OMG narrow colonial streets are overrun with buses bringing dancers down from the mountains and by cars full of Mexican tourists. Calendas plug up what the cars don’t. Calendas are processions with a band with huge dancing 20 foot tall dressed figures with boys on stilts hidden inside leading a parade of costumed people. Got to be careful not to get hit by the flapping arms.
A bus ripped a hole in it’s fiberglass bumper turning the corner by my apartment the other day…and the night before a car hit another car and flipped over and slid down the sidewalk in front of the Arabia Cafe on the same corner…waking my house guest in the bedroom on that side of the apartment at 1am. A party of about 20 young men in the park from midnight until 5am kept her awake a few nights before that. I think she might be glad to leave next week. )
Popular Guelaguetza (free), Governor’s Guelaguetza ($40US). The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and is usually interpreted as the “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and service.” Communities from within the state of Oaxaca gather to present their regional culture in the form of dance, music, costumes and food.
Local indigenous groups traditionally perform these dances to fulfill their obligations to their Uses Y Costumbres organized communities which is called doing your “tequio.”
Oaxaca has a large indigenous population, 40 percent, compared to 15 percent for Mexico as a whole. Indigenous culture in the state remains strong in its own right, with over 300,000 people in the state who are monolingual in indigenous languages. The celebration dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish and remains a defining characteristic of Oaxacan culture. Its origins come from celebrations related to the worship of corn as Oaxaca is considered it’s birthplace.
As the festival became a bigger tourist attraction, there was an inevitable backlash from purists that saw the ancient traditions being used for commercial purposes. The 2005 decision by the PRI Governor to conduct two performances a day for each of the two Mondays, was perceived by many traditionalists as a blatant attempt accommodate more ticket purchasing tourists. So the “popular” Guelaguetza, or a return to the more spontaneous celebrations of the pre-Columbian era, was organized.
In Oaxaca, where there is conflict between some groups and the state, the festival can become a focal point of contention.
Due to protests in 2006 against the state government calling for the fraudulently elected Governor to step down, the state-sponsored Guelaguetza was not held up on the hill at the Cerro del Fortín as planned. The protests were led by the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, an umbrella organization of teachers, human rights groups, political organizations, unions and others, which were met with state violence. Instead a free, “Popular Guelaguetza” was held by APPO.
The 2007 Governor’s celebration was again boycotted by APPO, and attempts to hold a Popular Guelaguetza were thwarted by government police repression. APPO members had barricaded the entrance to the Governor’s outdoor auditorium which resulted in the police killing of at least one and the disappearance of many others.
This year, the Governor attempted to build a protective cover over the stage of the state sponsored outdoor auditorium but it was not completed in time due to another boycott but also probably more by poor planning. Instead it will be held in an old baseball stadium. The Popular Guelaguetza is being held at an outdoor venue at the Technological University.
Well, that’s probably all you want to know about the Guelaguetza. Of more interest to many is the the annual Mescal Fair in Llano Park. $1.50 entrance fee and free samples from about 50 vendors. Whew!