Tag Archives: time

Carnival in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Carnival is a Catholic festival traditionally celebrated before Lent, six weeks before Easter.  In Mexico it combines masquerade, dancing, music and mucho mezcal and is usually a two-day event that goes long into the night.

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the rug weaving village located about 15 miles outside of Oaxaca city in the Tlacolula valley, Carnival begins the Monday after Easter and continues for five days.  The Teotitecos believe the time to let loose is after Easter Sunday.  Each of the five districts in the pueblo will host a daily festival that begins around 3 p.m. Oaxaca time.  If you come, look for the big red and blue striped fiesta tent that will cover the patio of the host home.


Oaxaca Photography Workshops offer cultural immersion, too.

We were told the festivities start in the municipal plaza at 5:00 p.m. Teotitlan time.  This can be very confusing since Oaxaca city goes on daylight savings time but in Teotitlan time never changes.  So, Oaxaca time is one hour later than Teotitlan time.  I have found it is important to clarify an appointment hour by asking: Oaxaca time or Teotitlan time?  Otherwise, you run the risk of being too early or too late.  The ancient Zapotecs believed that whomever controlled time controlled the world.  They adopted this from the Mayan concept of time. They were right!


My friend Merry Foss and I arrived in the plaza at 5:15 p.m. to find it empty.  The benefit was that we got a prime seat at the top of the steep stairway that was once the foundation of the ancient Zapotec temple.  We had a vantage point high above the plaza.  Soon, the abuelas with their grandchildren arrived and filled in the seats around us.  Merry had a conversation with the woman next to us who was wearing a traditional 20-year-old silk rebozo with an extraordinary hand-tied punta (fringe).  The discussion focused on the merits of weaving and wearing rebozos in cotton, silk or art silk/rayon, and how well they drape.  It was a good way to pass the time.


By 7:00 p.m. Teotitlan time, Carnival was in full-swing.  Vendors selling bags of potato chips seasoned with salsa and fresh-squeezed lime juice made their way through the crowd. Ringing the plaza were street vendors whose carts were filled with cakes, cookies, churros, cream cones, nieves with fruit flavors like tuna and limon, corn cobs on a stick smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with chili, and aguas de sandia or horchata or lemonade.

Nearly the entire village was present represented by all the generations.  The ceremonial aspects include honoring the village leaders who volunteer for one to three-years to keep the services operating.  They sit in prominent reserved seats.  The volunteer police force are present in new green manta cotton shirts and symbolic clubs.  They are watchful that every one behaves themselves.


The band tonight was in fine form and the music was definitely perfect for toe-tapping from the bleachers.


Oaxaca Photography Workshops offer cultural immersion, too.


What Time Is It? Oaxaca or Teotitlan Time

There is a curious practice of going by a different clock in Teotitlan del Valle.  For years, now, I have never understood why the village is one hour ahead or behind Oaxaca city, 30 minutes away.  Village time is regulated by the Zapotec committee that administers village life.  I just asked Stephen, Do you remember whether Teo is an hour ahead or an hour behind Oaxaca?  It’s too confusing, he said, all I know is Oaxaca is an hour behind us on the east coast.  If this sounds confusing to you, you now know our experience of sorting out whether the time we are to meet someone is Teo or Oaxaca “time” and why people are always late … or early.  The confusion, I am learning, may be intentional.  After all, every Zapotec in Teotitlan knows what time it is.

Earl Shorris, author of The Life and Times of Mexico (as well as Latinos and In the Language of Kings),  discusses the importance of time in Mexica or Aztec and Mayan civilization as part of indigenous identity and culture.   Time is more than the clock.  It represents who interprets the meaning of the world and life according to ancient traditions.  It represents power and independence.  The Maya notion (and that of the Zapotecs and later Aztecs) of existence itself relates to the calendars. Time is also the symbolic tension and conflict between the conqueror and the oppressed, the ancient pre-Hispanic rites interpreted by shaman or the new religion imported by the Spanish Catholic Church.  The masters of Zero long before it occurred to the Europeans, complex astronomy, and mathematics, had been conquered.   Shorris tells us that the glorious accomplishments of Mesoamerica are embedded in the ancient practices that continue in subtle ways as sub-text to modern life, and drives the undercurrent of indigenous beliefs and practices.

I came to understand by reading this book that Teotitlan del Valle in the Valley of Oaxaca maintains its own time, I believe, as a way to defeat the European world and the Gregorian calendar, to pass the word that the war for time and power is not over.  Who owns time, who interprets the sun, the moon and the stars, owns the world.  It had been that way in Mesoamerica for thousands of years.