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Tuesday August 5, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday August 6, 2014 MYT 2:12:45 PM
by carola sol
Dancers taking part in the Guelaguetza Dance Festival. - EPA
Guelaguetza, a dance and cultural event held every year in Mexico, is a burst of colour and tradition.
Aurelio Mendez has played the wooden chirimia flute, an instrument from pre-Hispanic days, for 40 years at Mexico’s Guelaguetza festival, considered Latin America’s biggest indigenous folklore and dance event. The moustachioed 54-year-old musician is helping to keep local traditions alive in the annual festival held in the southern state of Oaxaca, home to one of Mexico’s biggest indigenous populations.
“You can’t lose everything,” Mendez says, proud that more and more delegations from indigenous groups are joining the dance and cultural event every year.
Some 11,000 spectators attended July 28’s music and dance performance in a circular amphitheatre on a hill offering a picturesque view of the city of Oaxaca. Fifteen ethnic communities take part in the annual festival, which mixes Roman Catholic and indigenous traditions.
The event is also a chance to show off traditional crafts and foods. The women wear the colourful Tehuana dresses that were made famous by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Samantha Montano, 18, was proud to wear the flowery attire from the isthmus of Tehuantepec. “It’s a great feeling to be able to represent my community,” Montano says.
The festival is held the two Mondays following the July 16 feast of the Virgin del Carmen; this year, that was July 21 and 28. Before Catholicism was introduced, the festival was held to honour Centeotl, the corn goddess in the Zapotec language.
“This is an incredible festival. The dances and clothes are beautiful. It’s a great experience,” said Michael Gura, a 34-year-old American tourist from Arizona.
The current format began in 1932 but it divides people between those who see it as a showcase of Oaxacan traditions and others who deride it as a money-making masquerade.
Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word meaning “offerings that are given, gifts that are received”. “It serves to show the world part of our culture, our language and the views of our people,” says Felipe Miguel, an indigenous education teacher who participates in the dance.
But Felipe says that many of his colleagues were unhappy with his participation. “They call me a traitor, but I tell them that culture is very different from politics.”
Some 500 teachers tried but failed to block access to the venue on July 28 to protest the event as well as demand pay raises. Oaxaca, 470km south of Mexico City, is a state rife with social conflict. In 2006, 13 people died in a revolt against then governor Ulises Ruiz that had started as a teachers’ protest. – AFP
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