GUELAGUETZA, THE ART OF SHARING
The festivities of Lunes del Cerro (Mondays of the Hill), in which everybody participates regardless of their social origin, are celebrated in the City of Oaxaca the two Mondays following July 16.
Apparently these festivities originated in colonial times and are related to the festivity of Corpus Christi that takes place in the Church of Carmen Alto, built by the Carmelite Order at the foot of a hill the Zapotecs named Bella Vista.
This celebration took place on the Monday following July 16 and was repeated 8 days later in what was called La Octava.
Soon after, the Indians who lived in the nearby villages enthusiastically joined the festivities, particularly those from Guaxaca, capitol of the Marquezado Valley conceded to Hernan Cortes by the king of Spain, and from Xochimilco founded by Cortes in 1521 to the North of the city.
The Indians kept their own traditions in which they workshipped Centeotl (goddess of tender corn or elote), whom they honored and to whom they gave great offerings.
The inevitable interrelation of groups and the deep concern of the friars for making the local population accept the Catholic rituals, are at the origin of this festivity where elements of the indigenous culture blended with the black and Spanish traditions. This explained the festive and spectacular atmoshere during the open-air religious ceremonies.
This is the origin of today´s festivities of Lunes del Cerro, in which the Guelaguetza is particulary outstanding for its music, dances and songs. Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word meaning to participate and cooperate at the same time; it is a gift that demands reciprocity.
The Guelaguetza in the Lunes del Cerro is expressed by the offerings the groups representing the seven regions of Oaxaca, make to the city. Each one of these regions gives us a taste of their rich cultural heritage through their dances, executed to the rhythm of their songs and music and dressed in their gala outfits.
At the end each group offers their Guelaguetza of products typical of their region, to the audience.
Recently other folkloric events have been added to these festivities such as the Procession of the different delegations in a manner similar to the traditional Calenda (religious procession) that takes place on the Saturday before the first Monday.
At the heard of the Calenda goes the marmotas and a huge spherical clot lantern, followed by the Chinas Oaxaqueñas (local women dressed in brightly colored silkskirts and blouses with ribbons in their braids) carrying baskets of flowers all accompanied by a brass band and fireworks. Each delegation also plays music from their region.
That same Saturday in the morning, the election of the Goddess Centeotl takes place in the central square. She is chosen from among the members of the different delegations. In this contest the winner is not the one who is most elegantly dressed or most beautiful, but the one who best represents her community and who has the fullest knowledge of the traditions of her community. The winner will preside, along with the Governor and visiting dignitaries, over the festivities of the Guelaguetza.
Saturday night, the history of the Lunes del Cerro is presented in a play called Bani Stui Gulal which means repetition from antiquity in Zapotec language.
In the same Auditorium, in the evening on Sunday there is a representation of the legend of Princess Donaji, daughter of the Zapotec King Cosijoeza and Mexica Princess Coyolicatzin.
On Monday at 5:00 a. m. the Chirimiteros (pre-Hispanic reed instrument players) from the Central Valley play the Mañanitas (a good morning celebration song) to the hill, accompanied by whistles and drums. Soon the people start arriving to have a delicious regional breakfast on the stairs going up to the hill before going up to the stadium where they are welcomed by a marimba and the Chirimiteros.
At 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. the Guelaguetza begins.
Between the first and second Monday of the festivities, there are several other activities such as gastronomic and hand craft exhibitions, representations of different communities, art shows, a Mezcal fair, concerts and other cultural events.
On the second Monday or the Octava, the Procession, Bani Stui Gulal, the Guelaguetza, and the legend of the Princess Donaji are repeated.
During these festivities the popular enthusiasm is palpable, insuring that these ancient traditions are kept alive.
If you don´t plan to visit Oaxaca city during these festivities you can still enjoy the show. Guelaguetza programs are held nightly at Casa de Cantera at Murguía 102 and every Friday at Hotel Camino Real at 5 de mayo # 300.