Journals from Spring Semester 08: Oaxaca, Mexico
2008-03-11 San Martin Huamelulpan
Hola de Oaxaca!
Here's a very detailed update about our excursion with Teresa this weekend. We
all had a wonderful time (except for Janelle, who couldn't go with us because
she had a migraine and was feeling sick) and it really lifted our spirits
after hitting a slump last week. Teresa prepared us for this visit by having
us answer some questions about the last fiesta to get us thinking about the
organization and the purpose of the fiesta in general, and then we also had an
article to read about the pueblo itself.
We left Oaxaca city around 8am on Friday and drove 2 hours northeast to a
tiny, tiny pueblo called San Martin Huamalulpan. Just like the last fiesta,
this was a Catholic fiesta that happens every year, and this pueblo just
happens to have theirs on the 5th Friday of Lent.
There wasn't a family that was willing to host us this time, and the town was
too small to have a hotel, so we stayed about 25 minutes away in a hotel in a
neighboring town (Yolomecatl). The first thing that we did was meet our tour
guide and she took us straight to the mass. It was beautiful and I was pretty
excited because I could understand the entire sermon. After the mass we
watched an incredibly interesting dance. Each year, this family coordinates a
dance and performs it after the mas. There are two "teams" of men that stand
on either side of a court. One team wears white and portrays "los cristianos"
and the other team wears red and portrays "los moros" (Muslims or Moors). Each
side declares allegiance to their religion and then they act out a battle,
through dance, with real machetes!! It's a very elaborate dance, and the
entire process takes about 3 hours. We unfortunately did not stay for the
whole thing, but the finale of course, shows the Christians winning the battle
against the Muslims.
After the dance we went and met the Municipal Authorities, which is basically
the local government of the pueblo. They were incredibly nice, offered us soda
and talked with us about their role in the community. Then, the band arrived
to play for the President, so of course we had to dance as well. It was
traditional "banda" music, so lots of tuba, etc. There was a woman that came
around and paired us up with a member of the community to dance with and I
danced 3 songs with this man who had to be at least 70, and was about 4 inches
shorter than me. He called me his "huerrita" which means "my little white
girl". It was really cute and I had a great time.
When the dance was over, that signified that it was time to walk over to the
house of the mayordomo (the man that coordinates and pays for the entire
fiesta) for the lunch. The lunch here was much different than at the other
fiesta. We ate a plate of arroz, con zanahorias y chiles (rice with carrots
and chiles) and then a soup type thing that had a patty of something fried in
the middle with red sauce and pickled green beans. There was some confusion
about what was in the patty...some of us heard fried cheese, some though fried
fish, and others thought it was chicken. All I know is that it wasn't spicy,
and I just smiled and ate it. Oh, and of course we ate tons of fresh made corn
After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we came back to the fiesta and
participated in the procession. It started in the church and continued down
the hill and through the center of town. The townspeople gave us flowers to
carry, and Laura Ansari even helped carry the image of the Virgin Mary for
part of the walk.
The night was kind of disappointing because it was FREEZING!!!! I'm talking
like 40 degrees, and none of us knew that it was going to be that cold, so we
were all in capris, sandals, tanktops, and a light jacket. We ate dinner
around 8:00pm and it was delicious! We had taquitos filled with chicken and
covered with beans, lettuce, and cheese. That warmed us up, especially since
they had a fire that they were cooking over, but afterwards we got cold again.
We ended up huddling together in groups of 4 and tried to stay warm while we
waited for the fireworks to start. They were supposed to start at 9pm, but at
10pm when they still hadn't started, we decided to call it a night. Apparently
they were still constructing the big castle of fireworks and that's why they
were late, but we were too tired and cold.
We headed back to the hotel and that's when the fun began. We didn't have any
hot water or heat to warm ourselves up, so even though we were each lucky
enough to have our own beds, we ended up sharing anyway!! We decided that the
extra body heat, plus the combined blankets of two beds, was a much better
In the morning we drove back to the fiesta and went and chatted with the
family of the "danzantes' dancers that performed on Friday. They have their
own area in the fiesta where their whole family stays and prepares meals. We
talked with the women about how they prepared the food for the dancers, and
they were very eager to talk with us. I think that for a lot of girls this was
the best part of the experience, because we were really interacting with "la
gente" (the people).
After that fun time, we walked to the community museum and learned a little
bit about the history of the town. They have a practice of using herbal
medicines (like many small communities) to cure commons sicknesses. We learned
about the types of plants they use to brew a tea for stomach infection
(something I wish I had learned earlier) and other things for getting a baby
to change positions if it's almost time for the mom to give birth and the baby
is in the wrong direction.
Here are a few fun random facts from the fiesta:
1. During the 3 days of the fiesta, the women cook (by hand) about 4,600 corn
2. The mayordomia (the group that plans everything) consisted of 23 people
this year (sometimes it's only 6-7)
3. Our van driver passed a semi on a one-lane bridge that was under
construction and I thought we were all goners
4. People use eggs to "cleanse" the body of sicknesses. What they do is hold
the egg in their hand and then pass it over every part of the body, and then
after it's passed over the entire body it's cracked
5. We were given tapache which is a fermented drink made from pulque (from the
maguey cactus that tequila comes from) and pineapple. It had about the same
alcohol content as beer, and it had a similar taste, except for the pineapple.
Well that's about all I can think of, but it was a great time! Once again the
people were incredibly nice, and we found out that when people from very far
away visit the fiesta, it is a huge honor for them because it shows them how
important the Catholic religion is and how important their fiesta is as well.
This was a very long update, but let me know if you have more questions about
what we did this weekend!!