Posts Tagged ‘Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María’

The very dry rainy season continues and is the major topic of conversation among anyone who has any connection to la tierra (the land).  However, during today’s Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María in Teotitlán del Valle, the Zapotec god Cosijo answered the prayers for rain.

The sky darkened over Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo

Moctezuma (Sergio Gutiérrez Bautista) danced the story of the Conquest.

Doña Marina (Elizabeth Hernández Gutiérrez) danced her part.

The rain began to seriously fall and the plastic penacho (headdress) covers came out in force, but the danzantes continued to dance.

Comida (lunch break) came just in time, the sun came out, and Malinche (Quetzali del Rayo Santiago Ruiz) graciously posed for photos.

And, Javier Gutiérrez Hernandez (dance master, choreographer, former danzante, and father of Moctezuma) posed with his son’s penacho.

A little means a lot, though probably not enough to salvage this season’s milpa (field of corn, beans, and squash).  But, when your culture dates back at least 2,500 years, you take a long view of history.

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While waiting for yesterday’s convite to begin, the Danza de la Pluma subalternos, Florentino Martínez Ruiz and Juan Bautista Ruiz, knew how to keep young, old, all those in between, and the photographers entertained.


A little “splendor in the grass” for Juan?


And, the fun didn’t stop there, once the convite began, Florentino snatched a marmota from one of the little boys to give it a try.


And, everyone laughed, especially the boy!  That’s entertainment, Teotitlán del Valle style!

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During the aforementioned convites, you will find the boys of Teotitlán del Valle, Standing On the Corner watching all the girls go by.  Not much has changed since The Four Lads had a hit with that song!

From my friend Samuel Bautista Lazo, who grew up in Teotitlán del Valle, “It’s funny to see boys with their cameras taking pictures and videos of the girls they like, often they watch the procession at one corner once they have seen everything, they run (or bike) as fast as they can to the other good spot to see all the girls again.”  And, he knows from personal experience!

Like Sam, I wonder how many couples have gotten together???  Perhaps meeting at the fireworks a night later…

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Defining the terms…

According to Harrap’s Spanish and English Pocket Dictionary, convite means reception.  However, if I drag my weighty Larousse Standard Diccionario down from the shelf, convite translates to “invitation” or “banquet.”  And, if one turns to Google or Bing translation programs, a convite is a “treat.”

All pretty much agree, the English translation for cochinilla is cochineal.  As Wikipedia explains, “Cochineal is probably from French cochenille, Spanish cochinilla, Latin coccinus, meaning ‘scarlet-colored,’ and Latin coccum, meaning ‘berry (actually an insect) yielding scarlet dye.'”  It has been called, A Perfect Red and was much sought after by Europeans.  Home to said insect is the nopal cactus and guess who and where it was probably first cultivated?  In the valley of Oaxaca by her indigenous people, long before the Spanish set foot on the continent.

Which brings us to last Saturday (September 6) in Teotitlán del Valle, under the watchful eye of el Picacho, the sacred brother/sister mountain, for the convite that precedes the Virgen de la Natividad (Nativity of Mary) festival day, held annually on September 8…

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It is the custom in this Zapotec village for the unmarried women of the village to process through the streets two days before this (and a couple of other) important religious festivals, elegantly balancing handmade canastas (baskets), decorated with Catholic and Zapotec imagery, on their heads.  They wear brightly embroidered blusas (blouses) and, in this village known worldwide for its weaving, enredos, hand-woven red wool wrap skirts — the yarn dyed red with cochinilla.  They are accompanied by bands, men carrying enormous (and heavy!) marmotas (cloth globes), little boys carrying poles topped with miniature marmotas, sheep, and airplanes (the significance of the latter is a mystery to me), fearless pirotécnicas announcing the convite’s progress by shooting thunderous rockets into the air, and the dancers who will be performing the Danza de la Pluma in the church courtyard during the following two days’ of festivities.

Borrowing from the definitions above of convite, I would like to think of these processions as a lovely treat, an invitation to the impending fiestas/feast (banquet) days for the saints venerated by the village.  The beauty of the welcoming faces of the young, old, male, and female in the convite provide a warm reception to villagers, visitors, Catholic saints, and Zapotec ancestors, alike.

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The Danza de la Pluma penachos (headdresses), capes, and leggings are spectacular and unique to Teotitlán del Valle.  The feathered designs on the penachos are more intricate and varied than in other pueblos; and the capes and leggings are hand-woven in this village that is internationally known for its weaving.  However, while the Danza de la Pluma is a crowd-pleaser during the annual July Guelaguetza on Cerro del Fortín in Oaxaca, folkloric groups from other villages are usually chosen to perform it, as Teotitlán’s costumes are not considered “authentic.”


However, performing for tourists is not why Teotitlán del Valle tells this story through music and dance several times a year.  It is performed on the church plaza, not the municipal plaza, because it is an integral part of the annual major religious celebrations of the village:  Fiesta titular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo in July, Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María in September, Fiesta a el Rosario de la Virgen María in October, and Fiesta a la Virgen de Guadalupe in December.

Penachos from the Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María on Sunday…

Capes from Sunday’s Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María and July’s Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo festival.

Leggings from both festivals…

The various elements of the costumes do not come cheap and dancers must appeal to their extended families to assist in commissioning each of the pieces.  Thus, as annual festivals come and go during a dancer’s 3-year commitment, the costumes may evolve.

With their performances, the dancers honor the rituals of their church and community.  And, with their magnificent costumes, they pay homage to the creativity, talent, and tradition of Teotitlán del Valle’s weavers and feather artists.

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Yippee, I’m back in Oaxaca!  Last night’s flight was smooth, on-time, and mostly empty.  I have to admit to always getting a goofy grin as the little Embraer comes in over the lights of the city and the smile continues through immigration and baggage claim.  It usually falters and turns to a grimace when I have to hoist my 50 pound suitcase up onto the x-ray conveyor belt.  However, last night the grin returned when I pressed the “to search or not to search” button, got the green light, and was able to proceed directly to the booth to buy my colectivo ticket —  60 pesos for door-to-door service to the historic district ‘hood.  An easy return to home.

Unpacking done, late this morning I walked down to my local mercado to restock the larder with some basics:  2 perfect avocados, 1 pristine white onion, a bunch of unblemished small and sweet bananas, half kilo of quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), and 6 freshly made tamales (mole, rajas, and verde).  I’d actually asked for 4, but my regular tamale gal threw in 2 extras.  How often does that happen in el norte?   A welcoming return to home.

This afternoon, blogger buddy Chris and I drove out to Teotitlán del Valle for the performance of the Danza de la Pluma.  We stepped up onto the plaza of Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo and it was like emerging into the middle of a technicolor movie.  We’ve been there countless times, but today we were blown away by the scene.  Mother Nature had conspired to use her enhance wand on the sky, clouds, sun, and costumes.   A spectacular return to home!

The recent trip to California was to sign papers finalizing the sale of the house my grandparent’s built in 1957.  Prior to relocating to Oaxaca, it had been my home for 30 years, where I’d raised my kids and made many wonderful memories.  Needless to say, selling it was an emotionally challenging ordeal and it has engendered a lot of thinking about the notion of “home.”

However, these past 24 hours have reinforced my belief in bumper-sticker wisdom seen many years ago, “When you live in your heart, you are always home.”  It’s good to be home!

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Waiting for the convite… Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María.

Cloudy sky; young girl surrounded by plastic covered canastas; Cerro Picacho in background.

September 8 was a rainy day in Teotitlán del Valle.

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