¡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!