by several
  • $1,195 per person, share a double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $1,495 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
  • Commuter without Lodging or Meals: $650 per person

You arrive by Friday evening, June 22 and leave Friday morning, June 29, 2018. The comprehensive workshop fee includes 7 nights lodging, all breakfasts, all writing instruction and workshop sessions, a personal coaching/feedback session with the instructor, daily afternoon gentle yoga sessions, and a grand finale celebration reading and dinner. You might want to arrive a day early to settle in to avoid a late night arrival or missed connection.

Inside Out: Primer to Buying Mexico Handmade Clothing — Quality Tips

On Friday, I took a 40-minute trip with my friend Laurita to Magdalena Teitepac in the foothills on the other side of the Carretera Nacional Mexico 190 (aka Panamerican Highway) for the purposes of textile shopping, always my favorite past-time.

Magdalena Teitipac church next to the municipal building

The Zapotec village is beyond San Juan Guelavia, the basket-making village. A group of entrepreneurial Magdalena women who do needlework staged this First Annual Embroidery and Weaving Fair, promoted with a banner hanging from the highway overpass. Laurita spotted it coming home one day.

Can you tell if this beautiful embroidery is hand- or machine-stitched?

Spaces Open: Chiapas Textile Study Tour 

  • Study Tour 1 — February 13-22, 2018
  • Study Tour 2 — February 27-March 8, 2018

The visit got me thinking about quality variations in clothing that is sewn, embroidered, woven and crocheted here in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.

Some of the women showing us their needlework blouses.

We are coming into Oaxaca’s peak tourist season when travelers come from all over the world, and many snowbirds plant their wings here from December through March.

Great cut-work and embroidery with unfinished seams

It is particularly challenging for first-time visitors who are blown away by the quantity of blouses, huipils, rebozos and other garments sold by street vendors, in small markets, and in tourist shops throughout the city.

Beaded blouses finished with French seams on 100% cotton, the best

How do you know what to buy and how much to pay for it?

Tip #1: Shop around. Look before buying. Look at lot. Go in and out of stores. Stop and look at the clothing the vendors have for sale. Ask prices. See what you like. Take your time.

Tip #2: Turn the garment inside out. Look at the seam edges of the cloth. Are they finished with a machined zigzag stitch or serger for reinforcement? Has the cloth edge been trimmed with a pinking shears? It is rough and will it unravel after a few washings? How strong are the stitches?

Softest, finest manta cloth, great embroidery, dense pleating

Tip #3: Check out the fabric. Is it populina?  This is what locals call the commercial cloth mix of cotton/polyester blend. Locals like this cloth because it dries much faster than pure cotton. It is also less expensive. Is it manta? This is 100% cotton cloth, more expensive, and preferred by many of us for softness, wearability and comfort.

Populina has a sheen. You can feel the polyester.

Tip #4: Check out the cloth again. If it’s manta, is it a fine, lighter weight weave or it is coarse and scratchy? Is it yellow color or white? What are your preferences?

#whomademyclothes .... is a Fashion Revolution movement dedicated to sourcing textiles direct from makers, awareness for buying disposable clothing made from cheap materials, assembled by underpaid workers.

Tip #5: If the clothing is embroidered, how fine is the embroidery? Is it by hand or machined? Are the stitches dense or loose? What about the crochet edge? Is it tied off or are there loose threads? Is it shiny, synthetic thread, dense/coarse polyester thread or good quality cotton?

Amazing pleated work from the Mixteca, with coarse embroidery yarn

Tip #6: Shop first in some of the better clothing galleries like Los Baules de Juana Cata or Arte de Amusgos to compare what you see on the street. See what the best looks like. Turn these inside out. Look at the finish work. Are the edges straight? What about the stitches that join two lengths of hand-woven cloth together? How is the neckline finished? What about the hem?

Want to buy direct from artisans? Take a study tour!

Tip #7: Price is usually based on quality, but not always. I recently bought a beautiful deshillado and embroidered blusa in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. I paid 2,500 pesos, quite a lot!  The embroidery is exquisite and the crochet edges are fine. The seams are not finished well and I may need to take it under the needle of my sewing machine to reinforce it. But, I knew that when I bought it.

Locals gather for the Magdalena Teitipac Feria

What are you willing to pay? What is it worth to you? Is there a whimsical design you like and you are willing to sacrifice some of the quality issues?

Tip #8: Don’t hesitate to walk away because you notice stains on the cloth, raveling threads or holes in the seams. Work is done quickly and quality can suffer.

I’ve seen excellent work done on very poor cloth.  I’ve seen embroidered, beaded and woven pieces made by one women that are attached to cloth that doesn’t match. Needlework and sewing can often be made by two different people. The sewing can be haphazard. The corners don’t match up and the joining work isn’t good. It is up to us to educate ourselves and to also say in a gracious, caring way, that we would like a better quality product.

We can support artisans and cooperatives who take the time to work on quality improvement.

Banner advertising the event

Tip #9: When is a bargain not a bargain? When the color bleeds. When the seams unravel. When the embroidery stitching loosens. When you get it home and ask, Why did I buy that?

Tip #10: Please know that because you are in Mexico, YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO BARGAIN. It is not a culture of bargaining, much to the surprise of many. The average daily wage is 150 pesos, or about $8 USD. We have a big advantage. The exchange rate is about 18-19 pesos to the U.S. dollar. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to create a handmade textile. Let’s pay people a fair wage for their labor and creativity. They will offer a discount because they need to feed their families, not because it is part of the “game.”

On the street, Magdalena Teitipac

Did I buy anything in Magdalena Teitipac? Yes, a lovely, beribboned apron for 100 pesos and some amazing artisan chocolate from Tlacolula, 20 pesos a bag.

Why didn’t I buy a blusa? Because indigenous women here in Oaxaca like their blouses tight across the chest and snug under the arms. Sizes are deceiving and it’s best to try something on first, otherwise you can get it home and find out it doesn’t fit. Nothing fit me!

Basket weavers outside the Magdalena Teitipac market

Cooperatives working with NGOs on product improvement are receiving education about quality control, making finished seams,and patterns to fit women from the U.S.A. and Canada.

If you have any tips you’d like to share, please add them.

Of course, the final caveat is always — if you love it, buy it. You’ll never see the same thing again!

 

 

Dance of the Feather Tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Teotitlan del Valle‘s Los Danzantes are famous throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. They make a commitment to the church four years before they actually begin their three-year term to perform La Danza de la Pluma — The Dance of the Feather — at all village festivals.

The Moctezuma flanked by Doña Marina and La Malinche, Mexico’s dualities

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, on December 12 and the days leading up to it, is an important part of their agreement.

Symbols of Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dancer’s shield

On December 12, the Virgin’s Feast Day, the Dancers gathered in the church courtyard at around noon and continued with intermittent breaks until 8:00 p.m., when they went to the house of the Mayordomo Fidel Cruz for respite and supper.

Entering the festive church courtyard to watch the Dancers

These celebrations are important on many levels. They continue long-standing traditions, many of which pre-date the Spanish conquest.

Los Danzantes in the late afternoon shadows

They reinforce community, build cohesiveness among the young men and their families, they honor church and tradition, and they attract tourism — an essential part of this Zapotec rug-weaving village.

Dancers taking high leaps as shadows catch them

It is almost impossible to visit here for the first time without going home with a beautiful tapestry.

Inside the church, the altar honors Mexico’s Queen, La Reina de Mexico

The weaving culture is reflected in the dancers’ leggings and on the shields they wear. Many of them use pieces that were made by fathers and grandfathers twenty or more years ago.

Leggings are handwoven tapestry loomed wool in ancient Zapotec design

If you look closely, the weaving is fine, detailed and is a work of art.

Transluscent scarves float through afternoon light and shadow

As I stayed through the afternoon, I caught some of the long shadows as the sun set. After so many years of taking photographs of Los Danzantes leaping, shaking rattles, demonstrating their fortitude and strength, I was searching for a way to capture the scene in a different way.

Volunteer committee members pay respects

As the important village usos y costumbres committee members entered the church courtyard, many visitors, including me, moved to the periphery to give them seats of honor. As I moved around the circumference, I noticed how the shadows of the dancers became an extension of their bodies in the backlight of late afternoon.

Grandmother and grandson watching. The young ones dream of becoming dancers.

A spectacular clear day, warm in sun, chilly in shade

The band is an essential part of every fiesta

Children play atop the courtyard cross.

The Oaxaca Lending Library brought a group to watch. All visitors welcome!

Guadalupe atop canastas (baskets) for the December 10 parade

Side door entry to church from interior courtyard

A new altar adorns a niche under renovation inside church

If you visit, please make a donation for renovations

Folded chairs waiting for occupants, inside courtyard

Canastas waiting for return to storage, until the next time

Playing with shadows, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Queen of Mexico: Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle

The three-day celebration in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, leading up to December 12 to honor Mexico’s favorite saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, started on December 10 with a 5 p.m. calenda (procession) that began in the church courtyard.

Parade of the Canastas winds through village streets for three miles

But, I arrived early, at 1 p..m., to find a couple celebrating a wedding in the church, followed by a group of cyclists from Teotitlan who arrived at 2 p.m. at the end of their journey from Juquila. They had pedaled 36-hours in a caravan complete with altar and bicycle repair sag wagon.

Bikes parked in church courtyard while cyclists receive blessings inside

A photo diary of the afternoon:

Celebrants holding fragrant poleo, part of the calenda ritual

You need to understand that in the hierarchy of religious symbols, the Virgin of Guadalupe is at the top. She is the embodiment of the pre-Hispanic corn goddess melded with the Virgin Mary by the conquerers. She is mother earth, goddess of nature and symbolic of life and the empowerment of women. God and Jesus are next in line. It’s what we call syncretism here.

Cousins Maya and Alicia were among the hundreds of young women chosen

Men volunteer to accompany, carry the bamboo baskets for relief

Onlookers at street corners take photos, applaud, acculturate children

And the band plays on, actually two of them!, accompanying Los Danzantes

At intervals, Dance of the Feather participants stop with a dance

Grandma Juana, Baby Luz, and Mama Edith along the way

Little girls are acculturated early to the importance of community ritual and tradition

This serape is old, woven in the 1960’s I was told

The young women started out at the homes of the Mayordomos, Fidel Cruz and Bulmaro Perez, who both live on the main entry road to the village, almost to the main highway, MEXICO 190 (Panamerican Highway). At the end of the night, they were tired. Mayordomo definition: The chief sponsor, organizer and funder of an major village event.

Yes, these baskets are very heavy. They walked at least five miles.

Watching from the second story along the parade route.

Ixcel Guadalupe gets ready to start the calenda from the church courtyard.

This dancer’s protective shield was hand-woven by his father years ago

After all had assembled in the church courtyard, the procession began: first the children holding papier-mache stanchions of turkeys, ducks, chickens, and dogs. Then came the chief of the fireworks, sending spiraling smoke bombs into the air, then Secundino (age 90+) playing the traditional Zapotec flute.

Barbara, David and Jo Ann came from California and New Mexico

He was followed by the Danzantes (Dance of the Feather participants), then the young maidens in traditional dress holding elaborate, heavy baskets on their heads.

All ages enjoy the pageantry

Since there were two mayordomos, there were two bands and two groups of young women, sponsored by each. It was quite a spectacle.

The calenda: firecrackers, music, giant balloons, children with duck, turkey flags

I decided to follow and the pace was easy enough that I found myself often midway or at the front of the group — until I recognized village friends, stopped to chat, and got left behind, only to dash to catch up again. The three miles went quickly.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico

Dance of the Feather group with Moctezuma, La Malinche and Doña Marina

At the end, I joined Barbara, David, J0 Ann and Beverly for a quiet dinner of homemade memelas, yogurt jello, atole, and fruit provided by  host Bulmaro Perez and family. I brought the cuishe mezcal!

Assembly in the church courtyard at the end of the calenda, at dusk.

Tonight, Monday, the fireworks start at 9 p.m. The last fireworks I attended announced for 9 p.m. got going around 11 p.m.

I’m not sure I can stay up that late!

I took the dogs on a long, three-mile walk out to the border of our neighboring village, and I’m not very energetic.

Today’s walk in the campo, with a new discovery: swimming hole

Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 12, the Dance of the Feather begins in the church courtyard, they say at noon and will go until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. followed by another calenda of the church committee.

Leaping Danzantes. They get off their feet.

The Juquila bicyclists’ sag wagon

Long live the Queen of Mexico, Virgin of Guadalupe