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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> La Danza de los Viejos en Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca 2012 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

La Danza de los Viejos en Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca 2012

La Danza de los Viejos in the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle has been celebrated for at least one hundred and eighty years. It is celebrated for five days after Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday). In Zapotec the fiesta is known as "Lanii Xhtée Guul-iush" or dance of the grandparents. Each day a different section of the village holds a fiesta in one of the homes before going down to the Palacio Municipal for the nighttime activities and dancing. There are two viejos (old elders known as "Guul-iush" in Zapotec ) and their wives (men dressed as women known as "Xhóos" in Zapotec meaning grandmother) for each section. The viejos and their wives represent authorities of the past. Each respective section chooses the men that portray the viejos and their wives. Their identify is unknown. The viejos are picked for their knowledge of the customs in the village as well as their ability to tell good jokes in Zapotec. The men who portray the wives are chosen for their high-pitched laughs known as "el grito" as they laugh after all of the jokes are told by the viejos. The viejos grumbling voices and clapping sound of their hinged masks adds to their unique persona.

During La Semana Santa (Holy Week) a young boy usually around eight years old is selected to portray the centurion (a Roman soldier). His parents undertake a huge promesa (promise) to sponsor eight fiestas in their home costing around $2,000 apiece. They sponsor three parties during La Semana Santa on el Lunes Santo (Holy Monday), el Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday) and el Viernes Santo (Holy Friday). They then host all five fiestas during carnival as well. The centurion is the mayordomo of carnival. Each evening after the dancing on the Palacio Municipal the parents receive all members of each section in their home. About 400 invited guest attend these parties. The guests are served hot chocolate, snacks, tamales and soft drinks. The party usually concludes at four in the morning. These parties celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

The fiesta parties in the five sections begin around 2:00 in the afternoon daily. About twenty women prepare the food for the invited guests. In some homes tejate is served whereas in other homes horchata with cubed cantaloupe is served. All invited guests contribute to the fiesta by bringing beer, mezcal, food, etc. Monetary donations are taken as well. Huge cooking pots of mole are prepared to be served over meat or chicken. A band is brought in to play music at all of the parties. Once the food is ready the members of the band are served first, then the men, then the other invited guests and the women eat last. Once everyone has completed their meal the jarabe is danced. Everyone who dances the jarabe is given stocks of an herb called poleo. This herb that grows in the mountains is used to bless the fiesta. It can also be used as a tea for a hangover the next day. After the invited guests and hosts dance the jarabe the viejos and their wives arrive. The men of each section bring the viejos and their wives into the room that has the family altar and they are greeted. The wives of the viejos are given a xiapextle (a painted gourd) that has been filled with flowers made from sugar and candies that were prepared by the women in each section. Once these formalities are completed the viejos and their wives dance the jarabe.

Once the jarabe is completed the viejos, their wives, the men of each section and the band proceed down to the Palacio Municipal. Along the way other men and boys dressed in costumes tag along. Some of the men are dressed as women wearing the traje (traditional clothing) of the village whereas others are dressed in contemporary clothing. Most of the boys wear Halloween masks, t-shirts and jeans. Originally one only saw men dressed in the traje of the village but over the last fifteen to twenty years contemporary clothing has been introduced as a costume.

As the viejos are quite old they walk bent over carrying walking sticks. Their wives help them up the steps leading to the Palacio Municipal. Along the way the viejos tell jokes, greet the onlookers as their wives laugh at each joke. Once they reach the office of the president at the Palacio Municipal the viejos need to obtain permission from him to become the authorities for two hours. After much formality on the part of the viejos permission is granted and a benediction is said. The viejos are then allowed to proceed onto the main plaza in front of the Palacio Municipal where the dancing will begin after respects are paid to all of the local authorities.

The men who represent each section then proceed to serve mezcal, beer, tepache and cigarettes to all of the authorities present. The viejos begin by paying respect to the presidente and the síndico. The síndico is the second most important authority in Teotitlán del Valle. He is responsible for taking care of problems, keeping the peace and he acts as a judge. The viejos give poleo to all of the authorities present. The first person to receive the poleo is the presidente, then the síndico, the alcaldes, rejidores, suplentes, mayor de vara and the topiles. The presidente and the síndico then dance with the viejos and their wives. After this dance is completed the secretaries of the presidente and the síndico are given the xicapextles from the wives of the viejos and dance with the viejos. All of the above is repeated with every authority in town.

After all the authorities have danced with the viejos and their wives, the viejos must give their authority back to the presidente. After going through the necessary rituals to relinquish their authority the viejos, their wives, the men from each section and the band proceed to the home of the centurion where this party will last until about four in the morning.

The last night of the carnival has a concurso (contest) for the best-dressed costumes of carnival. Costumed dancers from all five sections show up on the plaza to entertain the crowd and dance the night away. I am constantly amazed at the amount of work, time, energy, devotion and faith that is put into these fiestas in this village. I would like to thank everyone in Teotiltán del Valle for their kindness, generosity, hospitality and assistance in helping me document this joyous and fun event!
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El Viejo y La Esposa, Section 2
El Viejo y La Esposa, Section 2
The wives dancing
The wives dancing
Los Viejos drinking mezcal
Los Viejos drinking mezcal
Los Viejos meeting with the presidente and the síndico
Los Viejos meeting with the presidente and the síndico
The representatives of the 3rd Section
The representatives of the 3rd Section
Dos hombres y un perro
Dos hombres y un perro
Los Viejos from section 4
Los Viejos from section 4
A man dressed as a woman
A man dressed as a woman
Un hombre con una ceverza
Un hombre con una ceverza
Presenting the xicapextle to the viejos
Presenting the xicapextle to the viejos
Chihuahua enfrente del altar
Chihuahua enfrente del altar
Los Viejos, Section 2
Los Viejos, Section 2
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