En Via Events, Indigenous Culture

Small Town, Big Party

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San Sebastián Abasolo is a small agricultural community located about 30 minutes east of Oaxaca that I have had the pleasure of getting to know since I began volunteering with En Via three weeks ago. You arrive there by following a dirt road out of Tlacochahuaya, passing through fields of garlic, alfalfa and chile de agua (water chilis) along the way.  Abasolo, with about 2,000 inhabitants, is a sweet, sleepy town centered around the church, with an elementary school, one paved road and houses made from adobe, cement and brick.

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Normally, I travel to Abasolo bringing tour groups to meet the women whom receive our loans, or to attend a business class. Strictly business. This Sunday, however, this sleepy town was pure fiesta, as the entire community celebrated the day of their patron Saint Sebastián. Festivities occurred throughout the week but climaxed on Sunday with a very special mass and a traditional indigenous dance followed by feasting, music and dancing.

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The danza de las plumas, or “feather dance,” is a performance piece unique to this area that has roots in pre-Colombus indigenous culture. Young men bedecked in bold yellow, red and green sequined costumes support huge feathered disks upon their heads while they dance, stomp and shake rattles in the courtyard outside the church.

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While it probably originated as an Aztec ritual dance to communicate with their gods for rain, sun and corn, now the dancing depicts the Spanish conquest, and heralds the survival of indigenous people and their culture. A local band with an impressive brass section, including a thundering tuba, as well as drums, flutes and clarinets, accompanied the dancing.

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Everything was red and yellow; the tent under which we danced, the streamers adorning the church and the roses in little pots that all the women receive as a memento. Upon arriving to the party, I was ushered in to sit with a group of grandmothers, all with incredibly beautiful brown faces deeply creased with lines and eyes shining with amicable curiosity. They were all so proud to share their traditions with me, the only gringa in the town.
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A couple of men wandered around pushing Coronas on anyone with an empty hand, or offering micheladas (beer with salt, lime and chili) and mezcal (the local drink made from the maguey agave cactus).

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Young girls bearing delicious bowls of beef bone soup and simple tacos made the rounds to feed the masses and then just as quickly cleared the tables so the space could be used for dancing. The banda (brass band) played into the night and the dancing continued, couples, old and young moved around the floor in small circles or in simple line dances.

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One family in the community is tasked with throwing the big party to hire their patron saint. They must hire a banda, cook the food and provide the beverages. The party costs about $35,000 pesos, or about $3000 USD, which is a huge cost for one family to shoulder, but a huge point of pride as well.

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When darkness fell and I had to return to Oaxaca City, I left the party, which was showing no signs of stopping. I caught a three-wheeled moto-taxi back to the highway and during the ride the driver, Santiago and I got to chatting and he mentioned that his wife wants to start up a little shop in their home but didn’t have the capital. I told him about En Via and he animatedly took down my contact information for her. I left feeling more connected to a community that I will be working with over the next three months and excited to have to chance to help women, like Santiago’s wife, grow their businesses, support their families and strengthen their communities, one loan at a time.

By Hannah Aronowitz

Photos by Jorge Solis

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