Our Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Study Tour is underway. We started in the City two days ago and we’ve now landed in Teotitlan del Valle for the duration of our time here. There are 12 of us, me, our co-leader Eric Chavez Santiago and 10 supportive and adventurous participants. We are all double-vaccinated and some of us have had our third booster. All the artisans we visit wear masks and 90% have been vaccinated.
On our first full day in the city, we welcomed two artisan groups to join us at the hotel for expoventas. Las Sanjuaneras came in the morning from San Juan Colorado on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, nestled in the mountain range bordering the Pacific Ocean. Their village is about two hours north of Puerto Escondido. We have visited them for many years as part of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour. Total time to get to the city for them was 12 hours. Camerina, Brisaida and Edivigus brought hand-woven garments made by the 20 women who make up the cooperative. All the work is made on a back-strap loom and the cotton, much of it native hand-spun, is all dyed with native plants and cochineal.
During the day, we walked the cobblestoned avenues of the colonial town, photographing altars and costumed revelers, dipping into interesting textile shops, including Andares Arte Popular folk art gallery.
In late afternoon we greeted Jazmin and Liliana, daughters of famous San Mateo del Mar weaver Francisca Palafox. Francisca was just recognized by the Federal government as most important indigenous textile maker in Mexico. We were privileged to see her work, as well as the excellent pieces made by her daughters on the back strap loom. Both learned to weave complex, fine cotton and silk garments, as young teens. They now win awards on their own, too.
During Day of the Dead, starting October 30, we are told that weavers put aside their looms and think only of the return of their deceased family members. It is forbidden to work during these days. Each village will observe Day of the Dead somewhat differently, depending on custom and geography. Ritual food at San Mateo del Mar, an Ikoots speaking village, will include fish since its a village of fishermen.
In the coastal highlands, where the people speak Mixtec, their traditions will require them to dress in masks and dance to keep the devil away from snatching loved ones while they are out of the grave. There is a strong African-Mexican tradition along the coast that traces its origins back to Mexican slave history — those who worked the mines and sugar can fields.
Today, we go to the village market to buy the essentials to make our own altar at our B&B. It will include chocolate, bread, candles, flowers, nuts and fruit. We will add our family portraits of loved ones passed and offer our tributes to their memory.
Honoring the dead is an essential element of the rituals these days and it is an honor to be part of small village celebrations. We will present gives of these altar offerings to families we visit in the next few days.