Tag Archives: Zapotec

Oaxaca’s Monte Alban Archeological Site Key to Zapotec Civilization

The UNESCO World Heritage archeological site of Monte Alban never ceases to capture and hold my attention. I go there every time I host visitors to Oaxaca and each time there is something new that I notice or an area that is recently restored. MonteAlban

The Spanish conquerors named Monte Alban, or white mountain, because the hill was in bloom with white flowering trees when they arrived.  This week, the sky was nearly flawless blue with outstanding big, white cloud formations. I don’t remember a more beautiful, breathtaking day here.

MonteAlban-8The best way to enter the site is to begin on the north platform, the highest place. After you go through the ticket turn-style make a right turn and continue up the hill.  The path isn’t well-marked, but the trail is well-traveled, so you will figure it out.  Even though it looks daunting, be sure to climb the pyramids.

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Otherwise, you will miss the most stunning views.  On the main level of the platform you will see carved stones depicting men captured in war. Called Los Danzantes, or dancers, these are replicas. The originals are in the museum on site and in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

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Summer in Oaxaca is very temperate and GREEN.  Now,  the rainy season that brings torrents of water is almost over, and so we may get a late afternoon or evening shower, which is lovely, and tends to cools things off — a perfect temperature for sleeping.

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By the time we arrived at Monte Alban, it was almost ten-thirty in the morning, and the sun was already strong. Our guide extraordinaire, Rene Cabrera Arroyo, was prepared and had plenty of bottled water for us.

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It took about two hours to walk the site and get a complete explanation of Zapotec history, conquests, relationships with the Aztecs and Mixtecs, and the political and religious structure at the time they were at the height of their power.

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Of course, we had to stop to look at the clay replicas of the found objects in the Monte Alban tombs made by local craftsmen from Arrazola. The figures are all hand formed and the sellers — who are the artisans — are licensed by Monte Alban to create and sell their wares.  Prices are reasonable and there’s room for a little bargaining to make it more fun — if you must!  (Remember, the dollar to peso value is in favor of the visitor so don’t drive a hard bargain.)

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It’s Guelaguetza time and Monte Alban crawling with visitors who come to Oaxaca from throughout Mexico and many foreign countries. I am hearing a cacophony of languages: German, British English, Australian English, Dutch, French, Japanese and Chinese, as well as Spanish and American English.

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Oaxaca is a wonderful place to visit and bring the family for summer vacation. It’s safe, educational, fun and affordable. Entry fees are 59 pesos per person.  That translates to about $4.25 each. We’d love to see you here!

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After Monte Alban, we went off to Atzompa, the nearby village of potters who supplied the priests and nobles with utilitarian and ceremonial clay vessels.

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My advice: wear sturdy shoes for rock climbing, use a sun hat, sun screen, and pack a water bottle — as important as your camera! And, consider hiring a licensed guide who knows the in-depth history of the place.  It will enrich your visit.

 

Rain Torrents and New Priest in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The heavens opened yesterday afternoon to welcome a new priest to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Perhaps, the ancient Zapotecs, in their infinite wisdom, said a special prayer for the rain god, too.  It is corn-planting season.

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The torrents came just as the celebration was to begin in the church courtyard, starting with a procession of young girls, soon-to-be women, with symbolic religious baskets to carry atop their heads. Needless to say, everyone ran for cover and the procession start was delayed. It rained about eight inches in less than an hour and a flood ensued

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This is a very special occasion.  Very.  It has been decades, perhaps longer than most can remember here, even the grandmothers, that a Catholic priest has been assigned to perform permanent, regular service for the village.  The regional religious center for the area is in the neighboring village of Tlacochahuaya, and one circuit priest has served many villages in the valley, scheduling religious rites according to who needs what, when.

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Everyone in Teotitlan del Valle is ecstatic.  In honor of this event, there is a mass this morning (Saturday) followed by tamales for everyone. I’m told the village expects more than 3,000 people in the church courtyard this afternoon.

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As is customary, the occasion will be marked by Los Danzantes, the famed group of young men who make a three-year church commitment to serve God through performing the Dance of the Feather whenever the volunteer church committee calls on them.

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For the girls, this, too, is a special occasion. For some of them, it will be the first time they will have participated in a desfile and it means a lot. They wear colorful hand-embroidered blouses, traditional woven wool wrap skirts usually dyed with cochineal and tied with a wool sash adorned with pom poms.  This is what the grandmothers wear every day. But times are changing and the dress is worn only for ceremonial purposes by the younger generations.

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In the photograph directly above, you can see the girls gathered, with the heavy canastas or baskets resting on the ground.  They are waiting for the procession to begin.  To the right, on the pillar of the inner courtyard of the church, is a Zapotec stone carving taken from the temple on the site and embedded into the church wall by the Spanish to attract the locals to the new religion.

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The rites of passage in Mexico has been an important part of indigenous culture for centuries.  The roots of these celebrations pre-date the conquest and one can imagine what it may have been like during the time of the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs at the height of their civilizations by being here now.

That’s why it’s so meaningful to participate as a visitor. Please consider:

 

Vintage 10K Gold Oaxaca Filigree Earrings For Sale: Let’s Help a Family of Women

My neighbors want to fix up their house. They need a kitchen. They want to replace the fabric curtains with real windows to keep out the cold and fortify the walls and roof of an old adobe house to keep out the rain. They are a household of three generations of women: grandmother is in her late 80’s, mom is in her early 40’s, and the nine-year-old daughter loves to read. She needs new school shoes.

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Everyone works hard. Mom makes the some of the best tamales in town. She learned from her mother who learned from hers. She makes them by hand, grinds the corn on the metate then makes a dough, rolls the masa between her palms, presses it on a tortilla press, stuffs the dough with a chicken caught from the yard, fattened with organic corn then cooked, adds a secret family recipe of mole made with chicken broth, tucks it into carefully wrapped corn or banana husks, folded or tied neatly, and steams the packages over a water bath for an hour. Sometimes she makes hundreds. I know she is up every day at four in the morning. I buy these for 40 cents each. Sometimes I buy more than I need.

#1: Pearl, red glass, 10K gold dangle earrings with French wires. $265.

#1: Pearl, red glass, 10K gold dangle earrings with French wires. $265.

About the only thing of real value they have to sell to raise money for house repairs and construction is heirloom 10k gold jewelry.

Traditional filagree 10k gold with red glass, basket hoops, $175.

#2: Traditional filigree 10k gold with red glass, basket hoops, $185. SOLD to Judy G. Thank You!

I said I would help, so I am posting photos and I will bring the earrings to the U.S. when I leave Oaxaca on April 7 — if you care to make a purchase.  Let me know which you like and I will invoice you with PayPal (plus shipping). Because this is a fundraiser and the money goes directly to the family, I will add-on the 3% PayPal fee to your invoice.

Delicate tri-color stones with 10K gold leaf design, small, $65.

#3: Delicate tri-color stones with 10K gold leaf design, small, $65. SOLD to Tami. Thank YOU!

Zapotec women love their delicate filigree gold earrings. It is usually the only adornment they wear. They will receive a small pair of earrings as a gift for a birthday or a baptism, a larger pair for a quinciniera (15th birthday), and then later a more substantial pair as a wedding present.

Dangle with pearls, clear crystal, 10k gold filagree, $175.

#4: Dangle with pearls, clear crystal, 10k gold filigree, $175.

Husbands will often give gold earrings as a love token to wives. The size and intricacy of the earrings are a symbol of prosperity and status. 

3-tier dangle, 10K gold and pearls with bow, $175.

#5: 3-tier dangle, 10K gold and pearls with bow, $175. SOLD to Nancy C. Thank YOU!

Grandma took off her large gold filigree earrings tonight and asked me to sell them for her, too. I said, no. They are very old and I know what they mean to her.

Intense purple, pearls, 10k gold, $250.

#6: Intense purple, pearls, 10k gold, $250.

Home improvement project for my neighbors.

Home improvement project for my neighbors.

And, here is a beautiful tri-color bracelet with traditional mesoamerican greca design, inside circumference is eight inches. 10k gold, $300.

10k gold tri-color bracelet, $300.

#7: 10k gold tri-color bracelet, $300.

The family appreciates your consideration!

 

Uriel and Rosalia’s Zapotec Wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico

The church wedding is an important part of Zapotec community life. Often, a couple will have a civil marriage ceremony and begin their family as Rosalia and Uriel did three years ago.  Their dream will be to save enough to hold a religious service that recognizes their marriage in the eyes of God.  Their young children are baptized as part of the celebratory mass.  This is common practice.

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As a by-product of the Mexican Revolution and its sweeping reforms, the state eradicated church political power and confiscated lands, so it is the civil ceremony that takes legal precedents.  Yet, the traditional church wedding holds strong emotional appeal for many couples, their parents and extended family.

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Uriel and Rosalia’s wedding began with a twelve o’clock noon mass at the Teotitlan del Valle church and included the baptism of their two young sons, Emilio and Cristian.

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There were about two hundred people attending, a fraction of the six hundred who would later join the fiesta and meal at the home of Uriel’s uncle and aunt, who hosted the event.

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In Zapotec tradition, it is the groom’s family who hosts and pays for everything:  the two large bulls slaughtered to become barbacoa (barbecue) to serve the multitude, the beer and mezcal, the band, the tortillas, fresh flowers, decorations, gifts for guests, ample takeaway containers, and an elaborate, multi-level wedding cake filled with strawberry cream.

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There is not usually a cash outlay for these expenses.  It is part of the elaborate mutual support, bartering, give-and-take system called guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s usos y costumbres pueblos.  Extended family comes together to do what it takes to host.  For example, I give you a pig one year for a baptism.  In six years, when my son gets married, I ask you to return the pig to me.  Maybe it weighs a little more than the one I gave to you.  That’s how it works and the cycle continues.

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Wedding preparations began weeks before.  The women of the family gathered to plan the food and make decorations.  They ordered large yellow corn tortillas handmade in a neighboring village.  

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Men conferred to determine how many tables and chairs, cases of beer, and bottles of mezcal would be required.  Together, they all determined the collective resources needed to mount this significant event.  Then, on the wedding day, they served the hearty festival dish offering greeting of buen provecho to each guest.

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On the wedding day, Uriel’s extended family pitched in to cook and serve:  aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  As guests arrived, more tables and chairs unfolded.  Their arms held extended in greeting, offering gifts, adding their tribute to honor the couple and their families, an ancient practice modernized.

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In addition to bottles of mezcal and cases of beer, guests brought cookware sets, utensils, toys for the boys, dinnerware, drinking glasses. and other household items.  There was even a new washing machine and bedroom closet on display outside the altar room.  Inside was barely passable. The line to greet the newlyweds and family snaked through the courtyard and out onto the sidewalk.  We all waited patiently to offer personal congratulations.

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In the back of the family compound an army of 60 women were on hand to measure out the meat and broth so that everyone would have their portion.  They had been tending the stew pot for days.  Platters of fresh tortillas, lime wedges, shredded cabbage, diced onions, and cilantro were set on each table to add as condiments to the  spicy meat.

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After the meal, the plates were cleared, the tables folded and stacked in a corner, and the chairs arranged in a circle.  Let the dancing begin.  First, the band from Yalalag played as the couple came out, she adorned in traditional dress from her native Zapotec village.

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Then, Teotitecos welcomed their band to play the traditional Jarabe del Valle.  Paco served as master of ceremonies, inviting family members to dance with the couple in honor of their emotional, financial and in-kind support.  Celebrants carry fragrant herbs gathered from nearby mountains.  On the bride’s arm is a basket filled with flowers, bread and chocolate — essential for sustaining life.

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The party continued through the next several days, and I could hear the band and firecrackers each morning and evening.  These celebrations are rooted deeply in a pre-Hispanic past, embedded in memory.  It is a wonderful experience to share.

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Christmas Collage: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Martha, Marianne, and Judy arrive from the city for dinner on December 23 and then we gather at the house of the eighth posada.  Earlier, I go to the local morning market and find a fish vendor from the coast.  We eat organic and fresh talapia, squash, potatoes, carrots, onions seasoned with kumquats, candied ginger, carrots, prunes, dates, and raisins all cooked together in the tagine.  Later, I use the head and bones for stock.

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The posadas continue through December 24, when baby Jesus appears on Christmas Eve at La Ultima Posada, the last posada, which is the grandest and most magnificent of all.

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On the street we meet a young woman and her mother who are originally from Teotitlan del Valle, and now live in Chicago.  She tells us she and her family put their name on the list to host La Ultima Posada ten years ago.  They will welcome baby Jesus in 2014.  The cost to host is about $50,000 USD, which includes a magnificent array of food for three days — enough to serve hundreds, two bands, drinks and refreshments, candles, lanterns, decorations.  She explains to us that it is an honor and a commitment to community and God to be able to do this. They meet with the church committee twice during the year to review details that will ensure a traditional celebration.  Service and community cohesiveness is essential for Zapotec life.  They have lived in this valley for 8,000 years.

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On December 24, I make a last minute run to the village market once more to discover it packed with shoppers and sellers at eight-thirty in the morning.  This is likely the biggest market of the year! Every one presses up to buy fresh moss and flowers from the Sierra Norte to make the creche that will bring baby Jesus to their home, too.

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There is fresh pineapple, bananas, papaya, mandarin oranges, apples, and spiced guayaba (guava). Lilies, roses, and flowering cactus lay on tables ready for plucking. Live chickens and turkeys, feet secure to keep them from flying away, lay subdued, waiting.

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Children hide under their mother’s aprons or eat fresh morning bread or sip a horchata. Who can resist the blue corn tortillas?  Not me.

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Piñatas are an integral part of the baby Jesus birthday celebration.  The market is filled with them on December 24.  Children adore the rain of candy.  Me, I adore the perfectly ripe avocados, organic lettuces and eggs.

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I bump into Janet and Jan, expats from France and Holland who winter here. They eat breakfast at the stand set up in the middle of the market, quesdadillas fresh off the griddle.

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Later, I join my family for the traditional dinner at eight.  Elsa brings homemade bacalhau, there is organic salad, roasted pork leg infused with bacon, garlic and prunes, pinto beans, with plenty of beer, mezcal and wine.  Dessert?  Why tiramisu cake from Quemen bakery, of course!

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Omar entertains Christian.  Lupita entertains Christian.  The children kick the soccer ball and jump on the piles of wool waiting for the loom.  We sip spiced ponche (hot fruit punch) made with guayaba fruit sweetened with sugar cane.  Some will go to the church for midnight mass.  Others will go on to aanother supper at midnight.

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Christmas day presents another dinner feast on Roberta’s terrace, this time a potluck with organic lettuces, Annie’s garden arugula, enchiladas with green salsa, roasted chicken, red wine, fruit salad and Susanna Trilling‘s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding that Jan prepares.  The patio is filled with flowering cactus and the sunset can’t be better.

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All is well with our world.  I hope your holiday season is spectacular, too.  Feliz Navidad! Gracias a todos.

XmasCollage-37              Our next photography workshop is this summer 2014 for Dance of the Feather.  Find out more!