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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> La Danza de los Viejos o Lanii Xhtée Guul-iush en Teotitlán del Valle 2015 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

La Danza de los Viejos o Lanii Xhtée Guul-iush en Teotitlán del Valle 2015

The first and second time I went to Teotitlán del Valle for La Danza de los Viejos (the dance of the grandparents) was in 2001 and 2002. At that time I only took photos in section one of the village. When I returned in 2012, I took photos in all five sections however, I didn’t photograph the dancing for section four on the Palacio Municipal as it rained. Due to fatigue from the heat, I only photographed the procession and the dancing in front of the Palacio Municipal for section 5. This year I photographed all five parties, all the processions and all of the dancing in front of the Palacio Municipal for the five days of the festivities.

This Zapotec village is divided into five sections. Each day a different section sponsors the fiesta that takes place before the viejos or elders known as Guul-iush in Zapotec and their wives known as Xhoós process to the Palacio Municipal. The viejos represent authorities from the past. Their wives are men dressed up in the traditional traje of the village. The viejos are picked for their knowledge of the customs in the village along with the ability to tell good jokes in Zapotec. Their identity is unknown. The role of the wives is secondary as they assist the viejos up the stairs to the office of the presidencia and they laugh at all of their jokes. As the viejos are quite old they walk hunched over carrying walking sticks. Their voices are low, raspy and they grunt quite a bit. Their hinged masks clap as they open and shut. The wives have an extremely high pitch voice known as “el grito”.

The viejos and their wives are different for each section. Even the masks are different that the viejos wear from section to section. They all have different personalities and different styles of dancing. There is live music and comida (lunch) in the five homes that sponsor the parties prior to the dancing in front of the Palacio Municipal. It is a huge undertaking to sponsor these parties. The women from each section do all the cooking. They must feed around one hundred people. Section five has the greatest responsibility as they provide presents for the people who place in the concurso (contest) for the best costumes on Friday evening. The concurso concludes the activities of La Danza de los Viejos.

What I particularly admire about Teotitlán del Valle is the reverence of traditions. The graciousness one witnesses here is exceptional when attending a fiesta in the home. When one arrives at each of the homes, the hosts greet you in their altar room. The hosts cup your hand and welcome you in Zapotec. You thank them for the invitation to attend their party and they thank you for coming. In turn, you as the guest either present them with a monetary donation for the party or you bring them a case of beer of a bottle of mezcal. All monetary donations are logged into a book with your name and the amount of your donation to the fiesta. The hosts kiss the bottle of mezcal or your monetary donation. It’s very touching and quite sweet.

The guests are all men. The only women seen at the party are the women from each section preparing the food. There is quite a bit of mezcal and room temperature beer served before the comida. The men are fed first and then the band. Once the band has finished eating the women finally get a chance to enjoy the food they prepared. They enjoy drinking mezcal and beer as well. Once the women finish eating the band begins to play the jarabe. This is a traditional dance where the men dance in one line and the women dance opposite of them in another line. Stocks of poleo are given to everyone who dances the jarabe. This herb is used to bless the fiesta. It can also be used to prepare a tea for a hangover.

Once this custom is completed the viejos and their wives appear. They immediately enter the altar room of the house where they say a prayer and remove their hats. Once this is completed, they greet the hosts of the party. The wives of the viejos are given a huge, beautifully painted xiapextle (a painted gourd) that has been filled with flowers made from sugar and candies. These gourds were prepared by the women from each section. After receiving these gifts, the viejos and their wives proceed to dance the jarabe.

Once they have completed dancing the jarabe everyone gets ready for the procession to the Palacio Municipal. Men from the respective sections carry the xiapextles; another man carries a huge, green ceramic pitcher of tepache (a fermented beverage made from the rind of pineapples, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon),another man carries a bundle of poleo that will be distributed to the authorities of the village, fruit, bottles of mezcal, beer and cigarettes. Usually waiting outside of each fiesta house are men and boys dressed up as women who join the viejos and their wives in the procession. Most of the boys wear Halloween masks and contemporary clothing. Some of the sections have two men who are known as Chihuahuas. Originally, the Chihuahuas played an important part during La Danza de los Viejos as they carried buckets of water to serve to the crowd that comes to the Palacio Municipal to watch the dancing. Due to the fact that it is normally very hot this time of year, the Chichuahuas would scoop water into a cup and serve water to the people attending the fesitivities.

Once the procession has arrived at the Palacio Municipal the viejos, their wives and the men from each section enter the office of the presidente. The viejos greet the presidente with much respect by removing their hats once again. The viejos need to obtain permission from the presidente to become the authorities for about three hours. After much formality on the part of the viejos the presidente grants permission to them to become the authorities for a short time. A benediction is then said. The viejos now are 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 viejos and their wives will dance with all the authorities in the village.

After all the authorities have danced with the viejos and their wives, the viejos must return 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. The centurion is a young boy around the age or eight or nine who portrays a Roman soldier asking for Christ’s death during Semana Santa. He is the mayordomo of La Danza de los Viejos. His parents take on a huge promesa as they sponsor all five of these parties. About four hundred guests attend these parties that usually last until three or four in the morning.

Finally, I would like to thank my good friend Don Isaac Vásquez and his son Jeronimo for assisting me in documenting this event, along with the Presidente Hilaro Bautista Lazo and the hosts from all five sections. It was a joy to completely document this joyous and fabulous event. ¡Muchas gracias a todos!
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The Viejos from Section 2
The Viejos from Section 2
Procession with Section 1
Procession with Section 1
Dancing away at Section 1
Dancing away at Section 1
The Trumpet player, Section 1
The Trumpet player, Section 1
The Ladies at Section 1 having comida
The Ladies at Section 1 having comida
Evaristo greeting his guest, Section 1
Evaristo greeting his guest, Section 1
Un Grupo, Section 1
Un Grupo, Section 1
Los Chihuahuas, Section 1
Los Chihuahuas, Section 1
Group of Masked Participants
Group of Masked Participants
Los Viejos y Las Esposas, Sección 4
Los Viejos y Las Esposas, Sección 4
Los Niños en la procesión
Los Niños en la procesión
The Presidente having a toast with Section 5
The Presidente having a toast with Section 5
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