Carnival is in Mahahual this weekend, and there are lots of celebrations planned. Here is the poster I just saw today.
Larger celebrations are also found in the Baja California and Yucatán Peninsulas, similar to other Carnivals with floats, queens and costumes but are not as large as those in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. Smaller and more rural communities have Carnival traditions which have conserved more of Mexico’s indigenous and religious heritage and vary depending on the local indigenous cultures that Carnival was assimilated into. The largest of this kind is held in Huejotzingo, Puebla, with mock battles based on the Battle of Puebla and reenactments of stories. Other important Carnival variations can be found in Tlaxcala, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Jalisco, Morelos and some parts of Mexico City
Established in Europe in the Middle Ages, Carnival came to Mexico with the Spanish and during the colonial period was celebrated in one form or another. It acceptance among the indigenous population stemmed from the fact that is coincided with various indigenous festivals, such as Nemontemi for the Nahuas and Cabik for the Mayas, both of which refer to the “lost days” if the Mesoamerican calendar, when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil. Its popularity during the rest of the colonial period continued because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.
In the eighteenth century, the crown made a concerted effort to suppress the excesses of carnival, banning the wearing of masks, forbidding laypeople to dress as clerics, forbidding cross dressing. Celebrations of carnival had been especially lively and drunken by Indians and castas. The authorities’ toleration in the earlier colonial period was replaced by a repression of this period of social inversion and role reversal. Although there had been efforts to tamp down the festivities in the late seventeenth century, with the period under viceroy Don Juan de Acuña the measures finally seemed to take hold; “the viceroy stopped it in its tracks and it never recovered.
Public celebrations of Carnival waned in the 19th century after Mexico’s independence and later Liberal movements discouraged it as an element of the country’s colonial past. From the late 19th century to the early 20th, the festival as a major public event has made something of a comeback in areas such as Veracruz, northwestern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula. The large scale celebrations have mostly become divorced from their religious roots with commercialization in the latter 20th century. However, the numerous smaller celebrations in rural areas have maintained indigenous and religious elements, making its manifestation varied depending on which indigenous cultures the celebration melded.
The large modern celebrations have been sponsored by city governments as an important social and tourist event. In 2012 Veracruzz allowed visitors to camp on the city’s tourist beaches. However, they are not without problems or controversies. There are occasionally problems with disorderly conduct, the excessive consumption of alcohol and fighting in the streets. The Veracruz carnival has been criticized by Protestant/Evangelical Christian groups for moral reasons. Similarly the 2012 Carnival in Puerto Vallarta caused controversy. The committee responsible for it was fired as the event was criticized as “too sexual in content, too gay,…” For the 2013 Carnival, the Veracruz committee has decided to prohibit advertising for political candidates and parties.
In total, Carnival is a significant even in about 225 communities in Mexico, many of these, especially in the smaller communities maintain elements from Mexico’s religious and indigenous heritage. These celebrations vary widely often with traditional dance and regional music and ceremonies with both pagan and Christian origins. They may also contain modern elements such as floats as well as local sports and cultural events such as bullfighting, fishing tournaments and charreada /jaripeo.
One of the largest of this type of Carnival is the Carnival of Huejotzingo, Puebla in which over 2,000 people participate. Participants divide into four battalions, identified by costume. From the first day, the air is filled with the sounds of blanks being fired as mock battles among the battalions are enacted with fake guns using real gunpowder. The inspiration for much of the dance is the Battle of Puebla with Mexicans and French represented but it is not historically accurate. Also part of the festivities are the reenactment of two stories, one of the kidnapping of the mayor’s daughter and one depicting the first Christian marriage in Mexico. Another significant Carnival event in the state is in Tehuacán where masked men called Huegues whip themselves in preparation for Lent.
While the Carnival in the city of Veracruz is thoroughly modern, those celebrated in north of the state are much more traditional, including elements such as prayers for good crops and the well being of the community. Rural Veracruz carnivals near Xalapa feature various people in bull costumes, which often have elaborate wood masks. These persons use canes, large decorated capes and flowered headdresses. Some of the notable celebrations in the Totonacapan area include those of Ojite de Matamoros, Solteros de Juan Rosas and Arroyo Florido. In Ojite de Matamoros, men dress as women, priests, doctors and hunchbacks and perform a dance that recalls the struggles between the indigenous and the Spanish. These festivities last about fifteen days ending with a rite called the “corta-gallo” which involved the sacrifice of a number of fowl. In Arroyo Florido the festival is dedicated to the Devil considered to be the owner of all earthly goods. In Solteros de Juan Rosas the festival is only four days and includes a ceremony to bless the masks that the dancers wear. In all of these celebrations the preferred music is traditional Son and Huapango.
The celebration of Carnival is widespread in the state of Tlaxcala lasting anywhere from three days to a week depending on local tradition.
One of the better known Carnivals in Hidalgo is in Calnali in the La Huasteca Region. Events generally consist of dancing on the street in costume accompanied by traditional bands playing wind instruments. The four main neighborhoods of the municipality compete against each other in dance and for best costume with people dressing as monkeys, death, devils, women and even extraterrestrials and many more. One unique costume to the area is the Cuernudo, which is a mix between a monkey and a devil.
Carnival celebrations in the state of Morelos are generally family-oriented affairs. The best known Carnival in the state of Morelos is in Tlayacapan, noted for its Chinelos dancers. This dance was created as a way for the indigenous to ridicule their Spanish overlords.Other communities with significant Carnival celebrations include Jiutepec, Emiliano Zapata, Xochitepec, Tlaltizapán, Tepoztlán and Yautepec.
The Carnival of Pinotepa de Don Luis in the state of Oaxaca is notable for its use of satire especially related to matrimony and sometimes divorce using a dance called Tejorones. Costumes include various masks, depictions animals such as doves, and tiger hunts. Those in the tiger costume use mirrors for eyes. In Silacayoapan in the same state, the celebration began very simply. Dancers, restricted to men, dressed and use charcoal as make up to look like this coastal area’s Afro Mexican population. If masks were used, they are simple structures made from gourds or maguey fronds. Since the latter 20th century on the celebration has evolved with a greater variety of costumes include men dressed as women, devils etc. Carnival always ends with a mock battle in the central plaza between two rival neighborhoods called Guadalupe and La Loma, throwing fruit and dried seeds. The music is a local variety of the Chilena Costeña. In the Mixteca Baja, Carnival is called Joc-lo which runs for three days ending with the “quema del gallo” (burning of the rooster). The traditional instruments for this event is the violin and a guitar called the bajo sexton for traditional songs such as El mecate, El son grande, El son chico, El torito and La cruz. Dances are done by men in costume, especially on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday generally as old men or as women. There has been some influence from modern carnivals and culture such as the appearance of costumes of North American origin. One town in this region particularly noted for its Joc-lo is San Jerónimo Xayacatlan.
The Carnivals of San Juan Chamula and Huistán in Chiapas involve the participation of most of the population, many of whom dress as monkeys adorned in multicolored ribbons. In Huistán they are accompanied by music from a twelve stringed guitar.
The largest Carnival celebration in Tabasco is in the municipality of Tenosique with hundreds of people wind up covered in flour, egg and water from projectiles thrown at each other. The festival also consists of traditional dances such as El Pochó and Los Blanquitos, both with long histories. Another particular characteristic is that Carnival is considered to begin on 20 January, the feast day of Saint Sebastian.
The best known Carnival celebrations in Jalisco are in Autlan, Ameca, Tecolotlán and Sayula. They last anywhere from three to ten days and include events such as concerts, bullfights, charrería and dances. In Sayula the main event is a friendly game between the professional Chivas against a local squad. In Barra de Navidad, there is a night procession of people with torches as well as a fishing contest and parade with floats.
Mexico City does not have any major Carnival celebrations but various communities in the Iztapalapa borough do have events. One is cosponsored by the formerly rural communities of Santa Cruz Meyehualco, San Andrés Tetepilco, San Andrés Tomatlán, Santa María Tomatlán, San Sebastián Tecoloxtitlán and Santiago Acahualtepec. Another is sponsored by the eight neighborhoods of the historic town of Iztapalapa, as well as events in Los Reyes Culhuacán and San Lorenzo Tezonco. The origins of these festivities go back to the celebration of spring in the pre Hispanic period, but today they are mostly celebrated like those of the major carnivals, with elected queens, costumes and parades with floats.
Thanks for reading,
Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina