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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> Indigenous Dance in Michoacán tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Indigenous Dance in Michoacán

In February 2018 I returned to Pátzcuaro, Michoacán to photograph three dance celebrations. Back in 2010 after I had spent time in Pátzcuaro for La Noche de Muertos, I purchased a book in Morelia by Artes de Mexico called Viajes por Sendas Purépechas (On the Path of the Purépechas). The cover of this large format photography book featured four children dressed up in folkloric clothing from San Pedro Zipiajo. They were dressed for la Danza de los Moros.

Before attending the Domingo de Ramos feria in Uruapan, Michoacán in 2011, I went to the tourist office in Morelia to inquire where San Pedro Zipiajo was located.
The lady, who worked in the office, had no idea of its location. She had to call someone to make an inquiry. She told me it was located north of Quiroga. She was unable to tell me if this was an indigenous village. She knew absolutely nothing about the Danza de los Moros or when it took place.

Upon returning home I started to Google it. All I came up with were some YouTube videos, which didn’t have any information about when this fiesta took place. This village was unique because this was one of the few places in Michoacán where the Danza de los Moros was performed by both men and women. In most villages in Michoacán, only men are allowed to perform this dance.

A couple of years later, one of my friends found an article written by a professor from the Colegio de Morelia on this fiesta. It was very scholarly with many footnotes attached to the article. The article stated that the dance took place the Monday before Ash Wednesday. Due to prior plans to visit Santa Fe de Laguna, Michoacán in 2015 and Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas in 2016, I made plans to document this event in February 2017. I went to the village the day before the fiesta to speak with the Mayordomo. I wanted to inquire if it would be okay to document the dance. He told me it was fine, except the fiesta had already taken place the week before. He seriously doubted if the professor from the college in Morelia ever visited the village, as she would have known the event didn’t take place the Monday before Ash Wednesday. You don’t know how disappointed I was to receive this news, as the entire purpose of being in Michoacán was to document this event.

Finally, this year I photographed the fiesta! San Pedro Zipiajo, which is inhabited by about 2,500 people, is about two hours northeast of Pátzcuaro. Santo Nino is the protector of this Purépecha village while San Pedro is the patron saint. This is their annual feast day. Monday is the most important day of the fiesta. Preparations begin on Sunday. Families prepare tamales, atole, mole and rice to serve to their guests in their homes. On Monday morning there is a first communion at eight o’clock. At one o’clock there is a mass. At four o’clock in the afternoon a group of men begin to perform la Danza de los Moros in front of the church. The men and women who perform the dance are known as orhetes. The main orhete for both groups carries a banner for the Virgin of Guadalupe that is attached to a small staff while they dance.

Upon arriving in San Pedro Zipiajo at three o’clock in the afternoon on Monday, the zócalo had two bands playing music with people dancing away. The music was so loud you could barely hear people speaking to you. One group of people took off with one of the bands. The women interlocked their arms and ran down the street dancing vigorously. They were followed by the men from the village and the band. I don’t know what this was all about but it was quite lively. At four o’clock I returned to the front of the church as the Danza de los Moros had begun. This first group was made up of the lead orhete, five other dancers and two small boys. After finishing dancing outside of the church, they went into the church to dance. At the end of the dance, the men would click their heels together just as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz did when she wanted to return home to Kansas.

Shortly thereafter, two groups of male dancers appeared along with two groups of female dancers. The women went inside and took the processional float of Santa Nino outside, whereas the men took the processional float of San Pedro outside. A canopy held by four men shielded the priest as he exited the church. From there the dancers alternated by dancing in each of the four corners of the courtyard of the church. The male dancers performed first, then the women, then the second group of male dancers and lastly the second group women dancers. As each group took turns dancing there were twelve men called carguero de San Pedro that carried candles that were about four feet tall on either side of the processional route. They also stood on either side of each of the corners when the dancers performed. They were human barriers to control the crowd from entering the area where the dancing was taking place.

There were two very large castillos in the courtyard of the church that were to be set off that evening. It appeared that the village was in for a lively evening. Unfortunately, I had to get back to Pátzcuaro, but it was amazing to witness this fiesta at last!

I spent February second and third in Tocuaro. This village is about thirty minutes away from Pátzcuaro located on the west side of Lake Pátzcuaro. This Purépecha village is known for its mask carving done by the Horta family. I was there to document how they celebrated El Día de Candeleria. This particular day represents the first time the Virgin Mary takes the Christ child to church to be blessed. It always happens forty days after the birth of Christ. This is also the conclusion of the pastorelas in Michoacán. These events begin on December twenty-fourth. The main characters are four young boys and girls who represent the shepherds (los pastorelas), a young child depicting Saint Michael (Santo Miguel) who is the guardian of the Christ child, the hermit (el ermitaño) and three devils (diablos). The hermit is present to protect Saint Michael from the devils. The head devil portrays Luzbel (Lucifer). No one in the village knows the identity of Luzbel. The other two devils are called Pecado (Sin) and Astucia (Cunning). The masks the devils wore were extremely elaborate. The black velvet and sequin costumes worn by the devils wear take about a year to be created. They had highly decorated sequin capes with pointed collars that stood straight up. The three devils want to prevent the shepherds from visiting the Christ child. Saint Michael is present to stop them from accomplishing this evil deed. He slays the three devils. The children who portrayed the shepherds carried large sparkly poles that were decorated with tinsel, artificial flowers, crepe paper and Christmas ornaments. These are their staffs that are known as a bacul. The dance is basically a struggle of good over evil. An orchestra accompanies the dance as it takes place.

Lastly, a less elaborate Día de la Candeleria celebration also took place in San Francisco Uricho, which is just up the road from Tocuaro on February second, third and fourth. In this village they have a dance known as the Viejitos Catrines. These dancers go from home to home knocking on the front doors. Once someone opens the door, this individual is given the statue of the Christ child in a chair to hold while the Viejitos Catrines dance in front of their home on the street. Afterwards, one is asked to give a donation to the church. A band accompanied this group through the streets.

All in all, this was a wonderful time to be in Michoacán to witness each of these three unique dances. Mexico never ceases to surprise me with its beautiful customs and traditions.
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Dancers inside the church
Dancers inside the church
Orhete
Orhete
Procession
Procession
Carrying processional float with Santo Nino
Carrying processional float with Santo Nino
Little boy with the Danza de los Moros
Little boy with the Danza de los Moros
The women dancers
The women dancers
Back of the male dancers
Back of the male dancers
Dancing in front of the church
Dancing in front of the church
Swing your partner
Swing your partner
Detail of the women's headdresses
Detail of the women's headdresses
Off and running
Off and running
Processional float with San Pedro
Processional float with San Pedro
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