Guelaguetza on the Hill is a big, professional production. Villages from throughout Oaxaca state are invited to present their unique traditional traje (dress), music and dance traditions which are bound to centuries old cultural customs and conquest history. For textile lovers, it’s a chance to see an
array of beautifully woven, embroidered and embellished shirts, skirts, blouses, dresses, blankets and baskets.
Dance interpretations include:
- Courtship and engagement ceremonies
- Wedding ceremonies and festivities
- Conquest and conversion of indigenous peoples
- Life of caballeros and bullfighting
Yes, she is dancing (above) with a guacalote (indigenous turkey), symbol of sustenance and a special celebration gift, representing San Antonino Castillo Velasco, the home of the Oaxacan wedding dress. The embroidery there is unparalleled. The dances are choreographed to give the audience a sense of rural life, some sizzle and more than plenty of dazzle.
There might be as many as thirty-five or more people in a presentation group. That takes a lot of coordination and practice!
Be prepared. I attended the morning event, arrived at 9:30 a.m. and did not leave the amphitheater until well after 2:30 p.m.
Music included song and vocal chanting in Zapotec and Mixtec, pre-Hispanic flutes, ancient high-pitched fiddles, and a tune as familiar as the one that accompanies the Dance of the Feather that I know so well from my Teotitlan del Valle experience. Look at these guys leap! About as good as my pals from the 2009 Teoti group.
There are certain iconic photographs from Guelaguetza that say it all! Like these beautiful women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (below). Frida Kahlo modeled her dress from this region. They pay tribute to the pineapple
with the Flor de Piña dance. And then there are the caballeros from the Sierra Norte who re-enact a bullfight, part of their every day village life.
The women from the village of Pinotepa de Don Luis wear the traditional purple and red striped falda (wrap skirt) dyed with murex snail and cochineal and woven on a back-strap loom. They are modest and white woven cloth cover their torsos. Traditional older women in the Sierra Norte village are bare breasted. We were breathless hoping no one would lose their coverings!
At the end of each group’s performance, they gifted the audience in traditional Guelaguetza style by tossing out an array of things: woven hats, fans, tortillas, oranges, nuts, small brown paper bags filled with little loaves of bread. The men and women from the Isthmus sent pineapples into the crowd. There was even an occasional bottle of mezcal gifted. Lucky me, I got one, and a pineapple, too (mostly because I hung around to take photos after the event ended and there was stuff leftover).
People clamored down the aisles to get up close. The best trick was to put your hat out and catch an empanada or two. This strange green pod (below)
is a fruit, I am told, and very tasty. It was hurled like a missile from the stage. The idea of Guelaguetza is to give and receive freely from your heart, to be part of community. There was lots of gifting on Monday on the Hill. Many left with bags filled with goodies! Good for them 🙂 Part of the fun of being there.
Both arriving and departing, I climbed and descended the steep steps of the Cerro Fortin, stopping every little while to catch my breath and gawk at vendors. It was too early in the morning to go shopping on my up! I was too hungry to stop on my way down. But folks were doing a brisk business and there was a pedestrian traffic jam every time someone stopped for a drink or something to eat.
The steps to Fortin hill lead through a tunnel that passes under the Carretera Nacional Pan American Highway 190. The tunnel recognizes the indigenous and Mexican leaders of Oaxaca, and makes note of the city’s original Nahuatl name, which the Spanish could not pronounce: Huaxyacac.
Despite the cost, the auditorium was packed. Most of the audience were Mexicans who traveled to Oaxaca on holiday, with a smattering of extranjeros. I would say, a good time was had by all!
Descending the stairs through the tunnel, I decided to wait until the crowd thinned. The steps to the hill were lined with vendors selling everything from atole to maguey worms to textiles to electrical chords and kitchen utensils. Anyone who stopped to shop or buy a soft drink created a bottleneck.
I recommend going to the morning performance, since it’s not as hot, the likelihood of rain is lower, and it is a great time for photography! Using my Nikon D7000 with 17-55mm 2.8 lens. Even though I cropped to get closer images, most shots were crystal clear even from 20 rows away from the stage where I was seated.
Next Photography Workshop: Day of the Dead Photo Expedition. Still places open!