The red flags fly from banners carried by men young and old. Their faces hidden with paisley scarves or animal masks. A dried ocelot skin hangs from a belt, connected to brass bells that jangle with each movement. Is this the man’s spirit animal? In the church courtyard there are troupes of celebrants on parade. Air is broken by the sound of cohetes, the firecrackers sent skyward to awaken the spirits.
Inside the church, groups of families, kneel, keen, sit cross-legged, light red, black, yellow, white candles representing the four cardinal points. Green is the symbol of earth. Fresh pine needles on the floor are swept aside. A shaman prays with them for the family to receive extra blessing.
No photos allowed or cameras of any type will be confiscated.
A church official carrying a smoking copal urn perfumes the air. The smoke trails him, raises toward the pitched church room, rafters adorned with ribbon. There are no pews. The air is dense, musky, a shroud. The light is like a Rembrandt painting.
Shuko is with me. She lives in Los Angeles with her family. She is originally from Japan and writes a blog, where she is sharing her experience of this day.
One of us asks, Is this Catholic? No, I say. It is syncretism. A blend of the mystical and divine, the spiritual and the ancient, the Catholic evangelization of Mexico. Who are they worshipping? he says. Mother earth, the thirteen levels, life and death, something soulful and unnamed, I say.
We sit in silence on sideline benches. Candle glow is the only light, other than from where the sun tries to enter the dark space where the roof meets the walls. This is a meditation.
Outside, bright sun illuminates Chamulan faces. They speak Ttotzil, one of the Mayan languages of the region. Men wear white and black woven and combed sheep ponchos. Women wrap themselves in woven furry black sheep skirts. The temperature is close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot.
Beyond the church is the market on the zocalo. Today it is packed with fruit, vegetables, raw meats, belts, fabrics, Western and traditional clothing, cooking stalls, people packing through narrow helter-skelter aisles that can dead-end. Children cry. Babies suckle at bare breast. Amber vendors ply their wares.
The men on parade continue to process around the periphery, drink pox, blow ancient horns, beat drums, play flutes, strum guitars, connect with their identity.
We buy wool chals with pompoms, clay copal incense burners, avocados, woven bags adorned with embroidery, ceramic candleholders.
I am taking a list of those interested in going with me to Chiapas in 2020. Dates will be late February or early March. Let me know.
In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca It’s Dance of the Feather with Basketball and HonkeyTonk Fair
Los Danzantes and the Dance of the Feather, Danza de la Pluma
There’s a lot going on this week in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, where I live part of the year. Next to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Precious Blood and the annual saint’s day celebrations honoring the church founding with the Dance of the Feather, there is a carnival fair with kiddie rides, a basketball tournament, and the daily market. To say there is a traffic jam is an understatement.
Today’s Danza de la Pluma starts at 5 p.m.
How many basketball courts are there in Teotitlan del Valle? Who knows?
At the lighted court, two teams are competing while a crowd looks on. Basketball is a big deal here. This court, next to the village market and across from the church was completed last year, complete with grandstand seating and a raised platform for scorekeeper and the guy who does the play-by-play.
Playing basketball under the shadow of the 17th century church, Teotitlan del Valle
The tournament continues through the entire week and attracts young and older alike. This is important entertainment here. A new court was recently built in my neighborhood and each of the five administrative districts of the village will field their best team for this event.
Ball is in the air. Will he make the hoop? YES!
Some of these young men are talented enough to play for the UNC Tarheels, I think.
Meanwhile, back in the church courtyard, hundreds of visitors are watching
This is the third and last year of this 2016-2018 group of Los Danzantes. It is particularly meaningful now as they get ready to pass the baton to the next group who make the three-year commitment to their church and village traditions.
La Malinche, Moctezuma and Doña Marina hold court
Teotitlan is widely known for its Dance of the Feather. Each group tries to outdo those who came before. They are all capable of high leaps and dizzying spins.
Exit the church courtyard to a world of rides and games
Bright lights, loud music projected via huge loudspeakers, screams of delight from children, and booths filled with all types of cakes and cookies are just beyond the church courtyard.
In the distance, we see the sacred mountain Picacho, but who is paying attention? Surely not those who are playing bingo for a chance to win a large plastic trash pail or those tossing the ring with the hope to land a teddy bear.
Family and friends enjoying nieves, Oaxaca version of ice cream
Families and lovers stroll holding ice cream cones, called nieves here. The word means snow. This treat is more like sorbet or gelato. Moms and dads watch over their children who are deep into the moment.
A commitment to recycling, organic and inorganic waste baskets
I’m with my host family. We stop for esquites and boiled corn cob on a stick. Both are slathered with mayonnaise, shredded cheese, lime juice, hot sauce and chili pepper.
Slathered corn cob on a stick, a Mexican favorite
The esquite maker — an art form, too
Back in the church courtyard, a mezcal toast — salud!
The tradition here is to give and receive guelaguetza, which represents mutual and community support. This includes the significance of gifting mezcal, fruit, bread and chocolate representing abundance for all. It is the responsibility of those more fortunate to help those in need, especially family members.
Members of the church committee distribute fruit to audience members
Stray dog stops play for a moment
Back at the basketball court, the tournament comes to a stop, interrupted by one of the many roaming dogs in the village that is searching for a scrap of food.
Shadows grow longer as the sun descends
The dancers have danced since 1 p.m. It is almost past eight o-clock in the evening. They take breaks with rest, water and Gatorade. There has been no rain so far, so this year the dancing has been a bit easier as temperatures hover in the low eighties (fahrenheit).
Moms watch their children at the rides.
This is a huge regional festival. People from other villages come to enjoy the party. Here, a group of women from Santa Ana del Valle watch their children and take a respite. I can tell where they are from by their elaborate aprons and pleated skirts, a different costume than what traditional women in our village wear.
The grand finale, a prayer by the dancers in the church courtyard
Inside the church, long lines to pay tribute to the altar of the patron saint
Night descends and fiesta-goers shift from church to the adjacent carnival
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Teotitlan del Valle
Tagged basketball, Carnival, celebrations, Dance of the Feather, fiestas, Mexico, Oaxaca, Teotitlan del Valle