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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> Carnaval en Tlaxcala, Mexico 2013 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Carnaval en Tlaxcala, Mexico 2013

In February 2013 I decided to venture to a part of Mexico I had never visited before. I headed to Tlaxcala, Mexico to experience carnival in the capital city called Tlaxcala as well. I had no idea what I was about to experience!

First of all, Tlaxcala is the smallest state in Mexico. It is located just over the border from the state of Puebla. There are about 85,000 people that live here. The Nahuatl speaking Tlaxcalan Indians settled in Tlaxcala in the late 13th and 14th century. They were instrumental in helping Cortés defeat the Aztecs. Once the Spanish took over the region the culture of the Tlaxcalan Indians was no longer as prominent. The Spanish crown began to give away large land grants in the 17th century to wealthy Europeans. They in turn set up ranches and haciendas. By the 19th and 20th century there were even more wealthy Europeans living in Tlaxcala. There were more cattle ranches along with pulque production taking place on the haciendas. All of these aristocratic people had parties where they dressed up for masked balls. The field laborers and the servants were not allowed to attend these parties. Eventually the Indians copied these dances and used the music in their celebration of carnival. Most of the music used in the dances was waltzes, polkas and redovas. Orchestras with stringed instruments along with violin and guitar were popular. Today bands are used for the dances instead as it is more economical. Most of the music today is made up of electric keyboard, drums, string instruments and horns.

The dances are making fun of the European upper class that lived in Tlaxcala from the 16th - 19th century. Many of the masks worn by the dancers have pink faces and blue eyes. The dances also have a strong religious angle combining Catholic customs mixed in with the Nahuatl culture.

The earliest records show that carnival began as early as the 17th century. The native Tlaxcalans who worked on the haciendas had become familiar with the dances and customs of the Europeans living in Tlaxcala. They adapted their clothing and mannerisms into the dances of carnival. Today carnival is one of the most important cultural events among the Nahua Indians in the state of Tlaxcala.

During my visit the carnival activities began with a parade at 4PM on the February 7th. Sixty municipalities from all over the state participated in the parade. The dance groups are known as “camadas” or “litters” in English. The dancers within each camada are called “huehues”. This Nahuatl word means “old God”. There were marching bands, floats, carnival queens, men in drag and all of the camadas were present in their finery.

Originally, women were not allowed to dance but that changed in the 1970’s, as women are now dance partners for the huehues in the camadas. The women don’t wear masks unless they are a man in some cases, and they dress in contemporary clothing wearing mini-dresses and high heels.

Some of the more dominant dances are those of the Charros. These dancers represent cowboys from the upper class. Their costume is made up of a sequin cape covered with embroidery over a black suit and vest, white dress shirt with a tie and a huge, circular ostrich feather headdress. Many of the dancers wore botas over their lower pant legs and pointed cowboy boots. All of their masks were pink with different eye colors, but blue seemed to be a dominant color.

Another popular dance is that of the Catrines. The Catrines are making fun of the French dandies who were seen in Puebla and Tlaxcala in the 19th century. They wear a top hat, tails, gloves, sashes around their waists, a long white cape attached to the back of their head and carry black umbrellas to protect their fair skin from the heat of the sun. All of the Catrine dances that I saw had female partners wearing the mini dresses and high heels. During this fast paced dance the Catrines used castanets to emphasize the beat of the music.

The dance of the Españoles was equally as popular during the time I was there. The men wore sequin and studded pedal pushers, long-sleeve tops, cowboy boots and huge feather headdresses. It was interesting to note that many of their costumes had cartoon characters from the USA beaded on the front and back panels of their tops such as Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Peter Pan, Bugs Bunny, Tinker Bell, etc. Their clothing is based the costume of the bullfighter, which is still popular in Tlaxcala City today.

Another camada that I photographed was the Chivarrudos. These dancers are representative of the lower-classs mestizo cowboys. They were responsible for the cattle drives in Tlaxcala in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This camada doesn't have a female dance partner. These dancers wear cardboard hats with geometric designs, furry chaps and a sportscoat. In between their legs they ride a minature horse along with carrying a whip.

The entire celebration was a visual overdose as there was dancing on all four sides of the zócalo once the parade ended on the 7th that lasted until 11PM at night. The queen of carnival was crowned that evening. On Saturday and Sunday the dancing took place from 9AM to around midnight once again on all four sides of the zócalo. On the 12th there was a children’s parade where all the children were dressed up in their respective carnival costumes. It was impossible to photograph all the groups because there was so much going on at once. It was truly a joyous and colorful celebration that I will never forget!
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Eyes Opened and Shut
Eyes Opened and Shut
Español dancer in green and white
Español dancer in green and white
A Sea of Color
A Sea of Color
Carnival Dancer looking down
Carnival Dancer looking down
Catrine with rose in mouth
Catrine with rose in mouth
Español dancer and Catrine Clown
Español dancer and Catrine Clown
Charro in green
Charro in green
Carnival kids
Carnival kids
Boys just wanna have fun
Boys just wanna have fun
Cha cha cha
Cha cha cha
Charro in stars and stripes
Charro in stars and stripes
Pair of Español dancers
Pair of Español dancers
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