Most people know Teotitlán del Valle as a place to buy colorful wool rugs and as a place to learn about weaving as an art form, but there is much more to know about the rich and important cultural traditions in this Zapotec region of Oaxaca. Recently a group of En Vía volunteers had a great chance to experience some of these traditions for themselves.
Like most of the pueblos surrounding Oaxaca, Teotitlán has a governing structure where administrative duties are performed by citizens as a type of voluntary community service, including serving as leader of the pueblo and as part of a sort of civil mentoring force. We saw some of the “officers” during the fiesta; a local explained that their role is to correct people if they are acting badly. People also volunteer to ring the church bells, to bring fresh flowers and candles for the church, etc. It is an honor for community members to serve in any way, including landscaping and cleaning.
Teotitlán has a museum called Balaa Xtee Guech Gulal (a Zapotec phrase that means “in the shadow of the old village”). The museum features three main areas, one dedicated to the pueblo’s archaeology, one to crafts, and one to weddings and traditions associated with weddings (including the concept of Guelaguetza). Guelaguetza (in addition to being one of the largest exhibitions of folkloric dance in July) is a way of keeping a record of who brought what to a fiesta. For example, at my wedding I will ask those who can to bring specific items: a cake, flowers, napkins. I will reciprocate at future events. This is how the people share their blessings and contribute to the communal celebration.
Teotitlán del Valle has several annual fiestas propias (celebrations that are their own). October 7, the first Sunday in October, is the Fiesta for Saint Rosaria. Held at the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo Church, the event was a stunning display of the dancing talents of the young men who commit three years of their lives, and more, to the dance of the Danza de la Pluma.
A man sitting next to our group of English teaching volunteers said the fiesta was scheduled to start around four, but he suggested the rehearsals and preparations were equally riveting; he was right. We could tell by the costumes (children in military uniforms, waving Spanish flags and plume dancers in their Zapotec dress) that we were seeing some sort of a re-enactment. There was also a man in a black mask; we learned he depicts a spirit that protects the Zapotec soldiers/dancers. This re-enactment demonstrates how the Zapotecs united with the Spaniards to defeat the Aztecs from Tenochtitlan.
As a slight breeze picked up, we could see that the headdresses the men wear are not only ornate and large, but they are also quite heavy. One even had to hold on to the plumes as he continued spiralling around the others.
As we were heading out, just after six o clock, this joyous commemoration and celebration was amplifying. After assessing the fruit, beer, and soft drinks the community members had brought to share, some of the elders began pouring mezcal.
Sincerely grateful for the opportunity to learn from the kind people of Teotitlan, we headed back to Oaxaca Centro.
Text and Photos by Heather Hutcheson