The here and now... and what and why

Complacency is a trap. At least that’s what I was thinking when I up and left the comfort of a Yankee prep school gig, where I taught music, amongst other things, for 28 years. There was also that life long career as a composer, musician and artist.

First, it was a year in St. Thomas, USVI, working as a reporter and shooting photography and then, a year in San Agustin Etla, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Time passed.
More time passed and a year back in the Athens of America followed by a hasty return to Oaxaca where it is all happening.
A couple of years in San Sebastian Etla and now, just down the road in San Pablo Etla. Life is good.

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For additional photography please visit my flickr page.
You can find my music on Jango (World & latin - Worldbeat) and at iTunes and most online stores.
¡Soy consciente de todas las tradiciones del Internet!
If you are coming to Oaxaca, please contact me for tours or advice.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo
The view from Corazon del Pueblo

The hereafter re me

My photo
Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
Musician, photographer, videographer, reporter, ex-officio teacher, now attempting to be a world traveler

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Blood sacrifice

Yesterday, my good friend Henry, in whose house I am staying and who is back in town for a week, and I went on a trek to find Apoala, the spiritual birthplace of the Mixtec nation. We were off to find the navel, a cave, from which the Mixtec believe life began.

From MexicoChannel

“Narrations of various myths on the origins of the Mixtecs, have come down to us today. According to one narrative tradition collected by Francisco de Burgoa, “their origin was attributed to two magnificent trees, proud and boastful of their branches whose leaves were stripped by the wind onto the banks of a river within the withdrawn solitude of Apoala between the mountains. This river had its source in a crevice between the two mountains... and at the foot of one of the mountains it flowed into a chasm or cave... From the veins of this river grew the trees which produced the first chiefs - male and female - who in their turn begat other beings and increased their numbers, populating a vast kingdom.”

We drove about 50 k. north on Mexico’s toll road and got off near Noxchitlan.

Henry is very knowledgeable about all things Mexican, especially its history and folk art. Well, he should. After all, he owns Amate Books, one of the best bookstores you could ever hope to visit, if you were searching for books on all things Mexico.
He suggested a trip in the opposite direction to see the 16th century Dominican church in Yanhuitlan.
Henry told a wonderfully long and involved story of the place and its ties to Spain and the Church.

The very short version: Early on, Mexico was essentially divided between three orders, the Dominicans, the Augustinians and the Franciscans. The Dominicans got Oaxaca.

When the Dominicans arrived, the Mixtec numbered almost a million and so the Church began to build an enormous structure mainly because of the richness of the place. It had the materials and a “large flock to shepherd” – a huge work force.

So the project was begun. Then disease began to take its toll. The population plummeted to 10,000, a ninety per cent kill rate. With no flock and no work force, the project was halted.

Now it is being restored. Henry said, “It’s the first place to be restored before it was finished.” So we saw it in full construction mode and had to sneak in to see the much of the church, which was filled with scaffolding and sheets of plastic. The adjoining monastery has been largely restored, but they destroyed too much of the original in my opinion. They lost much of the patina when they replaced floors and sand blasted walls. Still, it was well worth the visit for the sheer size of the structure and its amazing architecture. The flying buttresses were absolutely massive and the setting, just beautiful. There is not much out there. Some sparsely settled villages and one massive church.
We then headed back to Noxchitlan on our way to Apoala. Of course, we had to stop for food in the market.
We had an unusual dish with blue corn flattened and filled with nopales, beans and cheese. Then some special tamales for the road and we were off…

Only to discover that it was Feb. 2, Candelaria or Candlemas, the day on which people bought the Christ child from their Nativity scenes for presentation.
Candelaria is the day that the recipient of the Christ figure baked in the special sweet bread, Rosca de Reyes, on Three Kings Day needs to buy lunch (tamales) and have a party. They also have to buy the Christ child’s clothes for the following year.
So there were hundreds of people, mostly women, carrying these statues into the overflowing church.

Henry said that for that moment all of the women felt like they were the Virgin Mary with their Child. It was quite a beautiful and moving ceremony.

Eventually, we hit the road to Apoala. The road was a dry dusty one that wove its way through some very rugged country. We had to go 30 k, so Henry told me that if I went between 40 and 60 kph, we wouldn’t feel the bumps. It was a fun drive.
When we got to Apoala we learned it was the fiesta for the beginning of Carnival and the place was hopping – as much as a tiny village in desolate country can hop.

We had to register with the village and get a guide to get to the waterfalls and cave. Our guide was Oscar, a sharp and informative 10-year old.

We made our way down to the base of the falls, where there was wonderful swimming in the cold spring water.

Then we hiked back up headed to the cave, which was about a couple of kilometers downstream. Henry said he would wait behind because the place made him claustrophobic. So Oscar and I squeezed in the narrow opening and headed down into what proved to be a huge and deep chamber. He had a powerful flashlight and I could not see the end of the cave. At one point Oscar said, “Watch your head, the cave is low here.” What he should have said was, "Watch out for the razor sharp stalactites that you are about to walk into.”

Head wounds really bleed and my small cut completely freaked out the small number of people who saw me. I was covered with blood – but somehow I did not get any on my shirt and after a quick rinse, I looked better. It really was nothing and stopped relatively quickly, but it was bloody.

So there it is. I offered a healthy blood sacrifice in the cave that is the navel of the Mixtec nation. It seemed somehow fitting. I wonder if I am an honorary Mixtec now. That would be great.


Sonya said...

This sounds awesome, something I would have LOVED to experience. I know I will be back in Oaxaca one day. Sounds like you are having a great time with Henry, nice photos, as usual. I'm glad you are getting out and have fun.

Noble said...

Tell my compadre hi for me and Hi! to you, too. Coming out of the tinieblas. Wishing I were there in the sun with you guys so I could complain about how fast you are driving in the Sierra. I love your blog. The pictures are beautiful. I am there.