Guelaguetza Oaxaca

Guelaguetza – The perfect excuse to visit Oaxaca

Guelaguetza – The perfect excuse to visit Oaxaca

The State of Oaxaca in Mexico boasts beautiful natural landmarks, historically rich archeological sites, handcrafted products, and great local food. Thirteen different ethnic groups live there, each strongly present with their own set of traditions, language, and cultural expressions. It is home to Mexican-American singer Lila Downs, the delicious tlayudas and the Zapotecs.

 

Guelaguetza – The perfect excuse to visit Oaxaca. Guelaguetza captures the Magic, Tradition and Culture of the peoples of Oaxaca. Image Credit: Ramiro Pozzo.

 

Oaxaca´s promotion of its culture grows strong with each year’s Guelaguetza celebration. Five centuries back, before the arrival of the Spanish, the Zapotec had a yearly gathering to worship Xilonen, the goddess of corn which brought different ethnic groups together to connect, exchange, and forge relationships.

 

 

When the Aztecs conquered the area, the tradition remained similar, but they began to worship Centeotl, their own corn goddess. More recently, the arrival of the Spanish contributed with some Christian elements.

The Word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec guendaliza’a, meaning “offering, gift or pledge.” Today, this celebration has mutated to an ongoing series of parades, mezcal fairs, food festivals, concerts and more.

 

The traditional fiesta of Guelaguetza of Oaxaca is celebrated in the month of July, and is part of the popular cults to the Virgen del Carmen. Image Credit: Ramiro Pozzo.

 

For two consecutive weekends before Los Lunes del Cerro (Mondays of the Hill), the city comes alive with parades, called “convites” that advance several blocks all the way up the central plaza or Zocalo.

 

 

These convites serve as an announcement and invitation for the Guelaguetza Festival, the last two Mondays of July. This year the event was celebrated on the 17th and the 24th. As part of the festival, massive and popular performances take place at the Guelaguetza Auditorium, a modern and popular theater that overlooks the city from above at the Cerro del Fortín.

 

Guelaguetza: Magic, Tradition and Culture of the peoples of Oaxaca. Image Credit: Ramiro Pozzo.

 

Every Monday features two performances, one in the morning and another in the evening. Communities from across the Oaxaca state showcase their customary dances. Tickets are nearly impossible to purchase, presale tickets get sold out in minutes, but it is possible for thousands to attend the event for free. All they need to do is get up at 4 AM and stand in line for hours on the day of the event.

 

 

 

Guelaguetza Auditorium

During the convites, various towns in the state showcase their “calendas,” typically composed of wind instrument bands, marmotas (large spinning cloth balls), and “monos de calenda” (large representations of human figures).

Traditional costumes play a central role in the festivities, with vibrant hand-embroidered dresses known as huipiles drawing attention as women dance through the streets.

 

 

Participants also share local sweets and small cups of mezcal. Fireworks light up the sky, shot by those in the parade as they move or spin around. The event concludes with extensive fireworks displays before the crowd disperses to find food.

Smaller festivities take place in over a dozen towns within the area. The Guelaguetza Festival now encompasses all eight regions of Oaxaca: Papaloapan, Sierra Norte, Sierra Sur, Centeotl, and Valles Centrales.

Donají The Legend

Another part of the celebration is the The Legend of Donají, represented by the Oaxaca Ballet at the Auditorium (obviously). It is a love story between Zapotec Princess Donají (Great Soul) and a Mixtecan Prince. But it’s also a tale of Donají´s courage and unconditional loyalty to her people which would eventually lead to her sacrifice.

During a confrontation between the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, a Mixtec warrior sustains injuries and is taken captive. Amid his captivity, Princess Donaji develops feelings for him and aids in his release. The two lovers persuade their respective leaders to establish a peace agreement. An accord is reached on the condition that Donají remains with the Mixtecs.

 

La Guelaguetza: The festival showcases Oaxacan culture and dance, accompanied by a large number of dancers who participate in acts divided into four periods. Image Credit: Ramiro Pozzo.

 

However, ongoing disputes persist, leading to the tragic death of Donají at the hands of the Mixtecs, and her burial near the Atoyac River. It is said that years later, when her remains were found, they were remarkably preserved, and from her resting place, wild lilies blossomed. This imagery became a symbol of the Zapotec community.

Oaxacans are proud of their geography, their history, and their culture. Any visitor can perceive it when they talk with a taxi driver, a tour guide or someone selling “chocolate de agua” on the road. If not, it will definitely be heard repeatedly from the calendas:

Dancer: “Qué viva la Guelaguetza!” (long live the Guelaguetza!)

Crowd: “Viva!”

Dancer: “Que vivan los pueblos originarios,” (long live originary peoples!).

Crowd: “Viva!”

 


Ramiro Pozzo | Journalist, Argentina

Born in Santa Fe, Argentina in 1971, Ramiro was exiled to the United States during Argentina’s last military dictatorship. He lived with his family in Minnesota until 1987. Once back in Argentina, he played in the lower divisions of the local soccer team. In 1997, he graduated as a bioengineer. In 2022, he graduated as a journalist. Currently, he offers training and remote technical support for medical equipment for GE Healthcare. He writes articles in English and Spanish as an independent journalist. Ramiro is a member of the Human Rights Group @HijaseHijosdelExilio. He can be contacted at [email protected]; @ramiropozzo.