Archive for February, 2009

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Everybody Dance Now

Friday, February 20, 2009

I never thought when I started studying Zapotec that my research at some point would best be served by putting on a dress, but when duty calls, we do what we must.

The main event of Carnaval involves putting on a costume and dancing. The costumes often involve wearing the opposite gender’s clothes and something to cover the face, which, in the name of scientific discovery, I demonstrate here (with Benjamin’s help).

Benjamin and John Ready for Carnaval

Benjamin and John Ready for Carnaval

The traditional masks shown here are painted screens, although anything works, Halloween-type masks (there was even a George W. Bush among the Luvina revelers), bandanas, baskets and bags with eye-holes cut out, etc.

People then danced around in a fenced-off area in front of the agencia. Generally, people dance individually, though occasionally you get couples dancing together, as you can see at the end of the post.

During certain songs, the music periodically pauses and people step up to the microphone to recite verses they have composed, either beforehand, or more impressively, while dancing. The little poems (and I was happy to hear some in Zapotec as well as in Spanish, which is more common) are intended to be humorous, although often at someone’s expense. Despite my attempts at disguise (I pretty well covered every inch of skin), my height gives me away and I even was mentioned in a couple of verses, which I took as an honor. I heard a reference to the gavacha (a white woman), which I understood to be me, and so apparently was a reference to the Queen of England. People who produce good verses are admired, and coming up with them on the fly (such as those directed at me) show particular skill. Some of the best seem to be those that involve back and forth barbs between participants.

The costumes and attempts to disguise the voice can offer some anonymity, and allow for some pointed barbs, although things can get a bit heated too, which is while several of the community police were patrolling the scene carrying clubs. Even so, as the day wore on, several fights did break out (although they didn’t seem to be verse-inspired). This is a regular part of Carnaval, Margarita assured, kind of like fights at a hockey game I guess.

And just to liven things up a bit more, there are also petate bulls, that people (generally the only ones not in costume) can carry around while dancing. They then attempt to smash the petate bulls into the dancers. The more daring dancers try to tempt the people with the bulls and try to dance out of the way.

I didn’t end up facing the toros myself, since they did’t start using them until later in the afternoon. I only got to dance a few songs before we stopped for a lunchtime hour break. It was overcast, but my costume was still too hot, and once I got out of it, I didn’t get around to getting back into it, before the day’s dancing was done.

That was the thing that surprised me the most: The dancing ended around 6pm. I really expected something that involved drunken revelry to be more of a nighttime activity, but it’s a all day event here. They’ll be starting again at 8 in the morning.

Dancing at Carnaval, Luvina, 2009

Dancing at Carnaval, Luvina, 2009

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The Official Drink of Carnaval

Friday, February 20, 2009

By the time we reached Luvina [Debiina’], the party had already started. There was a fenced off area that was set up in front of the agencia [yuulagwi’], and people were already there in costume, dancing:

First Day of Carnaval in Luvina 2009

First Day of Carnaval in Luvina 2009

We watched for a little while, and then we were invited upstairs to visit with some members of the cabildo. We were offered sodas and/or beer while we visited with them. Of course, alcohol is an important part of Carnaval with lots of beer and mezcal consumption, but the traditional drink of Carnaval is tepache [nuppi’] or [nuppi’ yattsi]. It’s an alcoholic drink made from pulque [nuppi’ sittsi], the liquid from the center of the maguey plant [tu’a].

After we had finished our sodas and beer, they brought in some tepache for us. It’s a brownish yellow color (hence the name nuppi’ yattsi, yattsi is the word for yellow), fairly sweet, and stronger than I had thought. It’s offered for free during Carnaval to revelers and spectators alike (and the cabildo assured us they had enough for the 5 days of Carnaval in Luvina). So with that, why not dance a little?

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Tumbas, Tumbas, JaJaJa

Friday, February 20, 2009

Carnaval doesn’t actually start in Macuil until tomorrow, so we decided to head over to the neighboring town of Luvina [Debiina’], where the festivities started today.

After spending the night in Macuil, we drove over to Luvina, and as we were going along Margarita’s sister told us that she had been taken on a hike up the mountain beside Luvina called [I’ya Periicu].  The peak is very distinctive and visible from Macuil, [as can be seen in the following photo taken Feb. 24, 2009].

I'ya Periicu

I'ya Periicu

She told us that up there she had seen presumably pre-Columbian columns and that there were tombs up there.  That’s really exciting. While there are a number of excavated sites in the valley, I haven’t really seen much evidence of archaeological explorations in the district of Ixtlán. It would be great to go up there and find something new to the archaeological world. Since my first visit to Oaxaca, I’ve said after I completed my linguistics degree, I should go get a degree in archaeology. (And it might not be a bad idea. There was a recent discussion on Language Log about the trouble archaeologists and linguists have in understanding the discipline of the other.) This recent claim about tombs near Luvina, if true, certainly renews that desire.

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Slim Thursday

Thursday, February 19, 2009

We’re heading off to Macuil today for Carnaval related activities. Here’s a video someone posted showing what’s in store for me:

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A Little Bit o’ Shaken Goin’ On

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Margarita’s sister and I were just watching one of our favorite shows, House, on DVD on my computer when we felt the familiar rumble of an earthquake, something I’ve been missing since I moved out of LA 4 and a half years ago.

This was a nice one, not too strong, but noticeable.  There was a good deal of rumbling and the entertainment center rattled nicely.  I thought of moving my laptop away from the entertainment center in case anything fell, but in the end, didn’t bother moving off the couch.  After maybe 15 seconds (if that) it was over and done with.

Margarita had been in the shower and hadn’t noticed anything when we told her about it later.  I did get to hear some discussion of the situation in Zapotec though, as she and her sisters discussed that biyhuu’ looyuu ‘the ground shook’ (from biyhuu’, the past tense of shake, and looyuu, ‘ground, earth’).

Since I haven’t been running into as many earthquakes of late, it’s been a while since I looked up earthquakes on the USGS earthquake site, and wow, do they have some cool displays now.  First, of course, there was the standard information.  It was a magnitude 4.7 earthquake that occurred in Eastern Oaxaca, near the Chiapas border at 11:41 pm local time on February 17th (which if my cell phone is keeping accurate time (actually it seems to be a minute fast) means it took about 2 minutes for the shaking to reach us in Oaxaca City).  The coolest new thing (new to me at least) that I saw on the USGS site though was that the location was pinpointed on Google Maps and even on Google Earth, and all within 15 minutes of the earthquake.  Using the latter, I was able to determine that Oaxaca City is about 165 miles almost due east of the epicenter.

And since according to the USGS site the epicenter was 67.4 miles underground, it means the seismic had to travel about 180 miles to reach us.  For them to have reached us in two minutes they would have been having to travel over 5000 mph, which if Wikipedia is to be believed is not an unreasonable speed (P-waves are claimed to travel 5000 m/s (11184 mph) through granite and S-waves about 3000 m/s (6710 mph).  They both travel more slowly through less dense material).  All the info on the USGS website is just too much fun!

I’ve always enjoyed exploring a map.  Now, I just hope Oaxaca doesn’t fall off it.