Tag Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca–El Cristo Negro: Black Christ Escuipulas

It’s January 14. This is the date El Cristo Negro is venerated in our village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The Black Christ has its origins in Guatemala. The figure played an important part of ceremonial ritual during the violent 30-year war against the Maya people there. Yet, pilgrims who have gone there from southern Mexico adopted this miraculous religious figure and brought it home. We know of men from Teotitlan del Valle, now adults in their fifties and sixties, who went on a pilgrimage to the Guatemala town that is the namesake for Escuipulas, when they were in their teens.

The veneration of various Jesus figures stems from the European images of Christ on the Cross that depicts his blackness. The spread from Guatemala to Mexico is attributed to the proselytizing work of one 17th century Catholic missionary.

So, today, I was drawn to the market, said to be one of the biggest of the year, to see what people were getting to pay tribute to the Black Jesus.
Poinsettias (Noche Buena) seemed to be the most popular flower, but I also saw lilies, sunflowers, and branches covered with thorny leaves and berries. Women’s shopping baskets were filled with candles, chocolate and bread. The practice will be to go visiting family members tonight with gifts of bread, chocolate and candles — much like during Dia de los Muertos.

I’ve come to learn that living here is always an opportunity for celebration and community connection.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Tour: Teotitlan Altars + Studio Visits, October 29, 2023–One Day

No where is Day of the Dead celebrated with more authenticity than in the villages.

The artisans we visit in Teotitlan del Valle not only talk about and demonstrate their craft, they will discuss their personal experiences and traditions growing up and honoring their ancestors during Day of the Dead. When you participate with us, you will go deep into a rich Zapotec history and culture that pre-dates the Spanish conquest of Oaxaca in 1522 and the settlement of Oaxaca as a colonial capitol.

We pick you up at 9:00 a.m. at a central location in the Historic District of Oaxaca city and return you there by 6:00 p.m. We will let you know the location two-weeks before the tour.

We welcome you into the Altar Room of each artisan we visit to pay respects to the family and their ancestors. We have arranged for permission for you to take photos and participate in some of the rituals, including tasting Pan de Muertos and Hot Chocolate made locally from toasted cacao beans. All along the way, you will learn more about how this tradition is celebrated, with its deep pre-Hispanic indigenous roots.

Our itinerary includes stops to see

  • a traditional flying shuttle loom weaver who creates award winning home goods and clothing
  • a famous rug weaving family that works only in the highest quality wool and natural dyes
  • a chocolate maker who uses grandmothers’ recipes to make delicious eating chocolate
  • a Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art beeswax candlemaker
  • an accomplished women’s cooperative that fashions leather trimmed handbags
  • lunch at a local restaurant owned by a traditional chef who prepares exquisite food

Registration. Tour cost is $138 per person. This includes transportation in a luxury van, bilingual guide services with translation, cemetery visit and lunch. A $35 non-refundable deposit per person will reserve your space.

Final payment is due in cash (either dollars or equivalent pesos) on the day of the tour.

Deposits can be made with a Zelle transfer (no service fee), or with Venmo or PayPal (with a 3% service fee). Please tell us by email which payment method you prefer along with your intent to participate, how many people will be in your party, and we will send you a request for funds. Thank you.

Feliz Navidad and La Ultima Posada

Happiest holidays to you and yours! I hope you celebrate the beauty of life with family and friends — ’tis the season for peace, thanksgiving, and recommitment to relationships. Out here on the Rio Grande Gorge Mesa, the sun is bright, the air is chilly, and the skies are clear and clean. All promising a season of joy. Most importantly, may we all have a year ahead filled with good health and renewal of spirit.

Tonight, we will go to the Taos Pueblo for a traditional Christmas Eve celebration Native American-style with bonfires and dancing. My son and daughter-in-law arrive soon from Albuquerque for the festivities. Then, afterward we will join lifelong friends Karen, Steve and their family for Phase 1 of the Holiday Feast. Phase 2 is tomorrow, when the cooking extravaganza lead by Marc, with Carl and Steve at the helm, will culminate with the Mega-Feast. I’ve never participated before, but its a family tradition they have been doing for over twenty-five years.

Meanwhile, tonight in Oaxaca marks the Ultimate Posada, the night that the baby Jesus appears at the last stop on the nine-day search for lodging. (The nine days is symbolic of nine months of pregnancy). As many of you know, the Posada is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to sleep as they make their way to Bethlehem to pay end-of-year taxes. We all know the story: the inns along the way were full and they ended up sleeping in a manger where their child was born. I know the Teotitlan del Valle posada best since it is where I live, too. Usually, in years past, I have left the USA for Oaxaca in time to walk alongside villagers in solemn, candlelit procession as the church leadership carry carved figures of Mary and Joseph throughout the village on palanquin. Cohetes (firecrackers) burst at regular intervals. Altar boys lead the way with huge candle pillars and the priest swings the incense carrier that emits that wonderfully evocative smokey aroma of burning copal. Of course, there is musical accompaniment — the pre-Hispanic flute takes the lead with traditional musicians just behind. They alternate with the village brass band that plays music akin to John Phillips Sousa. The solemnity is punctuated by festivity.

So, tonight in Teotitlan, the biggest Christmas celebration occurs. The last procession usually begins at sunset. When the procession arrives at the home of the host family, there are blessings in the altar room and the Baby Jesus appears on a soft pillow. Feasting and drinking carry on throughout the night with plenty of barbecue, tortillas, and mezcal. In the morning, the host family will provide food to their guests that include hot chocolate and higadito (scrambled eggs with chicken in chicken broth). Tomorrow, everyone will be home with their family for a comida of tamales amarillo!

Did you know that poinsettias are native to Mexico?

Reflections: Oaxaca Day of the Dead 2022

The intensity of organizing three Day of the Dead programs — a culture tour, a writing workshop, a folk art tour– in Oaxaca this October and November gave me little time to adequately reflect upon and write about how Day of the Dead is spiritually satisfying, evolving and changing in Oaxaca. Now, back in Northern New Mexico until the New Year, I have more time to think and write about the experiences of visiting cemeteries, reflecting on memory and loss, and describing how village celebrations take us deep into Zapotec culture and tradition. Why? Its downright COLD here and having gone from eighty degrees Fahrenheit in Oaxaca to a chilly low of eleven degrees, complete with snow on the ground and atop nearby mountains, I am inclined to hunker down and stay indoors. Saving grace: New Mexico sunshine that keeps the spirits elevated and a glow of optimism alive.

Oaxaca is a mecca for Day of the Dead celebrants, now attracting hordes of visitors from around the world. On Oaxaca streets, I heard German, Italian, English, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Chinese. On the evening of November 2, when Zapotec residents of Teotitlan del Valle accompany the spirits of their deceased ancestors back to their gravesites, sit quietly to honor their memories, perhaps having a picnic supper with a mezcal toast, a group of Korean tourists intent on capturing the moments, approached with heavy-duty telescopic lenses, pointing cameras into sacred spaces. I reminded our travelers to be respectful, to ask permission for photos, and to not gawk. Gawking is not culturally responsible tourism.

At strategically located corners throughout the Historic Center of the city, local entrepreneurs set up face-painting stations. For $150 and much more, one can become a Calavera Freda, complete with a ghostly appearance and head topped with a fake floral crown. We also heard of families offering authentic experiences at the cost of $200 per person to join in a family meal followed by a cemetery visit. Those of us who live in Oaxaca applaud this creative approach to earning extra income, particularly when visitors are willing to pay any price, it seems, to participate in a more intimate experience.

We heard tell of another scene, this more private, whereby only those invited could buy a $250 ticket to a secret venue in Santiago Matatlan, Mezcal Capital of the World. You have to know someone who knows someone to get in. In addition to the ticket cost, arriving in costume is mandatory. A van picks-up the party-goers at a secret meeting point in Oaxaca city and takes them to an undisclosed location where mezcal flows freely well into the night, and a frenzied dance-party Burning Man-style ensues, entertaining revelers.

We eschew these experiences, preferring a more culturally quiet and sympathetic approach to the holiday. This is one important reason we are based in the villages. What I did notice this year in our Teotitlan del Valle cemetery, is that no visitors appeared wearing face make-up like they did last year. I also noticed that more visitors were there under the auspices of local families, hovering with them around their family gravesites. There were more villagers sitting around the cemetery this year than last. Perhaps, this is because our group arrived earlier at four-thirty in the afternoon. Most of us departed by six just as the light was waning. Yes, there were tourist vans, but fewer and smaller than before. We did hear that the village authorities had intervened to discourage large groups.

When we went with Arturo to his mother’s grave in San Pablo Villa de Mitla the day before, we arrived in late morning. At noon, the difuntos (deceased) arrive, announced by the cohetes (firecrackers). This is the signal to leave and accompany the spirits back home. There were very few foreign visitors here and participating felt so special. At the home altar, Arturo said a prayer to his mother, lit the copal incense and invited her to partake of special pre-Hispanic foods on display at the altar–chocolate, tortillas (corn), squash, water, chile, honey, peanuts, pulque, beans, limes –all native to Mexico.

(Let me introduce you to Arturo Hernandez, an outstanding weaver who has gained worldwide recognition, and invited to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. He has been a good personal friend for many years)

How do you know her soul will follow you home, someone in our group asks.

I ask her in Zapotec to come with me. I feel her with me in my heart. I talk to her. I let her know our happiness and our challenges. I also ask her to remember me and welcome me when it is my time to join her. She is inside me and it brings us both joy to have this day together, Arturo says.

The base of this altar is constructed with three arches or openings, representing three stages–birth, life, death. They are replicas of the arches found at the nearby Mitla archeological site. Mitla, once known as Mictlan, meaning Place of the Dead or Underworld. This was a major Zapotec burial site for royalty. With the Spanish conquest, the openings were renamed to become God, the Son of God and the Holy Ghost.

After the altar ceremony and explanation of this important tradition, we followed Arturo to the al fresco dining area where his wife Marta had prepared a delicious meal of mole negro, chicken, rice, tamales and nopal salad for us, followed by my favorite dessert, nicuatole, a corn pudding. Buen provecho!

TODAY: The BEST Oaxaca Expoventa in Teotitlan del Valle–Don’t Miss It!

If you are in Oaxaca for 2022 Day of the Dead, be sure to put this on your calendar and show up in Teotitlan del Valle on November 3, 11 am to 4 pm. Map is on the poster. Ride share a taxi from the city with friends. Don’t miss it!

This expoventa showcases the textiles of some of Oaxaca’s most accomplished and famous weavers — personally curated by Eric Chavez Santiago and Norma Schafer.

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Can’t read the map? Here are directions: Enter Teotitlan del Valle from MEX 190 and continue on Avenida Benito Juarez to the center of town. Turn left on Hidalgo. Continue until it ends at the unpaved road and bear left. Go for about 1/4 mile. Turn left at the next road — Prolongacion Francisco I. Madero. Go to the first 2-story house on the right. You have arrived!

What is an Expoventa?

It’s like an artisan fair and exhibition that is a cross between a gallery show and sale. A purely Mexican event that has universal appeal.

The expoventa will be held at Taller Tenido a Mano, a new weaving and natural dye studio in Teotitlan. Come enjoy the mountains, fresh air, great country views and browse hand-made clothing, rugs, pottery, chocolate, and more.

Participating artisans come from all corners of Oaxaca State, from the coast to the Mixe to Papoalapan, and include the famous Palafox family from San Mateo del Mar, Dreamweavers Tixinda Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis, Galeria Fe y Lola naturally-dyed rugs and wall hangings, the family of Hermalinda Isidro from San Felipe Usila, Las Sanjuaneras from San Juan Colorado, Amalia Gue from Coban, Guatemala, Fernando Gutierrez Vasquez from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Francisca Diaz Ortega from San Juan Cotzocon.

Various price ranges. Huipiles, blusas, rebozos, bufandas, cojines. (Dresses, blouses, men’s shirts, shawls, scarves, pillow covers, home goods.) A collector’s delight. Most take credit cards.

Many have been invited to the juried Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, and are recognized as Grand Masters of Oaxaca Folk Art.

100% of sales go directly to artisans. We take no commissions.

Eric and Norma, Teotitlan cemetery, 2021

Your producers are Eric Chavez Santiago, co-director and Norma Schafer, founder and co-director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. 

Eric is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexico textiles and folk art with a special interest in artisan development and promotion. He is a weaver and natural dyer by training and a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola textile group. He and his wife Elsa are founders of Taller Teñido a Mano dye studio where they produce naturally dyed yarn skeins and textiles for worldwide distribution. He is trilingual, speaking Zapotec, Spanish and English and is a native of Teotitlan del Valle. He is a graduate of Anahuac University, founder of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department, and former managing director of folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions, culture and community.

Norma founded Oaxaca Cultural Navigator in 2006 while she was a senior staff administrator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since then, hundreds of people have traveled with Norma to experience the art, culture and textiles of Oaxaca, Chiapas and other parts of Mexico. About 65% of all participants return to take workshops, day tours and extended travel programs, an indication of client loyalty and satisfaction.