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Fiesta for the Precious Blood of Christ in Teotitlan Del Valle, Oaxaca

During the first week of July the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico celebrates the Precious Blood of Christ fiesta. This year El Grupo Promesa 2010-2012 danced for the first time. This group is made up of thirty-seven participants. This is most likely the first time in nearly forty years that the dance has been focused on the conquest of Cortés over Moctezuma. This group made their first appearance on July 5th, 2010 when they participated in the convite and calenda. The convite was made up of nearly three hundred women carrying baskets with images of the saints on their heads.

One needs to keep in mind that the Danza de la Pluma from Teotitlán del Valle is the only group in all of Oaxaca that makes a three year promesa (promise) to dance for all of the feast days in their pueblo. The commitment is based on faith to give thanks for an unexpected blessing, to ask for the well being of everyone in the community or for their family. Their promise is made to God, the patron saint and the church. It is believed that if this promise is broken one can become physically ill. This undertaking made by the dancers is an expensive one as they have a least three dance costumes; two feather headdresses called penachos and they’re responsible for sharing the expenses with the church committee for the numerous fiestas that take place throughout the year. The expenses for the fiestas are the cost of paying for the band, food, beverages and sponsoring parties in their homes for the saints.

This dance is most strenuous as it takes eight hours to perform. It is made up of forty individual dances. It is truly an endurance test on the part of the dancers as they leap high into the air, landing on their knees and then rotate in circles once on the ground. This new group of danzantes dominated the dance area during most of the eight hours. The soldiers didn’t dance; they just marched to the beat of the drum, whereas the danzantes performed to the accompaniment of the band. During the time that the Aztecs danced the soldiers sat in chairs and watched the dance. The band was made up of about twenty-eight musicians who played bass tubas, baritone tubas, French horn, trombones, trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, a bass drum, cymbals and a kettledrum.

The dance invokes the sun, moon and the seasons along with astrological events such as the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Moctezuma embodies the god of the sun. The rest of the dancers represent celestial bodies. The Spanish brought this dance to the Zapotec Indians. The European influences are the music, the pants, shirts and the liturgical cloth, but the rest of the dance and the movements are based on the Zapotec culture. The Spanish Conquistadors mention in their chronicles that the first time a cross-cultural version of this dance took place was in Cuilapan, Oaxaca. Martín Cortés, the son of Cortés performed this dance for the birth of his twin sons. A battle between Moctezuma and Cortés took place. Martín danced the role of his father.

In the group from Teotitlán del Valle, Moctezuma and the danzantes comprised the Aztecs. Each of the danzantes have a different military rank; there are two teotils (ministers to Moctezuma), two war captains, four allied kings and eight vasallos. The four allied kings come from other nearby kingdoms to aid Moctezuma in his war campaign against Cortés. The vasallos are men who provide military assistance, allegiance and aid in protecting Moctezuma. At a certain point in the dance Moctezuma goes to sleep and removes his crown. It is the dancers responsibility to guard Moctezuma’s crown while he sleeps. All the danzantes and Moctezuma wear feather headdresses called penachos. They are about four feet in diameter and they are made from downy feathers. Tiny mirrors are embedded in the feathered headdresses. In Teotitlán del Valle the dancers wear circular penachos. Only Moctezuma and the first Teotil wear a magenta silk sash known as a ceñidor around their waists. This silk sash is worn by them as they are the highest ranking dancers. All of the dancers wear little capes on their backs with images of the saint they are dancing for. During this event they wore the image of the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo. Scarves are tied onto their arms. Each dancer carriers a rattle made of a small gourd attached to a deer’s hoof and a small, painted wooden “fan”. The dancers wear colorful shirts and leggings are worn over their pants. An apron of antique coins is worn around their waist and neck. Huaraches are worn on their feet. The traje worn for the Precisoa Sangre de Cristo celebration is known as "tela mistisa" as it is a silk brocade. During the other times that they dance for the other saints in the village their leggings and capes are woolen done in the style of the traditional rug weaving from the village. Moctezuma is accompanied by two young girls who portray La Malinche and Doña Marina. All three of them seat in ornately carved wooden chairs made especially for them during the dance. La Malinche is dressed in indigenous clothing and a feather headdress whereas Doña Marina is dressed in a Spanish style dress and hat with a large ostrich feather attached to the hatband. La Malinche represents Moctezuma’s wife and she remains with him throughout the dance. Doña Marina begins the dance with Moctezuma but later joins Cortés as she is converted to Christianity. The soldiers were played by little boys with the exception of Cortés who appeared to be a teenager. Cortés carried the crucifix in his hand. The soldiers wore black military uniforms trimmed with gold braid and they carried toy rifles and swords. The Subhalternos are clowns and they tend to the dancers. The Subhalternos bring drinks to the dancers, help them by adjusting their clothing during the dance and hold their penachos when they take a break from dancing. They also interacted with the audience. In December 2009 when I photographed the last group, one of the Subhalternos grabbed my hat, placed his hat on my head and proceeded to dance wearing my hat.

As this dance favors the indigenous people there are supposedly two different endings. In one version Moctezuma is defeated by Cortés and in the other version Moctezuma is resurrected and is placed once again on his throne. This conclusion of the dance represents Moctezuma as the messianic king who restores Indian rule and Malinche is his queen. Cortés has been banished, the world has been purified as it has been brought back to its indigenous glory.

There are other Danza de la Pluma groups in Oaxaca from San Bartolo Coyotepec, San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, Zaachila, Cuilapan de Guerrero, San Martín Tilcajete and San Pablo Villa de Milta but all of these groups are strictly folkloric as none of them make a three year promesa to dance for their feast days in their respective villages.

The day of the actual fiesta took place on July 7th. Once again all of the activities were repeated with the octava on July 9th. An unusual amount of rain fell this year, however the fiesta went on. A castillo (firework tower) along with toros (bulls) were part of the festivities on Tuesday and Saturday evening. Overall, despite the rain, the fiesta was a true testimonial of the faith and devotion of this Zapotec village.
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Little girl with canasta
Little girl with canasta
Back of girl with canasta
Back of girl with canasta
Carrying canasta
Carrying canasta
Carrying canasta in convite
Carrying canasta in convite
Carrying canasta to plaza
Carrying canasta to plaza
Little girl
Little girl
Braids with ribbons
Braids with ribbons
Convite on Friday
Convite on Friday
Little girl in convite
Little girl in convite
Las Mujeres
Las Mujeres
Girl posing with canasta
Girl posing with canasta
Convite leaving the church
Convite leaving the church
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