Tag Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Oaxaca Speaks: COVID-19 Report #5, Samuel Bautista Lazo, Teotitlan del Valle

I asked Samuel Bautista Lazo to write me about life in Teotitlan del Valle, during the corona virus outbreak. It is the famous rug-weaving village about 40 minutes outside the city close to Tlacolula. I’m especially concerned for the people in the village where I live most of the year. Samuel earned the PhD in sustainability from the University of Liverpool, England, is a weaver and operates Dixza Rugs, Organic Farm and Air BnB with his family.

Samuel and his mother

Here is what Samuel said on March 26, 2020, when I interviewed him via WhatsApp:

***

Life for us is business as usual, weaving and being at home alone. There are just no tourists or visitors now, but it is a good break.

There is no mass in the Catholic Church as ordered by the church officials. This means there will be no weddings, baptisms and quinceañera celebrations because they are all religious and family gatherings.

There are some families at the entrance of the village who are still receiving bus and van loads of remaining tourists … some people are concerned about this, but most understand that our economy depends on tourism. People are beginning to worry about the future of our economy.

But more important now is that the health clinic in Teotitlan is still closed [it closed several months ago], so people who need care and cannot afford private hospitals have nowhere to go nearby. They would have to go to the General Hospital in the city because they cannot get service in Tlacolula. The village filed a complaint about the bad service provided to our village which ended up with the health clinic being closed by the public health officials.

We do not worry. We are not that kind of people. We continue life as normal and are adapting to a drop in rug sales and guests coming to visit. We are also focusing on our farm, growing nopal cactus, herding our cattle and taking care of our goats.

Yes, we are concerned about the elders of our community. There is a natural high level of the common flu during this time of year, so it could be a double hit. We have been boosting our immune system with traditional remedies and hope that the temezcal would help eliminate the virus from our system as we know that raising body temperature is a very effective way to kill viruses. Our local temezcal healer, however, got very ill with a flu though, so this is questionable. School has been suspended for a month across the country.

[March 27, 2020: Sunday Tlacolula Market Closed Until Further Notice]

The Tlacolula market is also shut down to outsiders.

It is hard to tell what people are up to because we are naturally in quarantine, but the [Teotitlan] market is still going on, the gym is open, stores and even the coffee shop is still open. Maybe 1-2% of the people are overly cautious, taking Sana Distancia (social distancing) measures. 80% continue with life as usual, and probably about 20% are skeptics and think nothing will happen here, the virus won’t get here or that they are too strong for the virus.

It seems like the big mass celebrations for Semana Santa will be cancelled, but we will see … people are still going to the parade this morning for Lunes Santo.

***

Teotitlan del Valle atop Zapotec temple

I thanked Samuel for his honest perspective of what is going on in my home village. Life goes on for the Zapotec people, as it has for 8,000+ years. They are survivors and as a group, they will survive this, too. How many individuals will get sick and suffer remains unknown, as it does for us in the USA, too. I wish everyone in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca and everywhere, good health and godspeed.

In Teotitlan del Valle, Hidden Treasures: Adrian Montaño

My North Carolina friends just left the village after spending a week with me celebrating a belated birthday. It was a bash! Mucho mezcal. Mucha fiesta. Mucha comida. Lots of travel to villages to visit favorite artisans.

We spent a morning with antiquarian Adrian Montaño in Teotitlan del Valle. I met Adrian a couple of months ago when I was visiting with friends Christophe and Rogelio who operate Maison Gallot. But, I had seen him around town, in the market, always impeccably dressed, a woven straw hat topping off the costume.

Adrian at his loom, with (left to right) Scott, Wendy, Kathryn (NC) and Carol (Texas)

Adrian lives in a part adobe, part brick and part concrete house tucked into the hillside above the village. He has a wonderful view. He has one very ancient loom. His house is adorned in antiquities and a beautiful altar. He has been weaving since he was a boy. He is now age 75 and still productive.

Virgins of Guadalupe and Soledad watch over revered ancestors on the altar

In the 1960’s, missionaries came to town and began a program of conversion, translating oral Zapotec into English. (Many still do, and call themselves linguists.) They befriended Adrian, who decided that rather than convert, he would learn English from them.

Adrian is also a painter, and adorns the jicara gourds a la Matisse

His language skills are impeccable and he speaks Zapotec, his first language, Spanish and English flawlessly. He says it is important for young people to keep the language traditions alive. To earn a living, he teaches Zapotec and English to village youth, and weaves ponchos.

The beautiful poncho that Wendy bought. Not natural dyes, but gorgeous nevertheless.

His hidden treasures are a stash of vintage textiles that he wove himself, mostly when he was in his twenties, and those he has collected over the years. We were treated to a Show and Tell. I am sharing the photos of these beauties here.

1930’s-1940’s tapestry, two wefts woven together, natural and synthetic dyes

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, most of the textiles woven were bed blankets. They were natural sheep wool or were synthetic dyes most common to the era — red, green and black. Motifs were animals, birds and symbols of Mexican nationalism. Few remain in pristine condition. Storage is a problem and moths love the dark “chocolate” richness of natural wool.

Panteleon or leopard motif on tapestry blanket, Teotitlan del Valle, 1930’s-40’s

Back then, the looms were narrower and to make a bigger tapestry, the weavers needed to create two exact pieces and then sew them together down the middle. Each side needed to match up! Only the masters could achieve this. These became either blankets or ponchos/serapes.

Famous vintage Victoriano Chavez rug design, Federico Chavez Sosa‘s grandfather

It was not until the early 1970’s that blankets then became adapted to become floor rugs. This happened when young travelers came to Oaxaca from the USA, saw the beautiful weavings produced in Teotitlan del Valle, understood the beginning craze of Santa Fe Style and worked with weavers to create sturdier floor tapestries.

Curved figures are the most difficult to achieve in tapestry weaving

Many back then brought Navajo designs with them and contracted with weavers to reproduce Native American designs that were then sold throughout the Southwest. Thus, began the rug-weaving boom in the village where I live.

Adrian wrapped in one of his vintage blankets

Today, there is a return to natural dyes and to the traditional Zapotec designs that are found on the stone walls of the Mitla Archeological Site. Moreover, young weavers are developing their own style, taking traditional elements and making them more contemporary, innovating to meet a changing marketplace.

Adrian Montaño has a reverence for his roots. He openly shared his collection with us. Many of the weavings had moth holes. Some were pristine. He tells me that those washed with amole, the traditional natural root used for soap, will prevent moths from nesting. But few people use amole these days.

Eagle and the Serpent Medallion, Mexican nationalism motif

I love Adrian’s ponchos. They are short-cropped and come to the waist. They are designed using the Greca (Greek-key) pattern so named by a European archeologist who explored Mitla.

Adrian wove this Covarrubias-inspired tapestry over 50 years ago

If you want to visit Adrian and purchase a poncho, please give him a call. (951) 166-6296. Only go with the intention of supporting him by purchasing what he makes.

Wedding Fiesta: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Mucha Fiesta! I knew it would be BIG when two giant tents went up three days ago beyond the tall concrete walls that separate my neighbors from me. I steeled myself for a really BIG party. I even thought I should high tail it to the city for the night to escape the sound of music.

I knew it would be LOUD. I wasn’t sure how loud. And, since I had been up since 5 a.m. to say goodbye to my sister and brother, I thought earplugs would block out the sound by the time I went to bed, early. WRONG.

There are no photos of this wedding fiesta. Only the SOUND OF MUSIC. Here, in this video, just mere feet from my bedroom window. This is what its like living in the village of endless fiestas. Sooner or later, they come to your back door.

Now, a word about weddings. They go on for three days. This is the tradition. There’s the party. Then, the after-party (that’s today, Sunday, and the music started at 11:30 a.m.). And, the clean-up crew party hearty on the third day. Usually there is barbecue beef or pork, plenty of tortillas, beer and of course, mezcal. And, always leftovers.

The music for this one started around 2 p.m. and went until 2 a.m. or so …. It probably wasn’t interrupted by the earthquake that shook my bed at around 11 p.m. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t sleeping, and the quake wasn’t as strong the music.

Another word about weddings. There is the civil wedding, the legal wedding performed by a justice of the peace, and recognized by the state. Then, there is a church wedding. Church weddings can cost $50,000 USD or more, and that’s why many young couples wait for the church wedding until they can afford it. Some never have one.

The one next door was a church wedding. They have been married for years and have children, but the church wedding is icing on the cake. To have children at the wedding altar in church is a common practice here. If children are young, they are sometimes baptized during the wedding ceremony, too. Since the priest comes from another village, there can be several weddings in one day, as was the case yesterday.

I could hear the Jarabe del Valle and firecrackers echoing throughout the village from more than one fiesta site.

In the morning at around 10:30 a.m. a village band led the procession of bride and groom from home to church. We could tell when the ceremony ended because the cohetes (firecrackers) shot up in a trail of smoke from the church courtyard about a mile away.

Rosca de Reyes topped with candied fruits, stuffed with plastic Baby Jesus

Tomorrow is Day of the Three Kings. I’m certain all the markets are filled with Rosca de Reyes today. The fiestas continue. We roll from one to the next, with weddings, baptisms, funerals, birthdays and anniversaries in between. Fiestas are part of the culture and tradition of Oaxaca life. Let’s celebrate!

Happy New Year 2020 from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Las Cuevitas

In the hills beyond the Oaxaca village of Teotitlan del Valle, there is a sacred Zapotec site. It is said a virgin appeared and whomever comes to the ancient Zapotec grottos to offer tribute and make wishes will be blessed for the coming year.

Las Cuevitas means little caves.

Beginning on December 31, people of the village gather on the hillside, set up a campsite, welcome the new year, light bonfires, shoot off fireworks and celebrate. Some build small rock structures that represent wishes for additions to houses, a new second story, a corral for livestock, a car or truck, a new roof. Wishes are concrete and often basic.

Standing in line to make a wish at the grottos
Sacred prayer site at Las Cuevitas

Wishes are also for good health, longevity, improved family relationships, abundance.

A prayer in the small chapel with the Virgin of Guadalupe

At the three grottos and in the small chapel, after waiting in a queue with locals, my sister, brother and I said our prayers, gave our donation, and felt the luster of the warm late afternoon.

Looking out over the Tlacolula Valley at sunset

In ancient times, Zapotecs hurled burning coals to make the night sky glow. Today, there are sparklers and shooting stars.

People from other villages comes, too. We can tell by the aprons the women wear. Most prominent are the fancy, flouncy aprons from San Miguel del Valle.

This year the celebration is more in the Guelaguetza style with professional costumed dancers and a band to accompany them. Formal festivities started at 4 p.m. and continued until well after dark. It seemed like there were more people than ever, but most of them were riveted to the dancers rather than constructing rock wishes on the hillside.

Campers, picnickers, and hillside revelers — dining al fresco

I was told that there is a new village committee every year to organize the Las Cuevitas celebration.

Fire hurlers at Las Cuevitas

We did not have the village band with the ancient Zapotec flute player (both the flute and player are ancient) this year. It was more polished, and I missed the old traditions. Everyone, however, seemed to revel in the opportunity to see something new and different.

There was a big outdoor food court to buy snacks and tacos and pastries. There were stands with local people selling votive altar candles and fireworks, chili-spiced potato chips and chicharron, a favorite.

Such pleasure in a colorful windmill
Fathers adore their babies here, hold them close

We climbed the rocky slopes to watch the sun set over the Tlacolula Valley, ate our tacos al pastor and quesadillas, and went home with sweet dreams.

Las Cuevitas at sunset is spectacular

If you are in Oaxaca during New Year in the future, I encourage to join in this experience. It is magical, renewing and heartfelt. A great way to start fresh and welcome the new year.

Tacos al pastor at a puesto from Diaz Ordaz village

The next celebration is Day of the Three Kings, January 6. This is the traditional time of gift giving for children. We cycle through the year going from one celebration to the next!

A big, beautiful Oaxaca sky. It was 76 degrees F. today

Las Mananitas Happy Birthday 2020: Feliz Ano Nuevo

We gathered yesterday to bid 2019 goodbye and welcome 2020. My sister and brother are visiting and they treated us to an impromptu, unrehearsed New Year birthday song. From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, we wish you a New Year filled with joy, satisfaction and contentment, good health, and prosperity. We know that not all of life is as imperfect as this greeting.

“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”
― John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

May we all have a year of creativity and growth in which being imperfect is celebrated and cherished.

— Un abrazo, Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.