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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Muerteada - Day of the Dead Dance

A real battle of the bands!
Early on the morning of November 2, we caught up with the dancers from San Agustin Etla, who had already been dancing and general partying for over twelve hours.  I like to catch them as the sun comes over the mountains and hits the mirrors and bells on their outfits.  This is one of the best and most fun events of the entire week... make that the entire year.  These guys are crazy!  They walk from house to house, at each of which they get some food and drink.  The band plays some fast infectious music and they dance like there is no tomorrow..... which there definitely is. 

They might imbibe some mezcal and beer along the way, but rest assured, their wives and mothers are there to keep an eye on them.  "Mi amor, I really think you should eat something and please, no fistfights with your brother this year."  There are about twenty five guys who act as security and do a fantastic job of controlling the mayhem. They all have on matching t-shirts and most have small whips, but I've never seen them use them.  They do descend en masse on anyone who gets rowdy.

At the same time, there is another group of dancers along with their band, who come from the barrio San Jose at the base of the hill.  They have also been dancing and partying all night with extreme prejudice and at ten in the morning the two groups come together.... well, they are separated by a one foot demilitarized zone.  These guys do not like each other and they go at it, but in an unusual way.  The security guys line up and lock arms and the bands lead their groups in.  Each band had six tubas and they go face to face, basically swearing at each other through their instruments.  There are moments of intense insanity.  It is like a scrum or a mosh pit. 

I've been in the perfect spot three times now, at the exact point where it is the craziest.  The first time, I was scared because I couldn't believe it was happening.  Plus, they are throwing stuff, pushing and shoving, and totally smashed.  Good times.  However, there are kids dancing and it really is a family affair.  The spectators fill the streets and watch from roof tops and many join in with the dancing.  The music is just amazing, especially when the two bands are both playing at the same time.  I don't know if they coordinate, but they sure lay down a beat that makes you move.  Gotta dance!

After it is all over, both groups head home, after a little more food and dance.  The group we were with has to walk up a long steep hill.  I don't know how they do it.  I was tired and I missed the first 14 hours.  This is a must see/experience event and there were no tourist there at all.  However, there were two blogging gringos there having the time of their lives.


SandiS said...

This was great Chris. I wonder what the origins of this are? I ask because as you probably know, there is a similar practice in Louisiana where the Mardis Gras Indians with different chiefs and their bands confronting each other. Hmmmmm!

Lani said...

Due to your gorgeous photos of flowers, tomb mosaics, children playing on a grave, etc. as well as the philosophy you advanced regarding the Oaxacan view of death and/or afterlife in Oaxaca, I became more interested in the subject. I checked out a bilingual book by Mary J. Andrade called “Day of the Dead in Mexico—Through the Eyes of the Soul.” The particular volume I got was one of her series on the subject and dealt with Mexico City, Mixquic, and Morelos. It consists of photographs and text documenting the celebrations in these cities.
In Ocotepec, a part of the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos, she mentioned seeing a flyer in one of the homes, which was distributed by local authorities and targeted to visitors. It said:

“Ocotepec is a town respectful and protective of its traditions on All Saints holidays. Many people disregard or are unfamiliar with the “duelo” (time of mourning) or the loss of a loved one. Some people regard this time of year as a reason to celebrate or party; they wear costumes and are unruly as if it is a night of carnival. In Ocotepec, it is not a day of merriment for those who have suffered a loss, like many who are unaware, believe it to be. We request that the visits to new offerings be done with the respect they deserve; we ask that a prayer be said for the eternal rest of the departed and that visitors share in the grief of the family. Ocotepec must maintain its ancestral traditions and customs and together, with your help, this can be accomplished.”

Since the “muerteada” seems like the exact opposite of this, I have a question similar to the other comment. I am curious what you think about how and why the “muerteada,” with its costumes of bells, mirrors, etc., and all-night partying happened to develop in Oaxaca.

Christopher Stowens said...

As I said in my post about thinking about death while in Boston, every place is different. That is one of the things I like best about visiting so many places for Day of the Dead. Each is so dramatically different from the previous or the next. The atmosphere or ambiance in San Antonino is serene and quite uplifting. While in Teotitlan del Valle, it is much more somber and serious. However, in all places, there are always elements of respect, love, tinged with sorrow. Spixl's post about the origins of the muerteada indicates that there is more depth in the celebrations and costumes than may appear to the unpracticed eye.
As I say, every place is different. The US has a very different way of dealing with death. I mean, we never see bodies coming back from the war and we tend to have a great fear of death, we keep it detached, away, sanitized. I guess, all I am saying, is that the world is a big place and over every hill, people see things differently... and the same. Hey, I'm a Buddhist. What can I say? ;-)