Most Important Archeological Site in Northwestern Mexico: Chametla

©40.DSC_0263It always amazes me how we can have hugely rich archeological history very close by that goes unsung and unvalued, while we all dream about seeing the more famous sites. You know what they say about prophets in their own land, and I guess that’s true about places as well; we don’t value those nearby.

I’ve told you before that archeological evidence indicates that Mexcaltitán, just three hours south of Mazatlán, was probably the original Tenochtitlán—that Mezcaltitán was the legendary Aztlán, where the Aztecs (Mexica) lived before they moved to the Valley of Mexico. It’s so very close, our own gorgeous little Venice, yet we hardly hear about it.

I’ve also heard many people say that here in Sinaloa historically there were no native peoples; that we don’t have indigenous crafts or artwork because this area was only populated after the discovery of minerals in the mountains and the influx of Europeans. Hogwash! I’ve written before about the Mayo-Yoremes in the northern part of our state. Down here in the south, Totorames lived on the coast. They spread over quite a wide territory, as most of southern Sinaloa was connected by estuary; using a canoe they could easily get from one place to another. The Totorames often fought with the cannibalistic Acaxes and Xiximes who lived up in the Sierra Madres.

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Joaquin Hernández

This week I learned from our friend, Joaquin Hernández, that Chametla—just 90 minutes from Mazatlán in the municipio of El Rosario—is the most important archeological site in all of northwestern Mexico! In Chametla are at least two pyramids built in pre-Hispanic times by the Totorames. Both were sacred sites, with platforms on top for sacrifices. Hernán Cortés himself visited Chametla, in 1535, before traveling over to La Paz; there are written documents and paintings that record this fact. Legend has it that he sat in the Cueva del Diablo looking out over the entire valley.

Near Chametla were 22 pre-Hispanic towns. What attracted so many Totorames to Chametla? The area is home to seven hills, which contain many caves. The Rio Baluarte runs through it; it’s very close to the Pacific Ocean; it’s fertile land; there’s jungle as well; and it’s right in the middle of the wonderful estuary system where historically mangroves and shrimp have thrived. In ancient times, there were three regions in southern Sinaloa: Sinaloa, Culiacán, and Chametla. Chametla comprised the territory from Escuinapa in the south to Piaxtla in the north. Only later was Mazatlán founded (on the present site of Villa Unión).

So, where are these pyramids? The first is the setting of the church in Chametla, at the foot of Cerro de San Pedro. I took some photos, but the pyramid is much easier to see live and in person. The church is built at the top, on the platform of the pyramid, while the lower part of the pyramid goes way beyond the church and down the hill. You can see that it’s man-made.

In 1935, when they were renovating the church, they found a secret passageway behind the altar that led to an underground cave. There they found “pagan” icons and relics, so the church quickly sealed it all back up. There was a second entrance to the cave just outside the church, at the entrance to where the original church was located. That cave entrance is now covered with a huge boulder. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cool, huh? Not as visually stunning as a Chichen-Itza, by any means, as this pyramid has been built on and tweaked over and over throughout the millennia; it’s located right in the center of town. But, you can most definitely see its vestiges. The conquista of course was not just about conquering territory or even people; the conquistadores wanted to conquer the entire culture. So many churches are built on sacred sites of the indigenous peoples, as in Chametla.

And where is the second pyramid? It’s a 400-meter pyramid on which the local cemetery is built, also clearly visible. Local people say that when graves are dug, they almost always dig up pottery and other relics from the Totorame. The best specimens of these can be found in the small museum that is right next door to the church.

 

If you go to Chametla, I’d urge you to hike the 365 steps up El Cerro de la Cueva del Diablo. At the top is a man-made cave, obviously another sacred site, with a view of the entire river valley, estuary, ocean… The view is spectacular. It is in the cave that you’ll see an indentation that looks like two butt cheeks, and legend says that’s where Cortés sat. While he wasn’t in Chametla long enough to carve a seat, he may have enjoyed the gorgeous view, with the opening of the cave mirroring the curve of the hill it faces. On many of the hills in the area you’ll find platforms, indicating they were sacred sites; Loma de Ramírez has a 100 meter x 100 meter platform. The area is splendid for hiking, with a diversity of flora and fauna as well as elevation and lots of water.

Joaquin is quite the historian. He has spent much time researching, talking to locals, hiking around; traveling with him and his daughter was a joy. One final tidbit he told us? One of the seven hills in Chametla is called Cerro de las Cabras. However, no one has ever heard of there being goats on that hill. Joaquin found an old, old manuscript that referred to a hill in Chametla as Tetas de Cabras, or “Goat Tits.” His guess is that the vulgar-sounding part of the name was dropped or lost, so that only the goat part remains in modern times.

Joaquin speaks excellent English, as he lived and studied in San Francisco for several years. He frequently conducts presentations in both Spanish and English, so be sure to catch one if you are interested in history, literature… any of the many themes that spark the curiosity of this Renaissance man.

We happened to visit Chametla during the festival Chameitlán, celebrating 485 years since the founding of the town. I captured a photo of the cake and a few of the kids breaking the piñata. That’s Hernán Cortés on the piñata, the children told me—not at all like I pictured him to look!

After Mass, the cake and the piñata, there was a parade through town. We didn’t stay for it, but the young men in the Nautica band played, and the kids seemed to dress up as Indians. I also include a few other photos of the town.

If you enjoy hiking, history, archeology, kayaking, or if you’d just like to visit a small town and the estuary where the shrimpers still cast their atarrayas or hand nets, Chametla is a beautiful place to visit!

Nikkei Convention—Japanese in Mexico

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Some of our gorgeous Mazatleco Japanese kids, including my friend Chika’s children,
wearing hakama and kimono for the occasion.

Well, the 12th National Nikkei/Japanese-Mexican Convention is coming to a close. Events included the election of “Miss Nikkei,” a dozen or so incredible conferences, an early morning dance on the beach combining traditional Japanese buyo and Aztec dancing—to symbolize the Mexican-Japanese mix. We had kimono, happi and hakama, t-shirts with the Mazatlán deer sketched in kanji characters, origami paper folding and shoudo calligraphy, and a terrific, quite large ikebana/flower arranging display. Kudos to the unbelievable Esperanza Kasuga and all the convention organizers, staff, and volunteers!!!! お疲れさまです!!!!Over 400 people registered for the full convention, and thousands of people attended the events this week, commemorating 400 years of Mexico-Japan relations.

It was wonderful to meet so many people who were so thrilled to meet others with whom they share so much in common, and great to learn more of the history of Japanese people in Sinaloa and in Mexico. I met Mrs. Nakamichi, for example, who was joyfully proud to tell me about her grandfather (speaking in the video below, in front of a photo of her grandfather):

I was especially psyched to learn that kamaboko, traditional Japanese fish cake, is made right here in Mazatlán! How could I have lived here six years and not known that?! I am told I can buy it at Ricamar, which is on the right side as you head to the airport, just past Café Marino. Yippeee!!!

I loved the simple graphic below, outlining the first voyage of Japanese people to Mexico, then to Europe, and back again. Hasekura sure had perseverance and an adventurous spirit, as did Japan’s first immigrants to Mexico.

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I was privileged to meet Hirofumi Nakasone, the Japanese Senator from Gumma Prefecture and former Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as Minister of Education (I met his father, the Prime Minister, years ago and immediately noted the family resemblance), along with Shuichiro Megata, Japanese Ambassador to Mexico, in Casa Haas at the opening of the historical photo exhibit on Friday.

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Mr. Megata, myself, and Mr. Nakasone

My friend Joaquin Hernández showed us a few volumes from his astounding book collection, and I absolutely fell in love with this wood block print of Mazatlán. We are blessed with so many incredible intellectuals and all-around terrific people here, I am consistently amazed.

The photo exhibit at Casa Haas will be open for two or three more weeks, I am told, so do not miss it. In the rear room is a film made by a Japanese-Mexican woman from El Rosario, Sachiko Uzeta Amano, entitled, Del Otro Lado del Mar. The film was made in 1997 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Japan’s first immigrants to Mexico, and discusses their descendants cultural integration into Mexico and preservation of their Japanese heritage. I’ll have to go back in order to watch the whole thing. Seeing traditional Japanese festival accoutrements alongside the Virgen de Guadalupe sort of blew my mind!

Below is a highlight reel of Friday night’s Nikkei Convention concert in the Angela Peralta Theater, with interview from baritone Adán Pérez.

Japanese Movies and Convention in Mazatlán

 

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I announced to you back in January that this year we celebrate 400 years of Japanese-Mexico relations. We had the “black ship” float and two Japanese dance troupes in Carnavál, and this weekend the Mexico-Japan Association will hold its Nikkei convention in Mazatlán; I can’t wait for that!

In preparation, CULTURA got in on the action this week with a series of three Japanese movies, subtitled in Spanish. While the free tickets were given out within just an hour or two, and those of us living outside Centro Histórico, as usual, were not privileged to get any, we have been able to get a seat the past two nights. The last movie in the series will show tonight, Wednesday, at 7:00 in Casa Haas. Oh how I have enjoyed them! Greg has generously accompanied me to each of the two so far; hopefully he will again tonight, despite what he’d prefer to be doing.

Then on Friday night, also at Casa Haas but beginning at 6:00 pm, will be an exposition on the history and impact of Japanese immigration in Sinaloa state. Yes, I am so excited!!!! I hope to see you there.

Below is a short recap of the three movies in the series.

Monday’s Movie: 生きる、Vivir, the award-winning 1952 Kurosawa classic

I’ve seen “Ikiru” several times. It’s the only Kurosawa movie of that period that does not feature Mifune, and it was required viewing in the 1970s when I first studied Japanese. This was my first time to view it in Mexico, however, and the similarities I noted between my two oh-so-different adopted cultures were really striking. The protagonist, who’s dying of cancer, goes out on the town at one point, and despite the kimono and tatami you’d swear he visited Mazatlán—from La Botana to trumpets in a banda surprising you from behind and poorly sung karaoke, it was puro Mazatleco. The main character (Watanabe-san) is a city official who works in a dysfunctional bureaucracy in which very little gets done and nearly no one thinks about community needs, and at one point he has to navigate the Yakuza (mafia) visiting the vice-Mayor’s office. Sound familiar? I thoroughly enjoyed this re-viewing.

Tuesday’s Movie: 歩いても歩いても、Caminando, Still Walking, the 2008 movie by Director Hirokazu Koreeda

I had not previously seen this movie, nor am I familiar with this director, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film so well captured everyday Japanese life—the love of nature, cooking and eating (it sure made me hungry!), respect for elders and ancestors, the pace of conversation, the communalism of family life. The people in this movie were bitterer than most Japanese I know, but it is, after all, a movie, and a movie needs tension.

Tonight’s Movie: そして父になる、 Like Father Like Son, last year’s movie by the same director, Koreeda

This is the story of a businessman who learns that his six-year old son is not his biologically, but that two boys were switched in the hospital at birth. Now he must choose between the son he has raised and his blood kin. Sounds pretty interesting but, for me, the real joy is hearing the Japanese language, the sounds of my other adopted home, and feeling as if I’ve visited this other land I am so very fond of. なんて懐かしい!!!

On Keeping Traditions Traditional

 

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Photo of Omar Castro around taken 1992 in Mochicahui, Sinaloa, Mexico

¡Feliz Día del Niño! Happy Children’s Day! April 30, 2014, Children’s Day here in Mexico.

The photo above is of a new friend of ours whom I greatly admire, Omar Castro. In this photo he looks to be about five years old. It was one of the first times he danced with his father in El KONTI, and the photo is taken in the central plaza of Mochicahui, in front of the church.

If you follow this blog, you know we had the pleasure of fulfilling my dream and attending KONTI this year. A week or so after that, I spent some time with a nationally renowned photographer and a well-known international journalist. As Greg and I were talking to them about our recent trip to Mochicahui for these Yoreme Mayo festivities, they were both bemoaning that EL KONTI had become too modernized, too watered down. They lamented the misfortune that some Fariseos now wear masks representing Disney characters, or metal leggings rather than traditional leggings made of  dried cocoons. They advocated that ceremonial leaders should be stricter: insist that participants only wear traditional dress, and that they follow the Catholic-native rituals more closely.

Normally, I would strongly agree with this point of view. I am an interculturalist; I am strongly in favor of preserving cultural traditions. So, my initial response to these two gentlemen was to explain that Omar and other Yoreme leaders are  doing their very best to educate their communities about these centuries-old traditions—explaining many of the points that are in my KONTI blog post. I so admire Omar and the other community leaders for their efforts to preserve the traditions.

But, I was torn. I also reminded my two meal-mates that the real tradition of KONTI is, of course, pre-Hispanic—and thus, pre-Catholicism. If we were to preserve traditions without change, there would surely be no crucifixes, no stations of the cross, no Spanish language prayers, no churches, and no Bible references in the celebration of KONTI. I explained to my esteemed colleagues that while I strongly feel traditions need to be preserved, that they belong to the people. To thrive as vital components of society, traditions need to be living, dynamic customs—and that perhaps requires change and “modernization.”

I believe Omar and other leaders of the Yoreme traditions see this. They teach community members the old ways, through their example, their coaching, and via the school system. They have a young artist from Europe living in the pueblos right now, contributing drawings to a book they are writing on the Yoreme traditions. They value tradition so much that they also permit the use of non-traditional masks or leggings. I believe this is because they know that the people need to make the traditions their own. The tradition needs to speak to individual members, to resonate with them, to have meaning and purpose for them.

I met several young men in Mochicahui who would not have been able to dance in KONTI if not for their tenabaris made by hand out of recycled tin cans, because the butterfly cocoons were far too expensive for them to afford, or they didn’t have access to the cocoons they needed. Thus, keeping the traditional open to some modernity and flexibility enables more people to get involved, to learn the tradition, to breathe continued life into it. I am confident that those young men will save their money or make a trade so that they have traditional tenabaris next year or the following; it’s a process.

Same with the Disney-esque masks. Personally, I loved them. To me it was proof that people want to participate in KONTI, that they find joy in the communal aspects of the worship and desire to join in. Again, I know community leaders prefer them to wear traditional, hand-carved wooden masks (almost every Disney-esque mask I saw was hand-carved from wood, by the way). I know leaders teach that, and promote that. But I also salute community leaders for the fact that they do no prohibit non-traditional masks. To me, it keeps the tradition vital.

It’s a delicate balance, preserving tradition and maintaining its vital place in community. It’s a process, with a tension between change and status quo. It requires us to remember a tradition’s purpose, what is at its core. The photo up top is of Omar as a child. He and his wife are now expecting their first child. The tradition continues. And adapts.

My admiration goes out to the Yoreme Mayo leaders who so well demonstrate that. I learned so much from them on that one day I spent in Mochicahui!

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Historic photo of the church in Mochicahui.
Today the building on the left is in ruins; the chapel at far right stands proudly.


 

El Konti—Teaching Values and Building Community

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Some of the Judíos en route to Mochicahui, with yours truly in the center.

I am passionate about culture. My friends, family and professional colleagues know that. I hate to see a language or a cultural tradition die out. I feel sure in my bones that when we lose such a treasure, we lose some of the answer—some of the solution—to living together in a sustainable and harmonious way on our planet.

That being said, this weekend we witnessed one of the most wonderful rescues of cultural tradition that I have seen in a looooong time—the return of EL KONTI to the corrida of Las Higueras in the small Yoreme town of Mochicahui!

Traditionally, every Friday during Lent, in each of the Yoreme communities along the Rio Fuerte, the Stations of the Cross are performed by men dressed as Judíos or Fariseos. They dance in honor of God and their families. They dance as a promise to their fathers or their wives—to bring God’s blessings to their families and communities. They dance from nine in the morning till seven in the evening, from house to house, dancing in circles around the cross at each station, covering long distances, with all routes or corridas leading to the central church.

The trouble is, two leaders of the Las Higueras route have died, and many of the 30 or so remaining Judíos have gotten older and are no longer up to the physically taxing role of dancing all day long. Over the past fifteen years the KONTI tradition died out here. Community members were disappointed—they missed their Fariseos, they wanted their homes blessed, they wanted to participate, but there was no clear leader, no one to make it happen for them. The younger people didn’t know the details or subtleties of the tradition. This year a few community leaders got together and made the effort to revive the tradition along the Las Higueras corrida.

We were fortunate enough to meet Omar Castro, a 27-year old leader of EL KONTI in Mochicahui. He is a handsome and well-spoken young man, newly married with his first child on the way. We accompanied him and his group, led by the local Mandón or Chicotero, Toño Mocho, on the Las Higueras route.

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Dianne, Omar and Greg, in the church as we were cleaning it up

Omar told us that on the first Friday of Lent this year, it was only him, his brother, and a young boy dressed as Judíos. They felt so alone and overwhelmed at the challenge facing them: to revive this centuries-old custom on the Higueras corrida. The three of them danced the entire five kilometers, visiting every house with an official cross in the yard, dancing around the cross and blessing the families inside and nearby. As is tradition, most every family shares food or drink as well as limosna (a donation to support the Easter Week festivities) with the Fariseos when they visit. The trouble is, the Judíos must eat or carry with them all the food and drink they are given; it’s a sign of respect and gratitude. But, how could two men and a boy eat and drink, or carry, all that was offered to them at 80 houses? Omar tells us he was so over-full, had such a stomachache, that he had to call his wife and ask her to bring him stomach medicine en route!

Fast-forward from the first to the fourth Friday of Lent, March 28th, when we joined the KONTI celebrations, and Omar’s group of three Judíos had grown considerably! He and the community were obviously up to the challenge! Just take a look:

Omar has taught the new young Judíos on his route, instructing them while doing, leading by example. Greg and I felt that his was one of the best-behaved of the five routes we witnessed gathering in the plaza. And, it is now the newest!

 

SO WHAT IS EL KONTI?

KONTI is the traditional procession and dancing of the Stations of the Cross that occurs on Fridays during Lent in the Yoreme communities. We knew that the men of the village dress up as Judíos (Jews), Fariseos (Pharisees) or yuris, “white people,” representing those who crucified Jesus. What we did not expect was the huge number of people in the procession, the amazing crescendo to which it builds, the remarkable diversity of the masks, the sacredness and intensity of this celebration amidst all the merriment, and, most especially, that so many children participate, from as young as two years of age! (Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.)

The Yoreme pueblos in Sinaloa where EL KONTI is practiced include: Choix, San Javier, Baymena, Baca, Tehueca, Sibirijoa, Charay, Mochicahui, San Miguel Zapotitlán, and La Florida. EL KONTI in each of the pueblos is supposedly remarkably the same, and also, of course, slightly different. Bernardo, the Yoreme elder and maestro we got to know this weekend, told us that when he travels up to Sonora, to Tucson with the Yaqui, and even as far as the Hopi lands east of Flagstaff, EL KONTI is very much the same. He says the Mayo language (Yoreme) communicates with the Rarámuri (Tarahumara), Yaqui, and Hopi. Mayo is a Uto-Aztecan language, one of Mexico’s 63 national languages.

In Mochicahui pueblo, there are five routes or corridas. Here is Omar explaining to us what they are, how the limosnas work, and other details of the EL KONTI procession:

So how does it all work? The mandón receives requests from Yoreme families who want to place a cross on their patio. If a family wants to be on the KONTI route, they must have the mandón’s approval. The mandón’s job is then to guide the Judíos from house to house, cross to cross. At each station, the Fariseos dance in circles around the cross. In one place they entered a small chapel to dance as well. After the dance, they receive any food, drink or limosna the local families have to offer, and then they run to the next station.

This was our favorite part of EL KONTI. The houses in Cruz Pinta where we joined the route were very basic, the yards and patios were dusty—bare dirt—and the people were reverent and happy to see the procession. Most of the families were sitting outside near the crosses in chairs or on benches, ready for the procession to arrive. Most of them had made food to share with the Judíos. Most of them also donated some money, into a can, to support the Holy Week festivities. There was a solemn joy at each station. At each house, more Judíos and other participants joined in the procession, so that by the time we approached the town, we were quite a large group. (Mouse over a photo to view a caption; click to enlarge or view a slideshow.)

Over the course of the afternoon, more and more corridas or routes make their way into town, entering the plaza and then the church. The procession gets increasingly crowded, chaotic and festive. We were amazed how many people turned out from this small town of 5000 people, either to participate in EL KONTI or to watch the festivities.

The Fariseos are supposed to complete their route and arrive at the church in Mochicahui by about 4:00 in the afternoon. Once there they first enter the church. Pews have been moved to form two rows lining the walls, and they are filled to capacity. In front of the altar, facing the congregation, a large statue of Jesus is on display. Jesus is attended to by a group of young girls, the Marías, looking pure in white lace dresses. The Marías care for Jesus during his time of trial, wiping his brow, caressing his cheek, kissing his hands and feet. The Judíos dance around the statue, and then retreat from the church to await the arrival of their colleagues from the other routes.

While they wait, crosses are set up around the perimeter of the church. As more corridas arrive, the plaza, and the church, become increasingly crowded. While they wait for all the corridas to arrive, the Judíos play music and dance around.

Once the Judíos from all the routes have arrived in the plaza, they process into the very crowded church, and the statue of Jesus is raised and carried outside. Once outside the church, four men hold a cloth roof, reminiscent to me of a chuppah or Jewish wedding canopy, over the statue of Jesus as it is processed. The procession leaves the church, turns to the left, and proceeds around the church, stopping at each cross or station.

The procession is lead by a maestro, in this case Bernardo, who played flute, as well as by a local man who leads the prayers at each of the Stations of the Cross. This gentleman would kneel down with Bernardo in front of the cross, exhibiting incredible focus despite the chaos going on around him. He and a small group of church members would recite the prayer for that Station after walking around the cross and the statue several times. The Marías follow and surround the Jesus statue, accompanied by some key members of the parish with their prayer books, people holding flags representing major church events such as Guadalupe Day, and church elders carrying other holy relics. The Marías remove the thorned crown on Jesus’ head, wipe his brow, and replace it. Other Marías throw flower petals (representing divinity and life) at the statue at each station, while the main María cleans the petals off. The by now hundreds of dancing Judíos surround all of this, dancing and creating mayhem on the perimeter. This is all in turn surrounded by hundreds of spectators, sitting or standing along the church walls and the KONTI route.

As a climax, the procession re-enters the church. By now there is a cacophony of sound: drums, tambourines, maracas, percussive skirts and leg-ware. Christ is carried into the church, to resume his previous position in front of the altar. The Marías clean him up. The Judíos dance around him, filling and over-filling the small church. The pews are filled, and have been filled, for a couple of hours, and those spectators watch the proceedings. Most come up to kiss the Jesus statue, and to genuflect before him.

After everyone takes their turn and things calm down inside the church, Omar and his two fellow leaders, along with a few others and Greg and myself, clean up the church a bit and return the pews to their normal position. They also count the money that they have taken in for Holy Week festivities—money that will pay for food and fireworks, among other things.

In hindsight, it’s interesting to us that it was all percussive music for KONTI; there were no violins, or harps, and only the one main flute. There were a few toy horns, but our guess is these were items brought by those who don’t know the tradition, who embrace it more as a party.

As we left the church about 7:30 pm, there was a huge party happening in the central plaza. Kids were spraying shaving cream, people were drinking beer, food stalls were set up, balloons and toys were being sold, and the gigantic inflatable bouncy house was going gangbusters. A couple of cars had music blaring.

Omar and his extended family most generously invited us to accompany them home for cena. There, Maestro Bernardo played the 16th century harp, and Omar played the fiddle, holding it to his chest despite the chin rest on the instrument. We very much enjoyed the company and the explanations of what we had witnessed during this terrific afternoon and evening. On this fourth Friday of Lent, we ate escabeche de marlin, bean burritos, two kinds of rice, and capirotada for dessert. We drank water or Nescafe, and sat under the stars on their patio, enjoying the evening. With so many children surrounding us, and aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents who are stewarding their community and their families, it was truly a night to remember and treasure.

 

HOW THE TRADITION WAS REVIVED

The Yoreme know that it is key to instill a sense of community in their children, including a strong set of values and responsibility. They know that if the children learn these things while they are young, and if they can have fun learning and living this way, they will do so—building strong, responsible, and joyous families and communities.

The Yoreme live near us, in Mexico, a country that has sadly become infamous for violence and drug trafficking. We are located just south of the world’s biggest drug consumers, who have the money to pay for them, and who happen to also have loads of guns for sale. We live in territory that is suited for harvesting marijuana, and we are on the route through which the South American cocaine passes heading north. Amidst this reality, the Yoreme are even more motivated to instill ethics and morals in their children and build strong communities.

The KONTI festival has three leaders, who each serve three-year terms. For Mochicahui, the Pilato Mayor (head Pilate, as in Pontius Pilate) is Jesus Castro Valdéz, who carried a long colorful spear. The Segundo Pilato is Miguel Castro, and the Tercer Pilato is Omar. This is their first year serving in these positions. They were elected to serve because they are young, they know the tradition, and they were willing to take time away from work and their families to coordinate EL KONTI. Omar, for example, has danced in KONTI since he was four years old. He has studied the traditions, plays traditional Yoreme music, and is enthused to currently be one of the leaders. This year they decided to charge Omar with reviving the Las Higueras corrida. He enlisted the help of Toño Mocho, an elderly, one-armed resident of the route, as mandón.

That first Friday this year, on the Las Higueras route, when there were only three Judíos, the able-bodied men, the young people, and the children, watched them dance. They saw them sweat. They witnessed them overeat. They saw their passion. They could also see the tears in their grandmothers’ eyes—how happy they were that the Judíos were once again, after such a long lapse, visiting their homes. They saw their mothers’ pride—that they were able to make tamales, burritos or quesadillas and share them with the Judíos. They thought the dancing looked fun, that the costumes were cool. Perhaps they wanted to share in the food. But, as is most definitely evidenced by the number of Judíos dancing the route by the fourth Friday of Lent, they wanted to participate! They’d ask Omar, or the mandón, if they could join in, and they were told how to do so. The first thing they were told is that they’d need the proper costume.

 

COSTUMES

  • Máscara or mask: Traditional Judío masks tend to have exaggeratedly large noses—the way the Spanish probably appeared back in the day to the native Mexicans. The typical mask in Mochicahui is a white, Spanish lady—a yuri. To me it almost looks like a Japanese Noh mask. Masks are usually hand-carved from wood (usually cottonwood or elephant wood/torote), and often covered with animal skin. The masks maintain the anonymity of the Judío. We asked several people how they got their masks. There are people in the community who carve them. Some carve their own, others buy one,someare handed down in the family. There were a huge variety of masks, and some were very modern, including Smurfs and movie characters.
  • White manta shorts and shirt
  • Carrilleras, a “skirt,” commonly made of bamboo pieces or reeds which click together like wind chimes as the Judío dances. The carrilleras are often embroidered, and are worn around the waist, over the shorts. I fell in love with the carrilleras; the sound they make is magical, and they look wonderful while people are dancing. We bought a small child’s carrillera for 300 pesos from a gentleman selling them.
  • Huaraches, typical and traditional, very simple cowhide sandals. These sandals were mostly white, of the typical variety we see here in Sinaloa.
  • Tenabaris, long strings of butterfly cocoons, dried by cooking them on hot rocks. Into each cocoon a small stone has been placed to make a sound when the cocoon is shaken. Each tenabari is about four meters long, and is wrapped around the Judío’s calves, usually on top of a cloth wrapping so that it doesn’t chafe the skin. We saw a few more modern versions, some made from recycled aluminum cans, and others from sewn or stapled thin pieces of rubber. Obviously these latter versions make a different sound. I have been in love with the tenabaris since I first saw them a few years ago. What a beautiful idea: butterfly cocoons wrapped around one’s leg that produce music! I was too cheap to buy a pair, however, at 1200 pesos. Next time maybe I’ll ask if they have a shorter, child-size strand.
  • A capa or white cape, usually embroidered with an image of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or another religious symbol. Sometimes the capas are handpainted instead of embroidered. In Mochicahui these capastendedto be very colorful, some with glitter or sparkles. They were gorgeous.
  • Many of the Judíos beat drums or tambores, made of leather and usually adorned with religious symbols. They may also shake rectangular wooden tambourines and maracas or gourds.
  • A lanza or spear, a long stick carried by many of the Judíos. Some also carry wooden swords or daggers. Spears, swords and daggers are often hand painted in bright colors.
  • A bag, usually woven from straw or twine, like a flexible basket, though also often made from animal fur. The bag is usually decorated or adorned in some way. It’s function is to hold the food and limosna that the JudíosreceivefromtheYoreme families they visit.

Here is a video of a few of the teenagers teaching me the names of the costume parts:

 

RULES

Next, the new Judíos were instructed that they would need to participate in EL KONTI for good reasons: to honor God or their families. They were told that KONTI is not Carnavál, but rather a celebration commemorating the crucifixion of Lord Jesus and his stations of the cross en route to Calvary. KONTI leads up to the big Easter Week ceremonies.

Judíos should not smoke or drink alcohol. You can see in some of the photos and video that we took that this rule is not followed by all who participate. Judíos should not talk; only pantomime. They are supposed to walk, run and dance to town; they should not ride in a car or truck while performing the ceremony. Some of them are scary, as were the soldiers who arrested Jesus and accompanied him to his death. Some of the Judíos are funny, giving members of the crowd a hard time, joking with them, much as the soldiers did to Jesus and his followers. We had Judíos blow horns in our ears, poke us in the ribs with their drum sticks, and share their long hair with my handsomely balding hubby.

 

WHAT WE ESPECIALLY ENJOYED

  1. We loved walking and driving around the area, seeing people getting dressed for KONTI, watching them walk, dance and run on their routes to town. It was truly a family-friendly, community-wide festival. We were very fortunate to have Omar leading the way for us and showing us the ropes. There is a ceremonial center on the edge of Mochicahui, on the way to Cruz Pinta. If you travel here during one of the Fridays of Lent, that would be an excellent place to photograph people getting ready, as there were dozens of Judíos gathering there before making their way into town.
  2. We were fascinated by the incredible mix of pre-Colombian, indigenous ritual (the masks, costumes, method of dancing—KONTI originated in Tasaria, a pre-Hispanic spring ritual), Spanish and Jesuit Catholicism (the Stations of the Cross, prayers, relics), with a bit of modernity thrown in for good measure (masks included Smurfs, movie characters, Japanese tengu and devils) were a joy to behold. I’d suggest you arrive just after noon and plan to start outside of Mochicahuí, on one of the five corridas or routes. To us, seeing people’s homes, witnessing how important KONTI was to the local families, was the best part of the day.
  3. We were rather blown away by the crescendo of KONTI in the plaza during the actual procession—it was organized chaos of a whole lot of people. The sound, the cacophony, was unreal. If you enjoy indigenous cultures and traditional events, KONTI is most definitely one to add to your list.
  4. Finally, the children! I was infatuated with the young children, dressed up, standing amongst the men—toddlers who already knew the dance steps: they knew to bend over, crouch down, stomp their feet so that the tenabaris on their legs and the carrilleras at their waist would rattle. They seemed thrilled to be part of the community. The older children and teenagers were also great to observe, hanging out in groups, yet led by their Pilato. They would drift off on their own, and then their Pilato would herd them back, coach them into how they should behave. It was a beautiful mix of community, discipline, joy and sacredness. Just what more of our communities today would seem to need.

YOU ARE INVITED FOR HOLY WEEK

There are still two more Fridays of Lent this year, prior to Holy Week, if you’d like to drive up and enjoy EL KONTI. Mochicahui also hosts a major celebration during Holy Week, from the night of Holy Thursday through Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Here is one of the ladies from Pinta Cruz, inviting all of you:

 

DIRECTIONS AND DETAILS

DSC_0005Mochicahui

Mochicahui is a town of 5144 people, located just north of Los Mochis on the way to El Fuerte. It is located about 12 km north of Los Mochis—five hours north of Mazatlán on Highway 15. Just past Los Mochis, take a right on Highway 32 towards El Fuerte. The entrance to Mochicahui will be on your left.

The Rio Fuerte winds along the city, at about 500 meters from the central plaza. Mochicahui has been a Yoreme ceremonial center since prehispanic, even pre-Colombian times. It was officially founded in 1606 by the Jesuit missionary Andrés Pérez de Rivas, who arrived with the Spanish conquistadors. “Mochicahui” means “turtle hill”: “cahui” means cerro or “hill,“ and “mochi” means “turtle.” Indeed, the hills near the town church look like turtles.

During the festivities it is very dusty; I recommend taking closed-toed shoes and wearing socks. Many of the dancers wore a bandanna around their nose and mouth, so they wouldn’t inhale all the dust. It’s also hot and sunny, so take your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. You can buy water and soft drinks in the plaza, but public toilets were a rare commodity. The ladies of the church were selling food and drink, trying to raise money to build some.

We spent the night at a hotel in Los Mochis, which was very comfortable, clean and convenient: El Doux. We paid about 500 pesos for the night.

We met several locals in Mochicahui who spoke fluent English, having lived much of their lives north of the border. We would recommend, however, that if you attend KONTI you speak Spanish or go with Spanish-speaking friends. If you happen to speak Mayo, you may of course be ok. A connection with a local family or business would also be very worthwhile. We were the only foreigners we saw over the two days. While there were hundreds of spectators, everyone we met was from the immediate area; there were not a lot of tourists.

Of the pueblos listed above that celebrate KONTI, those closest to Los Mochis (and therefore closest to Mazatlán, other than Mochicahui which is both close and perhaps the most traditional) are:

  • La Florida (15 km from Mochis on the way to El Colorado),
  • San Miguel Zapotitlán (16 km north on Highway 15), and
  • Charay (22 km towards El Fuerte).

Many, many thanks to both Luís Hernández Ayala (ITOM YOLEM JIAWI page on Facebook) and Silverio Zambrano López, for helping us learn enough about EL KONTI so that we were willing to make the five-hour drive from Mazatlán. It was Luís who introduced us to Omar. Most especially a big thanks to Omar Castro and his family for their excellent hospitality and teaching. Also our appreciation to Maestro Bernardo, who seems to be an endless source of oral tradition, knowledge and wisdom. We first met him two years ago during the Spring Equinox at Las Labradas.

A group of Yoreme Mayo youth, seeking to preserve their culture and heritage, made this terrific short video about El KONTI:

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