Wednesday, October 29, 2014

GUATEMALA: DIA DE LOS MUERTOS GIANT KITE FESTIVAL






After living in Mexico and loving the country and the experience, we decided it was time to spread our wings.  We chose Guatemala as our next living destination.  We had previously visited Guatemala during their incredible Semana Santa (Easter week) celebrations in the old capital of Antigua. The beauty of the country and the indigenous culture had intrigued us.  We decided it was time to head south to Guatemala and what was to  become the beginning our “nomadic life.”  By luck we arrived in Guatemala  just in time for their wonderful Dia de los Muertos  (English: Day of the Dead) celebrations.  We were in for a wonderful experience and one I wish to now share with you.  So here we go to the All Saints Day Kite festival in Guatemala!  






Dia de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated annually  in many Latin American countries on November 1st & 2nd in honor of deceased family members and friends. However, the festivities differ in each country. Mexico celebrates with the building of ofrendas (altars) with personal mementos of the deceased and with offerings of the deceased favorites foods and libations. Guatemala, on the other hand, honors their departed loved ones by flying ‘barriletes gigantes’ (giant kites) over cemeteries. 






For centuries, rural communities throughout the highlands of Guatemala have celebrated with festivals featuring kites that carry messages to ancestors.  The largest of these kite festivals occur in two communities near Guatemala City, Santiago Sacatepequez and Sumpango, on November 1st during the All Saints Day Kite Festival.  This uniquely Guatemalan tradition is based on the belief that the kites are able to convey  messages that are tied to their tails to the spirits of the deceased loved ones.  While smaller kites are flown throughout the day,by the local populace, the largest are exhibition kites which can range from eight to twelve meters and larger in diameter. These ‘barriletes gigantes’  (giant kites) provide a focal point for the festivities and their imagery may on occasion convey current political and moral messages.




The vibrantly colored designs on the kites more often than not  depict religious or folkloric themes and are flown in honor of the dead. The kites are made of cloth and tissue paper on bamboo frames, Traditionally the building of the kites takes 40 days. On the  first day the village's unmarried men head out to the coast to collect bamboo for the kite frames. Many other materials for the construction of the kites are also found in nature. The glue is a mixture of yucca flower, lemon peel, and water  The ropes are made from the maguey plant.  And the tails are made from hand woven cloth.





The Kite Festival of Santiago Sacatepéquez is about honoring the dead and communicating with them. The giant kites of Santiago Sacatepéquez are masterpieces that take great skill and patience to complete. Kite teams work for forty days to design and construct these amazing kite creations which are revealed for the first time in public at the cemetery on November 1st , Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  These kites bring team members great honor and respect from their peers and the community while honoring their deceased loved ones.  There are prizes for best design, but for the winners, the cheers and admiration of the crowd are reward enough.




The locals in the small municipality Santiago Sacatepequez dress up in colorful clothing and head to the cemetery on November 1st to spend the day cleaning the graves and decorating them with flowers. After the graves are properly cleaned family members and friends of the deceased  enjoy picnics at graveside.  






On the day of the festival, locals take their homemade  traditional-sized kites to the nearby cemetery in Sacatepéquez which they fly in honor of their departed loved ones.. This tradition of flying colorful kites on Dia de los Muertos is derived from various religious practises, including Christianity, and locals believe it’s a way to communicate with the dead. It’s a happy celebration where people have fun and honor those who are no longer with them.





The giant kites are brought to the cemetery in the morning by their respective teams where they are on display throughout the day for all to admire. The "barriletes gigantes," however,  do not take to the skies until dusk. It is an incredible spectacle seeing groups of locals struggling to get their huge masterpieces airborne.  It is only when they succeed, and the colorful kites head for the great blue sky that the festival is complete.







The strong autumn winds can shred through the paper easily, but the brief moments of seeing  the giant kites fly “to the heavens” is a beautiful thing.   Not always do the winds co-operate with the flying of these giant kites. And in reality, these extraordinary kites are not realistically expected to fly. They are more a symbolic art form, prayers for God, and messages for those who have passed away. Actually taking to the skies is a wonderful bonus, but not a given expectation.  What really matters to the participants and the observers is the beauty of the crafted designs and the intent behind them.  The beauty of the kites is fleeting, but the show is incredible!






I remember hearing many, many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so clicking on the following link to my WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS KITES IN GUATEMALA

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. I may be contacted directly by email or by posting a comment on this blog page. Until next time, saludos and gracias, Laura

                                                    Memories are just a click away!









Wednesday, October 8, 2014

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS: A FASCINATING PLACE


The colorful Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas can't be missed.  

Please note:  This is an updated version of the original posting dated October 8, 2014.




I am fascinated with the Spanish colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. And I believe that this feeling is due to the fact that “San Cristobal” is a fascinating place. A part of why I find San Cristobal so fascinating is because it is so very, very different from other colonial cities and areas in Mexico. The geography and climate are a major factor in what makes San Cristobal unique. It is located in the mountains of the central highlands where the climate is cool and even cold during the winter months. To me there is something very intriguing and mysterious in this environment.

In addition, the predominant indigenous population of Mayan people is also very different in their appearance and style of dress, their cultural beliefs, and their religious practices from other parts of Mexico. This makes visiting San Cristobal and the state of Chiapas a unique and special experience. My fascination with San Cristobal and Chiapas is also based on the wonderful blend of contemporary Mexican culture with Spanish colonial roots, traditional indigenous Mayan culture, and a Euro-Norte Americano vibe. For this reason, San Cristobal is truly special and wonderful to me.



Walking through the colonial city of San Cristobal is a real delight.


I I have heard San Cristobal described as the city of churches and it is very appropriate.

The intrepid Spanish conquistadors were no slouches when it came to conquering the indigenous peoples of Mexico. They did this primarily through building towns based on the traditional Spanish city grid layout with many, many church thrown in for good measure. They brought their “Old World” sensibilities to the “New World” and the rest is history. To give the Spaniards credit where due, the colonial cities they created are still not only functional, but also very beautiful, charming, and interesting. San Cristobal is a prime example of this.



A mural depicting the life and times of San Cristobal.

I believe a little introductory information is necessary to give you a sense of where San Cristobal is located and a little about its history (especially since history is one of my great interests).

San Cristobal de las Casas is a town and municipality located in the Central Highlands region of the state of Chiapas. Chiapas and the state of Oaxaca are the two most heavily populated indigenous states in the country. The city was founded as Villa Real de Chiapa in 1528 by Diego de Mazariegos. From then on the city went through a number of name changes. It was changed to Ciudad de San Cristobal in 1829 and “de las Casas” was added in 1848 in honor of Bartolome de las Casas. In the Mayan Tzotzil and Tzeltal languages the name of the area is Jovel, the place in the clouds.



Can you find Chiapas on the map of the thirty one states of Mexico? Hint: its the color of purple!



Casa Na Bolom (House of the Jaguar) is a museum, small hotel, and restaurant and the founders were very well known local anthropologists who studied and helped the Lacandon Mayan people.



A cloudy sky is a dramatic backdrop to another lovely church in San Cristobal.

The city’s center maintains its Spanish colonial layout and much of its architecture with red tile roofs, cobblestone streets and wrought iron balconies. Most of the city’s economy is based on commerce, services and tourism. Tourism is based on the city’s history, culture, and indigenous population, although the tourism itself has affected the city giving it foreign elements.

San Cristobal was named a National Historical Monument in 1974. In addition, it was designated a “Pueblo Mágico” (Magical Village) in 2003 and it was further recognized as “The most magical of the Pueblos Mágicos” by President Felipe Calderón in 2010.



The Temple of Santo Domingo is simply stunning.



Municipal mercados are such a blast.



SHOCKING PINK AND ROYAL BLUE - WHY NOT??



A lovely Mayan woman and her son selling embroidered blouses (HUIPILS) at the municipal mercado.

Much of this culture is associated with the city’s and the municipality’s large indigenous population. Two of the most fascinating Tzotzil Mayan villages are San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantan are easily visited.

These two highland villages are the home of the Tzotzil people, descendants of the ancient Mayans, and some of Mexico's most traditional indigenous communities. Each village has a distinctive highland dress as well as a weekly market and numerous festivals honoring their patron saint and other special religious days.



 Mayan women still weave on the back strap loom - a traditional and very portable device.


An indigenous woman creating a ceramic bowl without the aid of a wheel - some ways are best left unchanged.

The Tzotzil Maya village of San Juan Chamula (approximately six miles northwest of San Cristobal de Las Casas) is famous for its unique religious practices that blend Catholic and Maya beliefs. It has some of the most vibrant festivals in the highlands and its colorful Sunday market is not to be missed.

San Juan Chamula is the center for religious festivals. Its main attraction is the church on the plaza where every Sunday the village comes alive with streams of villagers who pour down the hills into the candle-lit, incense-filled church, and then congregate together for the weekly market. Their religion is a fascinating mixture of Catholic and traditional Mayan rituals. The women of Chamula are the region's best wool weavers and this can be seen in their distinctive traditional clothing of heavy wool skirts and woolen tunics for men.


Blue Mayan crosses cover the cemetery at the pueblo of San Juan Chamula.



Chamula is not to be missed on Sunday with religious services and social activities to fascinate all visitors.


Elders of San Juan Chamula in their heavy black woven wool tunics.



The residents of Chamula have blended elements from their traditional Mayan beliefs with elements from the Catholic faith - a very unique combination.



Mayan blue crosses and offerings to the traditional gods in the indigenous pueblos of Chiapas.

About four miles from Chamula is another Tzotzil-speaking community named San Lorenzo Zinacantan. The flower trade is the principal means that local people make a living and the hillsides are dotted with greenhouses. The geranium is a revered plant that is used in ritual offerings and can be seen across the countryside which is dotted with crosses and offerings dedicated to the ancestral gods or to the Earth Lord.

Zinacantan is one of the most colorful communities in the highlands and this can be seen in their brilliant red, blue, and purple clothing embroidered with large flowers and decorated with colorful tassels. Another unique addition to their dress is the flat round hat decorated with ribbon. Their textiles are very striking and unique in design and color. Much of their textiles are still made by back strap weaving, a tradition that has been practiced since ancient times.



The huipils of Zinacantan are very unique with the tassels adding a finishing touch not seen elsewhere - simply stunning!


Men and women of Zinacantan both wear the colorful traditional textiles made in their community.



Mayan weaving techniques are still practiced in the traditional manner and style.


The flat round hat with long ribbons is unique to Zinacantan and is worn by the indigenous men. Oh, no! Who is this impostor?



A visit to the church in Zinacantan is an appropriate way to give thanks to a wonderful visit and experience. Gracias!

I sincerely hope my fascination with San Cristobal de las Casas and the surrounding pueblos has piqued your interest and that you might want to seriously consider visiting this very special and fascinating area of Mexico. I believe you won't regret it!

I remember hearing many, many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so below is the link to my web album which has additional photos for this posting. And last, but not least, the SLIDE SHOW of this web album follows for your immediate enjoyment.


SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS PHOTO ALBUM


I always look forward to hearing from my visitors. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. Until the next time, saludos and gracias, Laura


Memories are just a click away!