Access to the BIG Guelaguetza under the big top on the Cerro del Fortin of Oaxaca, Mexico, is limited to those who can a) afford to buy a ticket at 1,121 pesos and 908 pesos each plus Ticketmaster fees, and b) those who can stand in line overnight for the limited number of upper deck seats offered for free. It’s a sell-out crowd to 11,000 people every year.
For the past several years, villages around Oaxaca have been offering what I call mini-Guelaguetzas, alternative, smaller versions of the extravaganza that are playing to local audiences who can afford a more modest ticket price. The venues are small, intimate and you can see everything. This makes the experience affordable and accessible.
This year, friends and I decided to go to Santa Maria del Tule, famous for the giant 3,000-year old cedar tree. They were hosting their first year Guelaguetza with one performance on the Mondays that the big event took place on the Cerro del Fortin. We went on July 30, the second Monday, and it was just perfect. We even got a parking space on-site next to the stadium.
I bought tickets for 200 pesos each in advance at the municipal building in Santa Maria del Tule. One could also buy them online for a small service fee.
Every seat in the Monumental del Tule, the town’s 3,500 seat outdoor stadium, offered a great view of the circular stage. This is an open-air amphi-theatre, so there is no protection from the weather.
Ojala! The 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. performance was held between thunderstorms but there was no escaping the rain which came in droplets and downpours. No one seemed to mind because it’s been so dry here. It hasn’t rained in a month. We knew the farmers needed this for their crops.
So, we either covered ourselves in plastic sheeting or pulled out parkas and umbrellas. The show must go on. And it did!
So many visitors to and many foreign residents of Oaxaca think that the meaning of Guelaguetza is this performance event, plus all the activities that are held concurrently: the Mole Festival, the Feria de Mezcal, the promenade of artisan vendors on the walking street Macedonio Alcala, and the spectacular calendas or parades.
Meaning of Guelaguetza
Guelaguetza is an ancient Zapotec community practice that ensures continuity through mutual support. The giving and receiving of gifts and service is a way to equalize relationships and make sure that everyone is cared for via intertwining relationships. Everyone takes their turn to give and receive. It is part of creating mutual respect. As such, no one goes hungry. There is always corn, bread, chocolate and mezcal to share. There is always help when needed. Sharing is embedded in community as a way of life.
Most of the dances are choreographed to depict village life, courting practices and the wedding ceremony. In pre-Hispanic times, these dances were employed to signal commitment and betrothal in the community before there were churches and Catholic priests to do European rituals.
Each region has different customs. There are 16 different language groups in Oaxaca and many dialect variations. People marry who can understand each other linguistically.
In the Mixtec region, the language is Mixteco. In the Mixe region, that’s what they speak. In the mountains between Oaxaca and the coast, some speak Chatino. The Zapotecs of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec have very few words in common with the Zapotecs of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.
True Confession: We couldn’t tough it out to stay for the Danza de la Piña. The show producers removed the pineapples from the stage. It was 7:30 p.m. and we had arrived at 3:30 p.m. Time to eat. Off we went to Restaurant La Superior where we had a fine supper of tasajo (grilled beef) and barbacoa (goat).
Tomorrow, I’ll post videos.
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