Tag Archives: traje

Tuxtepec, Oaxaca: Huipils, Dance of the Pineapple Flower and Guelaguetza

Oaxaca’s July Guelaguetza features some of the most glorious traje — indigenous dress — throughout the state. But few, if any, surpass the beauty from the state of Tuxtepec.

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I am on a textile tour to discover the artistry of some of Oaxaca’s most remote villages. The evening our group arrives in Tuxtepec from Veracruz, we are treated to a fashion parade. Featured are the region’s woven and embroidered garments that we will see over the next several days. It’s like attending a sneak preview!

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They varied from the more simple daily wear of traditional women to those that are more elaborate and reserved for special occasions.

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The presentation is organized by Jose de Jesus Hernandez, known as Chucho. He teaches dance and has a collection of authentic dresses. Chucho explains that fifty-eight years ago there was a movement to return to the roots of the region by the younger generation. That’s why the Flor de Piña dance was created.

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I realize that all the different huipil designs in this one dance at the Guelaguetza is a compilation to express the diverse weaving and embroidery styles of Mazateco and Chinanteco communities that are part of Tuxtepec.

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As our week together comes to a close, we return to Tuxtepec one last time. Dance master Hector Arturo Hernandez meets us at the hotel, teaches us the Flor de Piña dance steps and brings huipils from his collection to show and tell. I would say we were not equal to the task of keeping up with the strenuous foot work of the dance!


More than one hundred and eighty young women audition to represent these Chinanteco and Mazateco villages. Only thirty-six are selected, says Don Hector Arturo, who has been teaching the Danza Flor de Piña for the past thirty-five years.

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He recruits and selects the dancers, and serves as the narrative voice for the Tuxtepec delegation at the Guelaguetza. As soon as I hear him speak, I recognize him. Our models for Don Arturo’s collection are women on the tour.

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In 1958, the governor of Tuxtepec decided that the jarocho music and dance presentation at the Guelaguetza did not fully integrate Tuxtepec with Oaxaca, since jarocho is a part of Veracruz identity. So, the Danza Flor de Piña was choreographed and orchestrated to the poem of native son Felipe Matias Velasco.

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By doing this, the back strap loom weaving and embroidery of these remote Oaxaca villages became a distinguishing feature of the Guelaguetza, something that we all identify with its pageantry and with Oaxaca.

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Those who study Oaxaca culture and communities know that the term guelaguetza is NOT about this annual tourist attraction that is a dance interpretation of the word. It is a way of life, the foundation for maintaining community and mutual support in indigenous pre-Hispanic Mexican villages.

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Note: These finest quality huipiles range in price from 1,500 pesos to over 6,500 pesos. Some take more than three or four months to make. The current exchange rate is about 13 pesos to the dollar. The average wage of an agricultural or hourly wage worker in Mexico is 100 pesos or eight dollars a day. Tourism is Oaxaca’s economic engine.

How To Get There

If you are more inclined to travel independently rather than taking a tour, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175 to Tuxtepec. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.


You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle Nacional. There are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Pedro Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz.

This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.




Graduation Fiesta at the Elementary School

We walked up to the Presa (reservoir) that day, it was a Friday, very early before it got too hot, and on the way back stopped by to say hello to Ester, Russio and their three girls–Jazmin, Ester and Rocio–who live in the house with the golden bull and the cackling guacalotes just in front of our friend Annie on the hillside at the outskirts of town. What was once a donkey path in front of their modest adobe casita has become a graded thoroughfare, enabling small cars and trucks to come into town from the remote mountain villages. The walking is easier now, not as many granite outcroppings to traverse as we pass through cactus meadows with grazing sheep, cattle and horses. Development is extending its reach even in Teotitlan.

Please come to the escuela this afternoon at 3 p.m., Ester and Russio invited us. Today is the elementary school graduation; daughters Ester and Rocio will be participating in the fiesta. Come, they said, even if you’re late. After noodling around the village, stopping for coffee at The Sacred Bean Cafe, and visiting with Josefina and Magda at Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast, I went to the elementary school, drawn by the music coming from the plaza. It was after 4 p.m. and things were just getting going.

This is the second graduation ceremony I attended during this visit. As I watched this group of first through sixth graders at the elementary school, I was struck by how children are taught at an early age to dance, sing, play, laugh, honor their cultural traditions through dance, revere their history, and demonstrate appreciation for the customs that define their identity as Zapotecs and as Mexicans. What I noticed was how the ceremony of something even as simple as an elementary school graduation takes on epic proportions. Here is the village’s very own Guelaguetza. It appeared to me that the entire village turned out in support. People dressed up in their finest frocks and fanciest shoes,

there were reserved seats of honor for parents and close relatives of the graduates. Everyone participated to collectively bless the future of all these young people with their presence, whether they were graduating or not. The village as extended family promoted a feeling of well-being, joy and comfort. The area was bedecked with balloons and flowers. Drinks were handed out gratis to family members of the graduates. Along the periphery and outside the school, vendors sold refrescas (soft drinks), helados and nieves (ice cream and sorbet), and postres y dulces (pastries and sweets). Students giggled, laughed, were nervous about whether they would do well, played tag, hung on their mother’s

skirts, stood soldierly while posing for photos, took their roles seriously, fell down and got up again, shouldered the burden of heavy baskets balanced on small heads, smiled in satisfaction of having done well at the end. All will go on to middle school, some of those will go on to high school, and then very few will continue on to university. Most will become weavers or laborers, others will work in Oaxaca or travel with coyotes to work in the U.S. Celebrations of village life cycle events are a constant, mixed with joy, tragedy and continuity.

Pigtails, Ribbons & Aprons: Las Abuelas

Las Abuelas (Ah-bway-lahz), the grandmothers, come together at Teotitlan market every morning to shop for the day’s meals for their families. The daily morning market is essential to the social fabric of village life for older women, a time to socialize, exchange news, and for some, I hear tell, take a nip of sweet flavored mezcal together, a ritual, I suppose, to seal their sisterhood. The abuelas get to the market via tuk-tuk, riding in the front seat or flatbed of a battered pick-up or by foot, carrying on laps or under the crook of their elbow the traditional shopping basket woven from split bamboo and trimmed in wide palm leaves. There is a status associated with the baskets: the fineness of weave, size, and added decoration, such as miniature baskets suspended from a garland encircling the perimeter. The grandmothers wear their hair in braids woven with ribbons. Mostly, they are burgundy red. They can also be brown, green, blue and yellow. I don’t know if there is a significance to the color, and this is something I will need to find out and report on. My guess is that each village has its own color preferences and customs. The women from Benito Juarez and Santa Ana del Valle and Tlacachuaya will have a variation on this theme. Sometimes, the braids hang loose and and tied together at the end forming a V down her back. A braid will extend far beyond the waist. Sometimes the braids are wrapped around the top of the head and give the appearance of a crown. This is useful, too, because a basket can be carried on the head, balanced, as the woman walks along with a grandchild in tow or with arms swinging free or carrying a bouquet of flowers for the home altar. The grandmothers wear the traditional handwoven, cochineal dyed wool wrap around fabric that is the skirt (falda). It is tied with a sash (fajas) that has a balled tassel on the end. The blouse (blusa) can be cotton and hand embroidered or commercially purchased. Sometimes, the skirt is a subtle check and the blouse is a polyester floral, having no particular significance other than personal preference. The costume is then complete when it is topped with a checked and machine embroidered or applique apron. In the market, the wife of a local English teacher (a man who lived in the states for 15 years before returning to Teo), sells intricately embroidered aprons. This is the “overblouse” uniform of village women from Mitla to Tule. Most buy aprons at the Sunday market in Tlacalula where the selection is so vast, over 50 different stalls of apron vendors or so it seems, in every shade and color combination. Aprons sell for 120 to 250 pesos depending upon intricacy of design, and whether both the front and back are embroidered. Scallop edges, huge flower or animal designs, embellished pockets and button closures will command a higher price — one more symbol of economic position in the community. To find these stalls in the market, you have to wander way back beyond the food vendors — ask: A donde estan los mandiles? Mandil is the Spanish word for apron. Few of the young women who stay in the village are wearing this traditional dress. Jeans, Gap or Tommy Hilfiger t-shirts and sweat shirts, and Nike tennis shoes are the ubiquitous uniform of teens and young adults worldwide. Young matrons of the village in their mid-20’s to 40’s will wear a store bought dress topped with an apron. Only the grandmothers carry on the traje tradition. In a few more years, will this be a memory captured by our photos as cultural traditions change and adapt and become subsumed by the dominant culture. I marvel as I sit in the market or meander down the streets at the tenacity of these women, their strength and fortitude and beauty, their survivorship, and wonder what the village will look like in 30 years when they have passed on. Will their dress be part of the museum exhibit only to be brought out during the annual July village fiesta that features the parade of the canastas? And I ask myself, am I being a romantic, romanticizing a way of life that is destined to change?

Soledad with new year bread

Abuelas at the baptism