|The two gentlemen in the photo above very kindly explained
a bit about the dance to me, and walked me through the ceremony.
They live in a pueblo between Guasave and Los Mochis.
Last year we were privileged to welcome spring with the famous Deer Dance (danza del venado), conducted in the scenic oceanside setting of Las Labradas petroglyph park, a 30 minute drive north of Mazatlán. The dance was conducted by the Yeu Matchue, a traditional dance group of Mayo or Yoreme Indians.
The dance will be conducted again this coming Wednesday, March 21 in the same location, as part of Mazatlán’s International Friendship Week. Be sure not to miss this event!
The Mayo are considered to have the purest native blood in Mexico. While centuries ago they performed the Danza del Venado in full deerskin clothing with a bow and arrow (it’s the dance of the hunt, and I am Dianne, the goddess of the hunt, ha ha), to welcome the spring solstice at Las Labradas they wore white cotton manta (symbolizing purity), leather belts with deer hooves and bells, they wrapped their shins in leggings made of shells (representing snakes entangled in the deer’s legs), red bandanas (to honor the deer’s sacrifice of its blood), and sonajas or wrist and ankle bands made of nuts and shells. They carry red gourd maracas or shakers.
I grew up in northern Arizona, spending many weekends as a child in the 70s with my friends on the Hopi mesas. I was able to witness the Snake Dance, eat my fill of piki bread spread by hand over a hot rock, and play with the Mudheads. The deer dances soooo reminded me of the Kachina dances! Amazing similarities in dress, adornment, line dancing, movement, underlying beliefs of harmony with the environment, even the music and chanting. The noise makers (shells, gourds) were reminiscent of artisan rattles worldwide, whether from Africa, Asia, Oceania…
During the ceremony, the dancers made the Catholic sign of the cross and held their hands in prayer. It was evident that the Jesuits of the 16th century had much influence on these indigenous rituals.
An exhibition of the ancient ball game of ulama was also part of last year’s Spring Equinox events. It took place just outside the museum. A game is on the schedule for this year.
Las Labradas is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The oceanside petroglyphs, mystical figures carved into the rocks, are dated by INAH at 1000-1500 years old and of Toltec origin. There is a small museum at the site.
Update May 26, 2012: Today the Noroeste ran an article about these dances, including some of the dancers photographed above. It’s in honor of Festival de la Juventud.