Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cajititlan's spectacular Fiesta of the Three Kings - Part 2

Feathered dancer appears to have stepped out of pre-hispanic history. The dancer in Cajititlan's Three Kings Fiesta shown above seemed to exude dignity and power, even while wearing little more than feathers and a loin-cloth. His costume was magnificent. There were several troupes of indigenous dancers in the parade. Joel, one of my companions on this adventure, told me that there is a vigorous effort in Mexico to revive and maintain these indigenous dances, and there are apparently active groups all over Mexico.

If you have not yet seen Part 1 of this two part series on the Three Kings Fiesta, I recommend that you scroll down and view that one first, because it contains a lot of background on this spectacular fiesta. If you can't access Part 1 by scrolling down on this screen, try clicking on "Fiestas" in the right-hand column index, then scroll down to Part 1.

A stern warrior seems ready to do battle with the Spaniards. The feathers used for the headdresses were stunning in variety, size and color. When the dancers moved close together, the feathers interwove until I could hardly tell where one headdress began and another ended.

Foot rattles were part of many costumes. The masses of indigenous dancers moved to rhythms created by drums and ankle rattles. The rattles are made from natural materials, in this case nutshells, and are woven into the costume.

Young boy rests from the almost continuous dancing. The beauty of the costumes was matched by the beauty of the people wearing them. The headdresses were constructed so that the dancers' movements caused the long feathers to undulate together like the branches of a tree in the wind.

A pensive moment during a short halt in the parade. The colors of the costumes were stunning. Many of the costumes had similarities but, like snowflakes, every one was unique.

An old chief insisted on including his grandsons in the photo. This was definitely a family activity with participants of all ages. The dancers were proud of their skills and their costumes, and were happy to display both for my camera.

A rainbow of feathers. This woman danced in place as a group of children moved by on the side. I greatly admired her headdress. It is likely that she colored some of the feathers herself, although there may be birds sporting such amazing hues.

This fierce warrior looks like something out of a conquistador's nightmare. He crouched and twirled to the drums and rattles as he glanced about with dark piercing eyes. There was a barbaric splendor about this whole performance that was deeply appealing to me.

A side view shows more costume details. Many of the headdresses, like the one on this woman, were held on by a headband with the feathers fanned out from the back. Her costume contained silver bangles dangling from her shoulder and braided bracelets on her upper arms.

Male-female team leads this troupe of indignenous dancers. The man in the silver embellished constume holding the shield seemed to be the leader. The woman may have been his wife. Through subtle signals, the two of them directed the large troupe of indigenous dancers behind them. For a man of his weight, he moved with grace and fluidity.

A prayerful halt. The lead pair called the troupe to a halt and they all knelt at once in a very reverential manner. I found the very pagan aspect of their performance an interesting counterpoint to the very Christian nature of Three Kings Day. However, Christianity and paganism have been woven together for centuries.

Young beauty shows off her finery. This girl, perhaps 12 years old, possessed poise remarkable for her age. I was happy to find so many children in the troupes. This bodes well for the future of this tradition. Many other indigenous traditions are dying out because the kids would rather play video games.

The Three Kings parade approaches the boat dock. The dancers above are moving down the ceremonial pathway of vegetation and bougainvilla petals you may have seen in Part 1, while it was being prepared. This street, which leads directly to the boat dock, is quite narrow. The parade quickly filled it from wall to wall, pressing all of us tightly against the bricks.

Indigenous drummer pounds a driving rhythm. The drum is a hollow log, painted black, and carried by masked helpers clutching handles on each end. I wondered why the drummer had no mask until I realized it might interfere with his playing.

Three young boys peer from under their masks. Most of the masked dancers wore bandanas across their faces under their black-laquered, hand-carved, wooden masks. Often, like the boy on the right, they tilted their masks back so they wouldn't trip on the cobblestones as they danced along. The tilted masks created the odd appearance of masses of people looking up at the sky, when they were actually peering down.

"Head and shoulders" above his peers. This dancer managed to gyrate his way through the whole parade carrying this huge mask on his head. As far as I can tell, his viewpoint is out of the mouth.

Looking for mom. This gorgeously attired tot, clutching his mask and headdress, wandered between the legs of the crowd, anxiously looking for his mother. To their mutual joy, he finally found her.

Boats line up at the dock. As the Three Kings approached, the boats which would carry them around the lake clustered at the dock. The one with the arch of roses was waiting for Baltazar, the Nubian King who would board first. Since Cajititlan has always been a fishing town, the boat ride for the Maji is supposed to bring their blessings to the community's fish harvest. In fact, there are elements of this ritual which go back to pre-hispanic water gods of the area.

The Three Kings arrive. Baltazar leads, followed by Melchor, and then Gaspar. The Kings ride on stretcher-like carriers handled by the men in the white uniforms. As they are carried down the flower-strewn path, worshipers prostrated themselves so that the statues are carried over them. While there was much good fun in the activities of the fiesta, there was also an undercurrent of deep religious feeling.

Baltazar is installed on the lead boat, as his fellow Kings wait their turn. As the loading of the Kings proceeded, more and more people crushed forward, packing the narrow, walled street tightly. I am subject to claustrophobia, and I had to force my self to breath deeply to settle myself down. I hoped that nothing would cause a panic or stampede.

Baltazar moves out onto the lake as other boats maneuver for position. In addition to the three boats for the Kings, there were perhaps 20 other boats capable of carrying 8-10 people each. Packed around me were thousands of people hoping to join the water-borne procession. Our possibilities for finding a spot on a boat began to fade. While the police had tried to form a line of those wanting get on a boat, clearly this would be a free-for-all when the time came. At that point I was just hoping to avoid being trampled.

Boat speeds to join the Three Kings flotilla. One by one, the boats filled up, with most people ignoring lines and directions and just pushing forward. In the end, I was right. Neither I nor my two companions managed to board a parade boat. We changed our plan and headed for the church, where someone had told us we might be able to get up into the steeple to photograph the Three Kings during their triumphal arrival home.

Return to the church? Easier said than done! The expression of this child mirrored my feelings as I surveyed the vast crowd we would have to fight through to get back to the church before the boats returned.

Overwhelmed policeman tries, with little success, to move the crowd. The cop in the blue shirt and baseball cap was as beefy and authoritative as a cop could be, but there were just too many people coming at him from all directions. I was amazed that he remained calm and kept his frustration under control. Eventually, most people figured out the boats were gone and gradually began to move back.

Hola Señor, check out my critter! On our way back to the church, we encountered this little boy. He was proud of his goofy-looking puppet and wanted very much to have his picture taken with it. I was happy to oblige.

We followed the streamers back along the parade route to the church. The objects on the streamers were little pinwheels that spun in the wind, creating a constant sense of movement as the long strings swayed back and forth.

The church steeple. This was our goal, seen over the canopies of the innumerable booths that crowded the streets surrounding the church. Given the mass of people, I was dubious of getting close to the church, much less finding our way up the steeple. This time we had better luck. However, my luck did not extend to my camera. Shortly after this picture was taken, it stopped functioning for the rest of the day. The next two shots were taken by my companion Joel.

Workers on the church roof shower the crowd with balloons and confetti. We found an obscure door under the steeple tower and ascended an ancient stone stairway around and around until we finally emerged by the huge old bells. A group of young men stood waiting to dump giant bags of balloons and confetti on the crowd when the Three Kings returned from their voyage. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing against us and most of the balloons blew back into our faces, much to everyone's hilarity. You can see me in the background standing to the right of the tower in the blue shirt and orange daypack. (Photo by Joel Gomez)

The climactic moment: The return of the Three Kings. After their journey, they were brought into the church and re-installed in their special niches for another year. This photo should give you a sense of the densely packed crowd that participated in this year's Three Kings Fiesta in Cajititlan. Despite the occasional discomfort of crowding, and our disappointment at failing to secure a boat ride, we had a great time and are looking forward to attending again next year. (Photo by Joel Gomez)

This concludes Part 2, of my two-part series on Cajititlan's Fiesta of the Three Kings. I hope you enjoyed it and will find time to leave a comment either in the section below, or directly by email. If you leave a question in the comment section, please be sure to include your email so that I can respond.

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. Thank you, Jim, for your great photos and insight as to the festival. I also enjoy view & reading other parts of your blog...very good! I'm a friend of Carol & Sven Nielson who live now in Ajijic. I'm planning on coming their way on Feb. 9th with a friend for 3 weeks and hopefully will meet you while there.
    Judith ~

  2. Thank you so much,Jim. I enjoy your blog. For many years my husband and I celebrated the Three Kings Day with a BIG party.It was special and the guests enjoyed a party after they had stopped celebrating Christmas!Your pics are wonderful and as a 30 + yr visitor to MX I appreciate your efforts. In another life time I would be an expat in MX.

  3. Jim, your photography just gets better and better and your posts richer and fuller. Love your Cajititlan series and am looking forward to the other parts of the Colima series.

    I've posted a link to your blog from mine, now that I've rebirthed it as Mexico Insights: Facts, Fables, Folklore and Fiestas. It's at

  4. Thank you,for your photos.I enjoyed so much.I can to identificate any persons that I can' to see in many years ago. Please do you can to take a picture of the boy in the drums with this dancers. Thank you so much.

  5. The large pre-Columbian ceramic jar which you say depicts many bulbous-like flowers actually depicts the peyotl (peyote) cacti.
    The use of peyote by 16th century Aztecs, is well documented by Spanish chroniclers (Sahagun) and in Aztec codices. Peyote as well as mushrooms may have played an important role in both commerce and religion in pre-Columbian times. The peyotl cacti button of Northern Mexico was the favorite hallucinogen of the Chichimecs.
    Carl de Borhegyi
    For more visit

  6. Your photos are wonderfully descriptive. We went the following year and loved the celebration. A little side note we learned...those in the black and red masks received blessings during the previous year and are in effect saying skip me this year for I have been blessed and others could use help. It brought significant meaning to us, that so many were in masks. Truly an evidence of the giving and caring people of Mexico. Our blog is in the process of changing over yo:


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim