Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category


Dia de San Juan

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Today is El Día de San Juan, the day commemorating the birth of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of both San Juan Luvina and San Juan Atepec, the two closest Zapotec speaking towns to Macuiltianguis.  I am sure there have been numerous festivities this weekend in both towns, celebrating the event.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the towns this time.  But 12 years ago I did get to go, when a friend and I walked from Macuiltianguis to Luvina and then on to Atepec.

Luvina and Macuil are fairly close to one another.  A mountain sits between them, but if you are on the outskirts of Macuil, you can even see Luvina.  (You can see another town, Abejones, sitting on a mountain across from the river from Macuil.  As the crow flies, it might even be closer than Atepec, but not by walking.)  The trip into Luvina was fairly easy.  We took our time and I think I got various plant and insect names along the way. (I seem to recall trying to take a picture of a gwelluulu’ ye’e ‘dung beetle’–literally shit roller–on that trip.)  We got into town and met with the cabildo and saw some of the beginning festivities with fireworks.  The only tricky part was figuring out where to stay, but eventually my friend got us a place to stay with someone who I think might have known his father.

We set out fairly early the next morning with minimal provisions (maybe some bottled water and crackers) for Atepec.  That was a much bigger ordeal.  People still frequently travel between Macuil and Luvina (there’s even a dirt road between them now for cars that wasn’t there in 2000) and I think we even met a peddler selling net bags going between towns and I think some Chinantecs walking between them as well.  Walking between Luvina and Atepec seems less common.  And definitely was more of a challenge as we had to go up a mountain.  That was killer.

Unfortunately after we did get to the top, we made the mistake of going down the other side and ended up kind of lost.  We kept going around the next ridge expecting to see the town in the distance, but no such luck.  I’ve never felt so much in the middle of nowhere.  Nobody else was around–fewer and fewer people work in the fields, and even so, it was El Día de San Juan, so nobody was out anyway.  We did run across someone’s horse, but that was about it.  (I wondered if we could ride him into town, but it was probably for the best we didn’t even try.)  We ran out of our bottled water but found some from a spring to get.  It was delicious.  Finally, we figured out we needed to get back on top of the mountain and had to reascend, which was no easy feat for me.  Eventually, with a lot of help from my friend, we did it, and followed along the crest of the mountain, eating some diiga’ ‘berries’ along the way.  And at last, after about six or seven hours, we made it into town (it was supposed to have only taken us three hours or so).

We wondered into town and found a place serving food to finally get something real to eat.  (There was apparently some discussion between proprietors in Zapotec about whether they should serve us.  Of course, unbeknownst to them, my friend understood what they were saying.)  Luckily, at least we had a place to stay that night, since my friend’s aunt had in-laws in the town.  As part of the San Juan festivities, there was a dance that night, but I really felt out of place after I saw everyone dressed up there and I was still in the same muddy clothes from that day’s journey.  I’m a reluctant dancer anyway, and that didn’t help.

The next day was better.  There were horse races and various events in front of the municipio.  The band played, clowns and acrobats were entertaining the crowd, there was a greased pole climbing contest.  It reminded me somewhat of going to fairs and rodeos as a kid.  ImageI think for our journey back, we eventually managed to hitch a ride with someone up to the main highway.  From there, I don’t remember how we find our way back to Macuil, which means it wasn’t half the adventure of getting to Atepec in the first place.


B-Ball for Benito

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This weekend and next, there is a basketball tournament going on in honor of Benito Juárez, who was President of Mexico and the country’s version of Abraham Lincoln.  He was a Zapotec, from the Sierra, and the basketball tournament is being held in his hometown of Guelatao [Ellato’].  The tournament concludes next Saturday, the 21st of March, his birthday.  Margarita, Benjamin, and her brother-in-law have gone today to watch the early rounds.


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


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?


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:



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This evening, las posadas will begin in Macuil and presumably throughout much of Mexico.  And based on past experience, the US Macuil community and other Mexican immigrant communities will likely be hosting posadas in the US as well.

The posadas (re-)enact the attempts by Mary and Joseph to find lodging prior to the birth of Jesus.  In Macuil, representations of Joseph and Mary will be carried in a procession from the church to someone’s home who will be hosting the first posada tonight.  There, the processioners will request in song housing for Joseph and Mary which will be denied as there is no room at the inn (posada being the Spanish word for ‘inn’).  After this ritual is complete, a party will be held at the house.  The next day, the procession will proceed from there to the next house hosting a posada, repeating the process until reaching the final house on the 24th, where the biggest celebration, heralding the birth of Jesus, will be held.

This Wikipedia article seems to generally get the broad outline of the event, although I’m doubtful that all of the particulars it includes (such as the number of homes visited per night, the exact use of candles) are as universal as presented and probably don’t hold in Macuil.  While I have attended posadas both in Macuil and the US, I have not taken note of all of these fine details, and it will be interesting to pay close attention the next time I attend one, although that probably won’t be until this weekend when we are planning on visiting Macuil again.

Thinking about the posadas, though, has reminded me that my advisor, Pam Munro, worked with my friend and collaborator, Ignacio Cano, on a translation of the Christmas story (from Luke, Chapter 2) into Macuiltianguis Zapotec, which I put up on the web.  I hadn’t looked at the page in quite some time (I can’t believe it was 10 years ago that we did that), and while other things need to be scrapped, revised, or expanded, the Christmas story is still there and fully functional, though perhaps a bit slow.  The Zapotec is written in an older version of the orthography we use, and the English is a translation of the Zapotec rather than a published Bible version.  But most interestingly, I think, there are sound files of both the whole story and individual lines so you can actually hear MacZ.  Enjoy!


20 de Noviembre

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benjamin Getting Ready for the Revolution

Today is 20 de Noviembre, celebrating the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.  In Macuil, observations for the day include a parade and dressing children up as revolutionaries like Emiliano Zapata, both of which seem to be common practices for observing the day.

Benjamin’s daycare is doing the same so we dressed him up for the part.    The costumes for kids aren’t quite as flamboyant as what Zapata himself wore, I guess reflecting what his followers more likely would have worn.  The costumes for kids include the white shirt and pants traditionally worn by farmers of the past.  This is usually accompanied by toy rifles and bandoliers.  Huaraches ‘sandals’ are typically worn on the feet, although looking around for pictures of Mexican Revolutionaries, I mostly see them wearing boots.  Either way, we ending up going with what we already had for Benjamin, which was tennis shoes.

To complete the outfit, you need the giant sombrero (also called a charro) and a good Zapata-style moustache.  Benjamin’s not into hats so we didn’t bother getting a special one for the occassion, but just used what we had at hand while he would let us, which wasn’t for long.  Our efforts to paint on a moustache were going along okay, except he kept wiping our first attempt using soot away on his sleeve.  Our second attempt with eyeliner went a little better, until he saw himself in the mirror and freaked out.  Then we had to wipe off the moustache, though we managed to keep on some painted-on sideburns.  I managed to get in a few quick picks though with the hat and ‘stache:

El Zapatista

El Zapatista