My work explores ancient rituals and dances carried out today and the efforts of a women's group to become self-sufficient. Nestled in the northern sierra of Mexico, Cuetzalan is rich in with birds, turkeys, coffee and exotic fruits. In pre-Hispanic times, Cuetzalan held a ceremony for the goddess of flowers, Xochiquetzal in October.

The festival of the Huipil (from Nahuatl, an Aztec language, meaning blouse or dress) revives indigenous customs in music, dance as a response to people who were displaced from their land and beliefs. The Huipil contest is held in October to honor a young woman. Contestants are 14 to 20 years old, fluent in their native tongue, Nahuatl and Spanish, know how to weave and perform domestic work in rural communities. The young women are judged on their beauty and purity of their customs. The Tatiaxas, a council of men, delivers the vote of the winner in a hat to the lead Tatiaxa. The Huipil Queen is carried through town, and dancing breaks out in the Plaza of San Francisco.

The Voladores dance around the foot of a sacred tree pole, and then climb the pole. On top, each volador sits at one of the cardinal points and plays a reed lute. Each volador ties a rope around his waist, thrusts himself upside down, and spins around the pole. In all, the voladores complete 52 circles, the number of years in the Aztec calendar. The Voladores ritual is full of mysticism and thrill.

The Maseualsiuamej was founded in 1985 as a cooperative of women to work together to gain independence. They broke economic ties with men, and received $1,000 to manage an ecological hotel. Pooling their resources they sell their weavings at two markets in Cuetzalan. Some families do not have running water or electricity and women must harvest fruit and corn. The Masehual mission is a delicate balance between supporting their families and preserving traditions passed on to them for generations.

In Cuetzalan, where time stands still, women and men carry out ancient rituals as maidens, artisans and voladores. The task ahead is to preserve these traditions, and improve the quality of life of the indigenous people.


 All images © Mary Teresa Giancoli

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