The meaning of Candelaria
biblical Jewish tradition that a woman is considered "unclean" for 40 days after she gives birth. After that time, a new mother could present her baby at the Temple. Since the traditional date of Jesus' birth is December 25, the 40 days would expire February 2. In 540 AD, early Christians began to celebrate this as a special day.
Toltecs in 642 AD. The town lies near a pre-hispanic trade route (now Highway 110) that passes through these southern Jalisco mountains, connecting Michoacan with Colima. This strategic route became the scene of many conflicts over the centuries. At one point in the late 15th Century, the Tarascan Empire (modern Michoacan State) sent an army through here in an attempt to seize the valuable salt beds along the edges of the shallow lakes we passed on the way down. The Teco Kingdom of nearby Colima resisted fiercely in what became known as the Guerra de Salitre (Salt War). The Tecos managed to oust the Tarascans after a long struggle which lasted until only a few years before the Spanish arrived. After his victory over the Aztecs in 1521, Hernán Cortés sent out armed parties in every direction to explore his new domain. Francisco Cortés, Hernán's nephew, led the conquistadors who passed through the Tuxpan area in 1529. In 1536, Franciscan friars founded the village of Tuxpan which, in the native Nahuatl language, means "place where the rabbits live." Armies passed and battles were fought along the Sierra del Tigre route during the War of Independence (1810-21), the French invasion and occupation (1862-67), and the Revolution (1910-20).
tradition of mask making that stretches back thousands of years. All through the fiesta dances, this craftsman worked quietly and steadily on his creation. Attached to the face of the clay mask is an impressive rack of antlers. While these appear to be clay, I saw many dancers wearing the real thing. Local residents take great pains in assembling their costumes and practicing their dance routines. I was pleased that the whole affair seemed to be by, for, and about the local people. Even including our party, there were only a handful of tourists in evidence, foreign or Mexican. Many of the indigenous dances I have witnessed around Mexico seem to have evolved into a show aimed at entertaining tourists. While they are interesting and colorful, these dances sometimes feel a bit detached from their original purpose and meaning. Not so at Tuxpan, at least up to this point. Each of Tuxpan's several barrios (neighborhoods) hosts its own troupe, made up of local people of all ages. The various troupes create colorful costumes, unique to that neighborhood.
quetzal bird. By about 10:30 AM, dance troupes had begun assembling in their neighborhoods. Above, a scattering of dancers had arrived at the church's plaza and were adjusting their costumes. The troupes arrived one group at a time and danced their way into the plaza, a process lasting a couple of hours.
"pueblo of the eternal fiesta" because of the 50 (count 'em, 50!) fiestas held here every year. Mexicans are seriously into partying, but these people take it to a whole new level. Everyone was cheerful and upbeat and many people smiled at us as we wandered about, gawking and taking photos.
Los Sonajeros, the dance of the warriors
Los Chayacates, the horned dancers
Chayácatl means "man wearing a mask." It was a warm day and I imagine that the vigorous dance activity raised quite a sweat under all those clothes and heavy masks. Some dancers even wore gloves.
"Dance of the Old Men." That dance mocks the feebleness of Spaniards who did no work because of the ready availability of indigenous slave labor. In the Dance of the Old Men, the performers also wear white faced masks and blonde wigs. The epidemic version may have been a clever story created to cover the real intent.
The great parade
Sebastian was a very early Christian martyr, who died in 268 AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian. He had been a captain in the Praetorian Guard, the emperor's elite troops. Somehow he became a Christian and promptly began converting prominent Romans, at least one of whom, according to legend, was cured of muteness as a result. The emperor got wind of this treachery and ordered Sebastian to be tied to a stake (or possibly a tree) and shot with arrows. The widow of one of his martyred convertees went to retrieve Sebastian's body and discovered he wasn't dead. She nursed him back to health, after which he is said to have cured a blind girl in the household. Then, apparently determined to have a successful martyrdom, he stood up during a procession while Diocletian passed by and denounced the emperor publicly. His comments were not well received. Diocletian made sure of the job this time by having him beaten to death and his body thrown into a privy. San Sebastian is thus famed for being the only saint to have been martyred twice. The people of Tuxpan probably appealed to San Sebastian in 1774 (if that version is true) because he was said to be a defense against the plague. In the Dark Ages, a plague ravaged the barbarian (but partially Christianized) Lombards. The story goes that they erected an altar in honor of San Sebastian and brought the plague to a halt. According the Tuxpan story, he was successful there too, and now is paraded through the streets during every Candelaria fiesta.
Hotel Plaza Juarez is right down the street from the church plaza. It appears to be an excellent and quite inexpensive place to stay, should we decide on an overnight visit in the future.
This completes my posting on the masked dancers of Tuxpan. I encourage you to visit during Candelaria, or at any other time if you are in the area. Who knows how much longer this wonderful fiesta will remain unspoiled by the temptations of the tourist dollar. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below. In addition, if you would like to forward a link to my blog to friends or relatives, help yourself. The more the merrier!
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Hasta luego, Jim