Groups of young students in gorgeous costumes danced the first day. The men above wear charro outfits, lacking only the huge round sombreros. The women wear the national colors of Mexico: red, white, and green.
Danza de los Negritos. The costumes for the Dance of the Little Blacks included a hat I found particularly interesting. In addition to its flower adornments, the hat carries a long black fringe that hangs in front of the eyes of the performer, almost as a mask. Both male and female performers wore the costume, and the only way to tell the difference is the style of shoe. The dancer in the foreground above appears to be a female. The long ribbons of the hat and gold fringes of the sash and pants swayed and rippled with the movements of the dancer. The dance comes from the people of the mountains north of Puebla.
Same dancer, at rest, from the back. The whole hat was a mound of multi-colored flower blossoms. Attaching long ribbons around the rim of broad brimmed hats is a common feature of hats in many indigenous cultures. The Huichol people of the mountains of Nayarit State wear similar adornment on their hats, as do the performers of the Dance of the Old Men, which originated in Michoacan State among the Purepecha people.
A mother and daughter enjoy a moment together in the afternoon sun. In many indigenous cultures, mother and daughters--including even tiny girls--wear the same style of traditional clothing, topped by the filmy shawls. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo.
Danza de los Arcos y Tejedores. All the participants in the Dance of the Arcs and Weavers here were male, ranging from teenagers to elderly men. The arcs of flowers they carry symbolize the flowering plants of May. They danced in pairs, in parallel lines, and ultimately formed up for what appeared to be a May Pole dance, which you will see later in this posting. While their dance clothing was less spectacular than the students from the previous day, Mary Carmen assured me that this was the "real thing." These people were performing traditional dances that had come down to them from their ancient prehispanic ancestors. Note the man in the monster mask in the upper left of the photo.
"Dancing With The Stars", Zacatlán-style. These performers, called Güegües, circulated around the fringes of most of dance performances. All of them wore horrific monster masks, and carried long bullwhips with which they produced ear-piercing cracks. The Güegües represent the oldest members of the village, and the whip cracking drives away evil. Inexplicably to me, most of them also carried doll babies strapped to their costumes. The performer above engages in a tender waltz with his doll.
A powerful presence in a small package. At one point, this young girl came to the microphone and launched into an empassioned speech about the oppression of indigenous people and their cultures by the Spanish and the Mexican overlords who succeeded them. Although I couldn't understand every nuance of her speech, it was her poise, delivery and passion that stunned me. She couldn't have been more than about 14 years old, and perhaps younger. Speaking without notes and with complete assurance, she held the audience--including me--spellbound with her dynamic performance. Then, turning to leave the stage, she gave me a shy smile, magically transformed back into a young schoolgirl.
Danza de los Toreadores. This dancer is dresses as a picador, in the Dance of the Bullfighters. A picador is the mounted man in a Spanish bullfight who rides around the bull, sticking short spears called picas into the animal's back. The horse which appears to grow out of his chest represents his mount. The cross he wears on his hat and carries in his hand appears to present a religious theme. However, Catholicism lies as a rather thin veneer over ancient indigenous religious beliefs, and the cross was also an important religious symbol to indigenous people in prehispanic times.
Charros appear ready for action. Wearing the traditional clothing of the Mexican cowboys of Jalisco, these three appeared ready for anything. The charro tradition may have originated in Jalisco, as did tequila and mariachis, but all three have become national symbols of Mexico.
Danza de Tetlalpalol o Petición de Mano Indígena. This beautiful dance reenacts indigenous marriage customs. The grandmother of the boy goes to the family of the girl to petition for the marriage. If the proposal is accepted, the family of the boy dances to the home of the girl, carrying gifts such as the sheep seen above, bread, firewood, tamales, canela (cinnamon), atole (a corn drink), and tepache (a mixture of pulque, brown sugar, and other ingredients).
A beauty contest. This Tetlalpalol dancer carried a live guajolete (turkey) as his wedding gift. He grinned and vigorously nodded "si!" when I asked him if the turkey was for the evening dinner. I complemented him on his handsome turkey, which pleased him. When I inquired who he thought was more handsome, himself or the turkey, he and his gathered-round companions howled with laughter.
Deep in thought. A young woman rests in a shady corner under the portales during an interlude. In spite of Mexico's many problems, the people are very patriotic and often wear or display the national colors of red, green, and white.
Güegüe on the prowl. With his whip ready to ward off evil forces, this character roamed the perimeter of the crowd, clutching his babydoll. Periodically he lashed out with his long whip. I can't attest to its effect on evil spirits, but it did tend to keep the crowd back at a safe distance.
Danza de los Arcos y Tejedores nears its end. The ritual of the ribbons and the pole was performed exactly as the May Pole dance I remember doing as a school child. While the North American dance has lost its pagan roots, Danza de los Arcos y Tejedores still retains its ancient symbolism, magic, and cosmic ritual.
Tying off the ribbons. At the end of the dance, the performers crowded around to tie up the ends of the ribbons, preparing for the last part of the performance.
Also among the appreciated. At the end of the festivities, Mary Carmen told us that it was traditional for the indigenous people to show their appreciation to selected people in a ceremony in the plaza. Christopher and I were among the selectees. Somewhat mystified, we accompanied a small group of others out to the center of the plaza. A troupe of performers danced slowly around us, placing flowered leis around our necks while a small child showered us with flower petals. We were not quite sure what we had done to earn this, but we felt honored nonetheless. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo.
Boogyin' off the stage. After adorning us with flowers, the performers danced us out of the plaza in a kind of slow, shuffling two-step. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo.
Christopher, Jim, and our new friends. With the Crown of Flowers Festival at an end, we posed for a final picture. I was puzzled when I looked at this photo and saw that everyone was frowning but Christopher and me. Then I realized that we were the only two wearing hats on a very bright day. In addition, I have noticed that indigenous people often assume very solemn expressions in photos, smiling broadly when it is over. We were charmed by the warmth and generosity of these people, and many others we met during our visit. I can well understand the obvious pleasure Mary Carmen takes in working with them. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo.