Monday, January 7, 2013

New Years' Festival in the Pueblo

Homero's father is from a small village high in the mountains, in a region of Oaxaca known as the Mixteca Alta. Homero himself has never lived there, but his parents did as newlyweds, and his older siblings were born there. Although no-one in the immediate family has lived in the pueblo in some twenty-five or thirty years, there are still strong ties that bind the family to the "home place."

Homero's father was a teacher, a position of great respect in a small town, especially thirty years ago, when he was one of the first teachers in the newly opened village elementary school. He was a land-owner  (or really, a land-holder, since nobody "owns" land in rural Mexico. More on that in the book) and his widow, my mother-in-law, still hold several pieces of property in town. Being one of the "first families," so to speak, implies certain responsibilities, and Señora Maura visits the pueblo several times a year to meet those obligations and of course to visit family.

Homero's father was one of seven - or eight? - siblings, and they and their numerous descendants make up a large proportion of the population. Myself, I can barely keep my own cousins straight (my dad was also one of seven), and so I have no hope whatsoever of keeping track of Homero's kin. Luckily, there is a sweet old fashioned Mexican tradition of addressing all elders as "Tio" or "Tia" and all age-mates as "primo," so that served me in good stead when addressing people. This wasn't my first visit to the pueblo - I went there once some twelve years ago, and again about five years ago. As one of the VERY few gringos to ever show their face in town, obviously everyone remembers me. I, however, recognized almost no-one and spent a great deal of time smiling and nodding and saying "Oh yes, of course." I am used to this. Anyone who knows me at all knows I can't remember a person's face until we've spent time as roommates or have progeny together.

Every little pueblo in Mexico has a special feast day. Usually, it's the saint day of the saint after whom the pueblo is named. A pueblo named, for example, San Tomas would have it's feast day on January 28th. This village, however, is named Santa Cruz, or the sacred cross, and therefore has no appointed saint day. The biggest festival of the year there is New Year's. Every family in the village participates, providing some needed aspect of the three-day party. This is called being a "patron." This year, our family was asked to be the patron of the lona - we were asked to provide an enormous tarp to cover the basketball court, where the dance would take place. We did, sharing out the considerable cost between us. One family every year - an important family - is chosen to host the Mayordomia. That means to provide a feast for every single person in the village, along with any and all guests they might bring with them. The menu is unvarying: beef in mole, beans, tortillas, and beverages. But the expense and logistics of providing this simple menu to some 300 or 400 people - maybe more - is considerable, and so being the host of the Mayordomia is both a privilege and a burden.

I am being called upon. Every time I sit down for fifteen minutes, it seems, someone yells up at me to do something. I'll wrap this up as quick as possible: the drive to the village takes six and a half hours, over some of the most rough road imaginable. The scenery is amazing, and in places eerie.

All the children in the village are spectacularly gorgeous. The little girls have their hair elaborately braided in dozens of different patterns. I wish I knew how to do even one.

 A couple of Toritos - paper mache bulls fitted with complex armatures loaded with fireworks. These are worn over the head by a brave or drunk soul who dances around to the delight of the watching crowd.

Señora Maura (in red) talking to one of her many comadres. This beautiful old woman is the grandmother of Señora Maura's goddaughter.


  1. Wonderful! Keep the reports coming . . .

  2. I just love the family connections - they are truly special!

  3. I love the picture of the haunting/ghostly tree,and the braids, just beautiful. I always wanted to wear my hair like this but was never able to manage it on my own, it always needed a trip to the hairdresser.
    What a wonderful adventure you and your family are having Aimee, a great experience for your girls, it will be remembered for their lifetime