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Día de Carnaval (aka, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival) in Oaxaca is muy especial — especially in the village of San Martín Tilcajete. The Spanish brought the tradition to Mexico and, like may other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.” Apparently, it caught on “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.”

Masks waiting to be worn at the workshop of Victor Fabián Ortega (click on image to enlarge)…

Not only were there masks at the workshop, there were bodies to be painted and it was a family affair — brothers, sisters, cousins, children, wives, and Victor himself who painted, was painted, and donned a mask.

Other family members (including women, new in the past couple of years) came painted and masked to gather to begin roaming through the village with other families, inviting one and all to the festivities!

And, it’s not just the adults. As with all celebrations and rituals in Oaxaca, children are encouraged to appreciate and participate — hopefully, ensuring these traditions continue.

The devils of San Martín Tilcajete laughed at everything: baptisms, weddings, solemn acts. Surrounded by devils with masks, old shoes, clothing of sacks, paintings that come from the earth and ancestral plants, they roam the streets chattering and everywhere they walk the streets laughing and appear either as devils or animal spirits.

That is why in SMT in carnival, it becomes a poetic dimension of shapes, colors and sounds; a fun and educational community that teaches us how imperfect we are, and to ask the good not to be so solemn and boring. Chamucos: Carnaval de San Martín Tilcajete Oaxaca, by Adolfo Pérez Butrón. (My translation.)

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If you live in Oaxaca, the characters of Carnaval are coming to a village near you. And to get you in the mood and entice you to one of the wild and whacky celebrations, the citizens of the city were treated to a parade sampling the various traditions — no two villages are the same.

Villa de Zaachila, “Grupo Natividad”

Putla Villa de Guerrero

Ánimas Trujano

Macuilxóchitl de Artigas Carranza

Santa Catarina Minas

Santa María Coyotepec

San Juan Bautista La Raya

Cuilápam de Guerrero

And, last but not least, San Martín Tilcajete…

That’s where I will be tomorrow!

 

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Scenes from the streets of San Martín Tilcajete during yesterday’s Carnaval craziness.

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“Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretive.” – Eliott Erwitt

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Given that Oaxaca loves parades and processions (the numbers of Muertos comparsas and Guelaguetza desfiles seem to grow every year), yesterday the 1st Muestra de Carnavales de los Valles Centrales took over the Macedonio Alcalá walking street with costumes, devils, painted bodies, cowbells, bands, masked men, mezcal, and more.

Santa Ana Zegache

Santa Ana Zegache

In an effort to promote tourism in the villages, residents and visitors were treated to sampling the variety of Carnaval traditions from five of the Valley of Oaxaca’s communities.

San Jacinto Chilteca

San Jacinto Chilteca

The Spanish brought the tradition of Carnaval to Mexico.  However, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”

Santa María Coyotepec

Santa María Coyotepec

Apparently, it caught on “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.”

Barrio de San Pablo Zaachila

Barrio de San Pablo Zaachila

This Día de Carnaval (aka, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival), like previous years, we will be heading out to San Martín Tilcajete.

San Martín Tilcajete

San Martín Tilcajete

However, now I’m thinking we might want to add another stop (or four?) to our itinerary.  We shall see…

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During la Guelaguetza, the Desfiles de Delegaciones brought masked men (appearances to the contrary, most are men) to the streets of Oaxaca.  From San Andrés Zautla delegation, the Danza de los Jardineros…

 

along with the village viejos (old men).

 

The guys and “gal” from the Danza de los Diablos of Santiago Llano Grande.

 

From the delegation of the Diosa Centéotl, Santa María Zacatepec.

 

The masked Danza de los Diablos dancers of San Sebastián Tecomaxtlahuaca.

 

Danza de la Pluma subalternos from Teotitlán del Valle and Villa de Zaachila.

 

Carnaval dancers from Putla Villa de Guerrero.

 

Never a dull moment in Oaxaca!  Click on photos for enlarged images.

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Día de Carnaval (aka, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival), a day to let the good times roll before the sacrifices of the Lenten season, has come and gone.  And, again, blogger buddy Chris and I headed out to the surreal celebration in San Martín Tilcajete.  Driving into the village, one soon hears, rather than sees, that this isn’t a normal day in this wood carving village 17 miles south of the city — the streets are alive with the sound of cow bells.  Roaming the dirt back roads and paved main street, los encabezados (guys covered in motor oil or paint) come running past — with cow bells tied around their waist — making mischief and startling the unaware.

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Masks, all the better to hide one’s identity when making fun of the powers that be, are an international carnaval tradition.  Thus, in this village, known for its fantastically painted wood carvings, wooden masks play a big role in the celebration — including several by our friend Jesus Sosa Calvo and his family at Matlacihua Arte.

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This is a town where creativity reigns supreme and the costumes seem to get more whimsical and weirder every year.

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Oh, and did I mention there is a wedding?  Well, actually a parody of a traditional village wedding.  There is much pomp and circumstance, hilarity, and music — not to mention, breakfast and lunch for wedding guests — as participants move from the house of the mayor, to the home of the bride, and to City Hall for the civil ceremony.  Dancing in the plaza follows and then, at some predetermined time, there is a procession through the streets before arriving at another house where the happy “couple” kneel before “priest” for the religious ceremony.

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And, you might want to take a second look at those beautiful wedding guests with the smoldering eyes and modeling the gorgeous gowns.  They are not what they seem — and that includes the bride.

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The Spanish brought the Carnaval tradition to Mexico because, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”  Evidently it caught on, “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken…”  And, San Martín Tilcajete certainly knows how!!!

By the way, many from the creative team of the movie Coco came to enjoy the festivities and renew acquaintances in this town that provided the inspiration for the alebrijes in the film.  “De Oaxaca tomamos los alebrijes, la celebración del Día de los Muertos, toda esa energía y colores están en los paisajes de la película. Quise ser lo más fiel en esta investi­gación y plasmarlo en la cin­ta…”  (“From Oaxaca we take the alebrijes, the celebration of the Day of the Dead, all the energy and colors are in the landscapes of the film…”) (NVI Noticias, 2/14/2018)

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Well, actually, they came, they saw, and they set the village straight.

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Stay tuned…

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Besides a mock wedding with men dressed as women, mentioned in my previous post, Carnaval (Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) in San Martín Tilcajete also means young men covered in motor oil (yuck!) and paint running through the village with belts of cowbells ringing.

And, it means muchas máscaras de madera — in this village famous for its fantastical hand-painted alebrije woodcarvings and masks.

Some of my favorite masks and body paint were done by Jesus Sosa Calvo, his talented wife, Juana Vicente Ortega Fuente, and their gifted children.  (See the mask I gave to my son, carved by Apolinar, one of their sons.)  If you are in San Martín Tilcajete, be sure to see their work at Matlacihua Arte (right across from the zócalo on the main street).

The Spanish brought this pre-Lenten tradition to Mexico and, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”  Apparently, it caught on “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.”

Masks, motor oil, face and body paint, you name it, disguised and anonymous was the order of the day!

Save

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A jester comes to San Martín Tilcajete…

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The Maladjusted Jester
by Danny Kaye

Your majesty, I have a confession
My secret I must now betray
I was not a born fool
It took work to get this way

When I was a lad I was gloomy and sad
And I was from the day I was born
When other lads giggled and gurgled and wiggled
I proudly was loudly forlorn
My friends and my family looked at me clammily
Thought there was something amiss
When others found various antics hilarious
All I could manage was this? ho ho
Or this? ho waahhh

My father he shouted he needs to be clouted
His teeth on a wreath I’ll hand him
My mother she cried as she rushed to my side
You’re a brute and you don’t understand him
So they send for a witch with a terrible twitch
To ask how my future impressed her
She took one look at me and cried hehehehehe, he?
What else could he be but a jester?
A jester a jester, a funny idea a jester
No butcher no baker no candlestick maker
And me with the look of a fine undertaker
Impressed her as a jester?

Now where could I learn any comical turn
That was not in a book on the shelf
No teacher to take me and mold me and make me
A merryman fool or an elf
But I’m proud to recall that in no time at all
With no other recourses but my own resources
With firm application and determination
I made a fool of myself!

I bought a little gun and I learned to shoot
I bought a little a horn and I learned to toot
Now I can shoot and toot ain’t that cute?  Plbbt!

I started to travel to try to unravel
My mind and to find a new chance

When I got to Spain it was suddenly plain
That the field that appealed was the dance
The Spanish were clannish but I wouldn’t vanish
I learned every step they had planned
The first step of all isn’t hard to recall
Cause the first step of all is to stand
And stand
And stand, and stand, and stand, and stand, and
They sometimes stand this way for days

Then they get very mad at the floor and start to stomp on it

[Smash! Ow!]

After all of my practice the terrible fact is
I made a fool of myself

I sadly decided that dancing as I did
To sing was a thing that was sure
I found me a teacher a crotchety creature
Who used to sing coloratura
She twisted my chin pushed my diaphragm in
With a poker she vocalized me
When she said it was best that I threw out my chest
You may gather that rather surprised me

I was on solid ground till I suddenly found
That in Venice I was to appear
The gala locale was a choppy canal
And me, a high sea gondolier
I nervously perched as the gondola lurched
Before the King’s palazzo
As I started my song my voice it was strong
But my stomach I fear was not so

Oh solo mio, oh
Oh solo ooh  Help!

When I fell overboard how his majesty roared
And before a siesta he made me his jester
And I found out soon that to be a buffoon
Was a serious thing as a rule
For a jester’s chief employment
Is to kill himself for your enjoyment
And a jester unemployed is nobody’s fool

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Fat Tuesday (aka, Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras), the day before the 6+ weeks of Lent begins, means Carnaval in scattered parts of Mexico.  I was supposed to be spending it on the Costa Chica — where Spanish Catholicism meets Mixtec meets Amuzgo meets Chatino meets Chontal meets Zapotec meets Afro-Mexicano — a region with some pretty unique ways of celebrating Carnaval.  Alas, illness (not me) has postponed that trip until next year.

In the meantime, the show must go on!  Thus, we returned to San Martín Tilcajete, one of the villages in the valley of Oaxaca, known for fantastical wood carving and surreal decorative painting, that result in alebrije and masks.

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And, it’s the masks that take center stage during Carnaval.

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The day before Lent in San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca.

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Stay tuned… More masks and mayhem to come!

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A friend (who shall remain anonymous) was persuaded to model the mask I gave one of my sons for Christmas.

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It is the work of Apolinar Sosa, the son of distinguished carver Jesus Sosa Calvo and Juana Vicente Ortega Fuentes of San Martín Tilcajete.

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This mask won a prize and had actually been worn during the unique Carnaval celebration in the village.

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Don’t you love the tongue of dried chiles?

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I love the carved masks worn in many of the traditional dances in Mexico and, thus, made a bee-line to the current exhibition at the Palacio de Gobierno, Máscaras de Juxtlahuaca — part of the month-long celebration of Guelaguetza.

Most of the masks in the show are the work of  Alejandro Guzman Vera, a native of Santiago Juxtlahuaca in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca.  He was born in 1972 and, as a young child, made his first mask of cardboard and painted it with crayons.  At age 12, he carved his first wooden mask.  He went on to study at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas and has become one of the premier mask-makers in Mexico.  He has exhibited world-wide and is one of the honored Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular de Oaxaca, profiled in the book by the same name.  By the way, he is not only a mask-maker, but also an accomplished musician and is playing a role in the rescue of the traditional music of Juxtlahuaca.

(Click on an image to enlarge it and to enable a slideshow.)

Dancers from Santiago Juxtlahuaca will be performing the Danza de los Rubios in the morning Guelaguetza presentation on July 27 and will, no doubt, be wearing masks, cracking their whips, and jingling their spurs during the Procession of Delegations on the preceding Saturday.  For a glimpse at the Danza de los Rubios and to get a feeling for some of the music Alejandro Guzman Vera is involved in saving, here is a snippet from last year’s Guelaguetza performance:

Masks are donned not only for the Danza de los Rubios, but also for the Danza de los Diablos and the Danza del Macho, which are performed at various annual festivals in the region.  Once carved and painted, the wooden masks can be embellished with glass eyes and real animal teeth and horns of bulls, goats, or deer.  They are an amazing sight to see!

The Máscaras de Juxtlahuaca exhibition at the Museo del Palacio in Oaxaca city closes August 28, 2015.

(This blog post is especially for you, Jane and Ken!)

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In my last blog post, I mentioned Teotitlán del Valle does not go on Daylight Saving Time.  And, they are not alone!  As the article, Clocks don’t change where sun keeps time, most of Mexico didn’t adopt DST until 1996 and given the autonomy guaranteed to indigenous communities, “70% of the entire indigenous population of Oaxaca” have chosen to follow the sun — the “King of the Sky.”

Ojala, blogger buddy Chris (who doesn’t change his watch to DST either) and I will be returning to Teotitlán del Valle for the final day (into night) of the Baile de Los Viejitos, (the Dance of the Old Men) this time hosted by el quinto (5th) sección.  However, before we go, a few more scenes from Tuesday’s fiesta, put on by the segunda (2nd) sección.Viejito with cane

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I say, “ojala, ” because several marches and blockades are currently in progress throughout Oaxaca and on the carreteras into and out of the city.  Alas, the video I shot on Tuesday of the Baile de los Viejitos may be as close as I come to the dancing action until next year.

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It’s Carnaval time in Teotitlán del Valle.  Yes, I know, Easter was last Sunday and Lent is over.  However, like many other things (e.g., not going on Daylight Saving Time), this Zapotec village does things their own way.  Thus, instead of celebrating Carnaval the day before Lent begins, they celebrate for the five days following Easter!  As I’ve written about previously, Carnaval in Teotitlán is a major production that indeed takes a village; young and old, female and male all have parts to play in the festivities that include music, masked men, mezcal, and mouthwatering mole.

Yesterday, rather than sitting with the men and scattering of male and female extranjeros, gal pal J and I hung out with the women and children in the outdoor kitchen that had been set up in the back of the large earthen courtyard.  There the women prepared enough chicken, mole amarillo, and tortillas to feed one hundred!

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The seemingly always well-behaved kids played and took care of the babies while their mamas and abuelas worked.

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Muchisimas gracias to the women and children of Teotitlán del Valle’s Segunda Sección for being so gracious and welcoming.

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