Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras with Devils in Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve been in Oaxaca for three days now and have had lots of adventures while on an art course from the Worcester Art Museum led by my friend photographer Mari Seder. Today I want to tell you how we celebrated Fat Tuesday in the village of San Martin Tilcajete about a 45-minute drive from Oaxaca. It’s all about devils and gossip and cross-dressing and music and a faux wedding where the bride, groom and attendants are all male.

The bride is prepared by her attendants amid much loud band music, shooting of fireworks and drinking of Corona beer. The nuptial donkey is also decorated. Eventually the band and assorted devils lead the wedding parade to the house of the mayor.

All over town young men have painted their faces, covered their bodies in dark grease (I think from cars) and, wearing skirts of noisy cowbells and brandishing sticks and machetes, they run about trying to terrify people while bystanders hand them cold beers.

When the bridal procession reaches the mayor’s house, there is a false wedding ceremony where a “priest” does the honors and then, in rhyming couplets, tells over a loudspeaker the scandalous gossip about everyone on hand. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but the villagers, from small children to old crones, were doubled over with laughter.

When he concludes, favors like rubber balls are tossed at the crowd and the bride stands on a chair under a tent while ribald comments are made and grotesque monsters dance around her. The devils and monsters terrify the children, make obscene gestures to the adults and generally have a good time dancing.

I wish I could have been able to understand the Spanish, but the bizarre celebration didn’t need an interpreter. It seems that every nationality needs to go a little crazy and misbehave once a year and often it is on the day before the strictures of Lent begin. We have cousins in Corfu Greece who e-mailed that they are off to hear the gossip of their town announced in a Carnival celebration. I don’t know if there was a faux wedding involved (although such silliness goes back to pre-Christina times in many cultures) but I doubt that any other town, including Corfu and New Orleans and Rio, has more fun than San Martin Tilcajete on Fat Tuesday.

More Oaxaca adventures soon!


Anonymous said...

I love El Diablo!! Those masks are AWESOME!

Tabitha said...

Wonderful photos!