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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> La Fiesta Grande de Enero en Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas 2016 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

La Fiesta Grande de Enero en Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas 2016

This Mestizo celebration, which is the biggest and oldest in the state of Chiapas, has pre-Hispanic origins, but it fully evolved with the arrival of the Spanish in the seventeenth century. At this time they brought with them the image of Saint Sebastian the Martyr to Chiapa de Corzo where they proceeded to build a temple in his honor.

According to legend, a wealthy woman named Doña Maria de Angulo came to Chiapa de Corzo in the eighteenth century from Antigua, Guatemala. She was seeking a cure for her son who was unable to walk. Upon her arrival, she saw a curandero who recommended that she take her son to the healing waters of a small lake called Combujuya. While her son was recuperating a local group of men disguised themselves as Spanish men by wearing masks. They danced around the boy’s bed to keep him entertained. These dancers were called “Parachicos”. This name originated from “para el chico” or “for the boy”. Today both men and women are Parachico dancers. It is believed the tradition of this dance originated in 1711. There is another version of this story that states it was the dancing of the Parachicos that cured the child.

This fiesta was put on UNESO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in November 2010. The Fiesta Grande de Enero takes place from January 8th - 23rd. It honors Our Lord of Esquipulas on the 15th, San Antonio Abad on the 17th and Saint Sebastian the Martyr, the patron saint, on the 20th.

The Parachicos wear hand-carved wooden masks depicting the Spanish. The majority of the masks have glass eyes that are either blue or brown in color with long eyelashes. Most of the masks have beards. Some of the masks tend to have a childlike face. Antonio López Hernández whose work is featured in the book Los Grandes Maestros de Mexico creates some of the masks worn by the dancers. They wear a headpiece made of ixtle or henequen fiber, which comes from the agave leaf. It has ribbons attached to the top. The ixtle represents the rays of the sun and the light of life. It is also suppose to mimic blonde hair. Most of the men wear black shirts and pants with a Saltillo serape draped over their shoulders that falls to the ground. Over their pants they wear satin embroidered or sequin appliqué panels that depict dancers or saints. They are similar to chaps and they’re known as chalinas. In one hand they carry a maraca made of metal or lacquer called a chinchin. They move quickly down the streets. In all of the processions, they dance inside the homes having ofrendas for the three saints and inside the various churches. At one point in the dance they stop shaking their chinchins and the only sound is the stomping of their feet on the ground.

The Parachicos are accompanied by the Chiapanecas who dance in front of the procession. These women wear beautiful hand embroidered ruffled blouses and full-length circle skirts made from tulle with floral designs. The majority of them are embroidered with alta seda (high quality silk) while some of them are embroidered with seda (silk). It takes up to six months to embroider the skirts and about two weeks to embroider the blouse. The necklines of the blouses are sewn with cross-stitching. Alta seda is more expensive than seda because the thread is finer. Also the blouses and skirts embroidered with alta seda are woven in and out of the tulle. The original dress was white but now the women wear the skirts and blouses in various colors of tulle such as black, pink, blue, green, orange, lilac and other colors. A ball gown influenced the style of this folkloric costume in the 1930’s by a theatre troupe from Mexico City, but the style of embroidery is original to Chiapa de Corzo.

The Parachicos dance with the Patrón. He is in charge of all of the dancers. The current Patrón, Rubisel Gómez Nigenda has held this position since 1999. It is a lifetime commitment. His forty-five year old mask is different from the others as it has extremely large, bushy eyebrows; eyes looking upward and an open mouth with teeth exposed depicting a slight smile. He wears it perched on top of his head as he plays a pito (flute) continuously during the processions alongwith a guitar strapped over his shoulder and carries a whip for punishment. Before all of the processions start, the Parachico dancers go to La Casa del Patrón to dress and pray as a group. You know that the procession is ready to start once a drummer stands outside of the house and begins to play. Once the Patrón is fully dressed, he begins to play his pito while a drummer stands next to him. The Parachicos then begin to dance in front of the altar. As they exit to the street, a young woman walks next to the Patrón called a “Chulita”. She is dressed in an older style Chiapan dress with a plain white blouse and a solid colored skirt. The Patrón is completely surrounded by dancers who protect him.

There is another dance group in Chiapa de Corzo known as the “Chuntás”. These are men dressed as women. These ceremonial cross-dressers represent the maids and servants of Doña Maria de Angulo. After her son was cured, she was so overwhelmed with happiness that she sent her maids out to distribute fruit, corn, beans and vegetables to all of the homes in Chiapa de Corzo. The legend states that all the maids were dancing in the street as they went from home to home in celebration of Doña Maria’s son having recovered from his illness.

Most of the Chuntás wear flower print skirts, white blouses that have floral embroidery with a scoop neckline, ribbons in their hair, lots of make-up, they carry a chinchin, a painted gourd filled with candies and some of them wear canastas (baskets) on their head full of papel picados (cut paper) flags. The papel picados in their canastas signify the union of the eight neighborhoods in Chiapa de Corzo. They dance in the homes with ofrendas and the various churches as well. A drum and pito accompanies them as they process through the streets too.

Between 1767 and 1768 there was a plague of locusts that destroyed all the crops in Chiapa de Corzo. It killed around one hundred people. Doña Maria de Angulo returned to the pueblo in appreciation for her son being healed. Once again she sent her maids and servants out into the streets, only this time she gave them money and corn to distribute to the people as she wanted to help them recover from their losses.

On January 22nd there is a huge desfile (parade) where a woman portrays Doña Maria de Angulo. She rides in a wooden cart that is moved through the street by about six men. The Chuntás and the Parachicos accompany her. She throws fake gold coins, fruit and candies into the crowd. The Chuntás throw confetti and candies from their painted gourds to all of the bystanders. This event originated in 1906. This is one of the most festive days of the entire celebration.

I was fortunate to photograph another procession of women who were known as Tuxtlecas. These people are descendents of the Zoque race. Today they live in the departments of Tuxtla, Mezcalapa, Pichucalco and Simojvel. The Zoques were predecessors of the Olmec people. Today one only sees the women wearing the Zoque traditional dress. This regional folk costume in only the colors of black and white dates from around 1930.

The homes that have the ofrendas for the saints are decorated with enramas for the respective saints in Chiapa de Corzo. These are weavings made from tempisque leaves, roscas de pan and fruit such as bananas, pineapples, papaya, cantaloupe, oranges, apples, coconuts and limes strung together. They hang from bamboo poles that are suspended from the ceilings of the rooms where the ofrendas are located. They serve as a thanksgiving to God. A person known as a “prioste” is the individual or family member who is responsible for guarding the sacred images in their home for a year.

A personal observation of the fiesta was that these people were completely enthralled with using their cell phones for taking selfies. I had never witnessed a community in Mexico where the cell phone was so important to have on hand at all times. The women carried their cell phones either in their bras or in their baskets. Even the Parachico dancers would take out their cell phones and take a selfie of themselves in between dances. Most of the dancers used their cell phones to check their appearances and make sure they looked good at all times.

Overall, this event was a challenge to photograph as hundreds upon hundreds Parachico dancers processed down very narrow streets at a rapid pace with cars parked along the processional route with cobblestone streets, uneven ground, topes and bystanders. The ideal place to shoot was in the middle of the street, but then I risked being trampled or stepped on by the dancers. Trying to shoot from the sidewalks wasn’t much easier as the height of the sidewalks went from three feet back down to ground level making it very dangerous of falling, which did happen on one occasion. When the Parachico dancers entered a home with an ofrenda it was as if they were going through a funnel as the doorways were small and one literally had to push their way in. Once inside, the chances of trying to get a decent photo was next to impossible due to the fact the rooms had low lighting with lots of movement. By my third time out to photograph the Parachico dancers I had learned how to pace myself. I gave up on taking photos inside the homes with the ofrendas due to the low light. It was quite an experience to say the least. The dichotomy between the Parachicos and the Chuntás was most intriguing too. As they say in Mexico, “Viva la Fiesta”! It was quite lively and entertaining!



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A Group of Parachicos
A Group of Parachicos
La Chiapaneca posing in front of ofrenda
La Chiapaneca posing in front of ofrenda
Dancing away in la casa del patron
Dancing away in la casa del patron
Chuntá with trenzas
Chuntá with trenzas
Chuntá carrying gourd
Chuntá carrying gourd
Parachicos on the Plaza
Parachicos on the Plaza
Mother and Child
Mother and Child
Parachico dancers in the street
Parachico dancers in the street
Home Ofrenda for San Antonio Abad
Home Ofrenda for San Antonio Abad
The Patron in the procession
The Patron in the procession
Partying in the streets
Partying in the streets
Little Girl in front of Altar
Little Girl in front of Altar
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