Aztecs | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Aztecs

Yesterday began with insistent drumming emanating from the Jardín. Instead of turning into Posada Carmina to join my friends for breakfast, I hurried up Cuña de Allende and across the plaza in front of the Parroquoia to find this:


I had stumbled upon a Celebration commemorating El Señor de la Conquista (The Lord of the Conquest), a 16th-Century figure of Christ now kept in our principal church. This image is supposed to commemorate the acceptance by Mesoamerican Indians of the Christian religion imposed on them by their Spanish conquerors.

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Nearly a hundred dancers wore elaborate costumes consisting of capes, loincloths or dresses, and spectacular feathered headdresses made from pheasant or peacock plumes. On their ankles were rattles made from chalchahuite or ayayote seed pods; on their feet, leather sandals—huaraches. In a nod to modern sensibilities, they rounded out their ensembles with gym shorts and, in the case of the guy on the left, above, white gym socks.

These dancers are called concheros because they play conchas—mandolin-like instruments.

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Traditional conchas are made from the shells of armadillos.

Tall drums, called huehuetles used to be made of wood. These ones appear to be made from steel oil barrels.

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The fire underneath one of the huehuetles is warming and tightening the drumhead.

If you look closely, you can see that the drummer in the blue shirt is wearing iPod earbuds. Like teenagers everywhere, he can't be without his tunes.

Everyone gets to be dancers: young women...

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... retirees...

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... and children.

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All are equal, but some are more equal than others. There's a hierarchy to the dance troupe. Pictured below is one of the officials: an alferece (standard bearer).

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The standard he is carrying depicts Christ carrying a Spanish conquistador's banner under the slogan, "Union Conformidad y Conquista" (Joining of Acceptance and Conquest).

A Capitan (probably the "retiree" above) runs the whole show. A sargento in green headdress stands behind an altar bearing the figure of El Señor de la Conquista, guarding it. He looks a little like a Sepoy—formidable.

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Scattered in front of the altar are conchas and incense burners. The woman in the red dress is a woman captain who supervises the other women. She looks to me like the right choice for the job—no nonsense!

These people are not performing for tourists: early yesterday most of the latter were still asleep in bed. I saw far fewer spectators than dancers.

What was happening on the plaza was a celebration of heritage and a demonstration of deep faith. The dancers were keeping alive centuries-old ritual and culture. You could see the solemnity of the occasion in their faces.

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What a privilege it is to observe celebrations such as these, although I don't really understand them. How can they celebrate conquest by a foreign race, destruction of their culture, razing of their cities, the enslavement of their bodies?

The drumming, the costumes and the dancing distract observers from the realization that first and foremost, this is a Catholic celebration. Preserving the old culture is important, yes. But the dancing really is all about the acceptance of Christ. Conquest pales in importance when compared with faith.
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