Tuesday the 28th of February this year was the Tuesday known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras in many parts of the world and often celebrated as a fun fest on the last day before the strictures of Lent. The city of Oaxaca has no carnival celebration, but some of the surrounding towns do, which is why I went south today to San Martín, a town known for its elaborately carved wooden fantasy figures. The announcements I read promised a big event with 3,000 national and international tourists in attendance. Um ~ maybe and maybe not. At any rate, it was a pleasant drive out there and I was eager to see the devils running through the streets.
Once there, there was little activity beyond quite a few of my camera-clad compatriots. A nice man selling alebrijes assured me that the devils would soon be along and they'd come sounding their bells.
A note about the color on the devils: quite of the few of them are painted with used motor oil, in fact I think all of the ones colored black are -- you could definitely smell it quite strongly on some of them. They run around and threaten to smear it on bystanders, but I only saw them smear people they actually knew ~
The ice cream stands were a welcome sight in the heat ~
The church must have wanted no part of the devilry and remained firmly shut ~
There was a row of alebrije stands under the large covered space between the church and the leafy main square ~
Ahhh ~ finally, my first devils ~
Note the clever use of a natural material on the jaw of the mask ~
The cow bells are a big part of the devilish ambiance. When I first got there, they were all wearing their bells in back.But as the day wore on and more beer was consumed, several devils opted to attach a low hanging bell in front, which they delighted in waggishly wagging ~
And they're off to roam up and down the streets ~
Here's a quick video I made to give an idea of devil noise ~
Feeling confident that I would get to see many devils this day, I set off to see a bit of the town.
Someone has some roof work on his horizon ~
The municipal building on the square. It also houses a library and a tourist office
The jail ~
And with that jolly sight, I'll leave you until tomorrow, when I'll be back with more of San Martín and its carnival.
I would love to know more of the history of this celebration.
I am curious as to whether or not the devils were in groups or "tribes" along the lines somewhat like the Mardi Gras Indians here in NOLA.
Also, it's uncanny in it's own peculiar way (and I have no clue if there is any connection whatsoever), the first documented "Krewe" here in the US and went on to become the oldest krewe here in NOLA actually started in Mobile, Alabama when a group of businessmen banded together and formed a parade. They masked and wore cowbells. Their name was The Cowbellions which later when relocated in NOLA became the Mystic Krewe of Comus, the oldest krewe formed in 1857.
It's disappointing that there aren't more people but maybe I'm being premature as more pics are posted.
Thanks, Casimira! I know you have had other, far more important things to deal with this year, but fervently hope you'll get back to picture posting in the next few months. Yesterday I looked at your old Mardi Gras thread, which is a treasury of fun and great pictures.
Fascinating fact about the Mobile cowbells. If you'll remember, the maskers in San Agustín Etla had capes covered with large jingle bells for day of the dead. I've heard of traditions where noise is made to scare away demons, but wonder about the demons themselves making noise with bells. I knew about Mobile having the first Mardi Gras, but was only told this week about "Joe Cain's Merry Widows" -- worth googling & checking out on youtube. Still, Mobile will never be New Orleans!
I have been unsuccessful in running down the background of the San Martín carnival traditions, which include a mock wedding on the morning of Fat Tuesday. They also give away food to all comers, something I wish I'd taken advantage of. Probably we can assume that their carnival tradition comes from Spain and is crossed with some pre-colonial traditions, making for a fun mix.
You're not being premature about the lack of people, as you will see. I guess for most people it was just another Tuesday, so they were off at work. My main point of disappointment was the lack of wooden masks. San Martín's alebrije carving was an outgrowth of their mask carving tradition. Looking a pictures of their carnival from just a few years back, it's obvious that using them for carnival is well on the decline.
I have a great fondness for the salutory messages which are painted on walls in many Mexican villages. They present both physical and psychological concepts in a straightforward way often charmingly illustrated in a naive style. This is national health week, something in which San Martín obviously participates every year ~
This wall is an archive of health messages from years past ~
Down another street, more good advice in living color ~
Having been told that I have a naturally wary expression, I felt a kinship with this group ~
Later in the day, when it was time for the costume judging, I sat next to a dad with a little guy on his lap. The poor little fellow was really frightened by the grease-coated creatures, although he was trying to be brave. His dad took pity and carried him away.
Time for some more town shots.
This is in the arch of the big gate in front of the churchyard ~
I'd say this town really knows how to portray wariness!
As befits a town known for its highly ornamented carvings, there is ornamentation everywhere ~
Tables full of alebrijes for sale in front of the town square ~
Watching the world go by ~
That old section of the church is intriguing, but I can't find any details. Wikipedia says: "The present day community dates back to about 1600, but the construction date of the parish church is not known."
More? I am still reeling from this visual assault! How alien to me, and how beautiful. You have a good eye for both finding subjects and for composing shots. I can't imagine how all this oddness makes sense, but I don't need to to enjoy it as spectacle. Bring on more please!
I'm not surprised the little kid on his Dad's lap was afraid. I find them all rather creepy (although I find Kerouac's Binche carnival masks creepy too). I do wonder how these various customs and celebrations developed out of original Mexican ideas combined with Spanish Catholicism.
Bixa, you mention Spanish carnivals. I don't think there are any -- the Spaniards are more into Holy Week processions with people atoning and dressed like the Ku Klux Klan, at least from the pictures I have seen of Andalusia. Carnival seems to be more of a northern European (Germany, Belgium) thing.
Anyway, this town looks like a pleasant place and I guess the locals enjoy their carnival celebrations among themselves rather than it becoming a huge tourist spectacle.
This is one of the most visually stunning reports that you have ever made here, Bixa. I am also thrilled to see confirmation that not every event in Mexico is predictable. Without being a devil worshipper myself, I am happy to see that the Virgin Mary appears to have had the day off and that the streets were given over exclusively to the dark side of death, Muertos being much more joyous in concept. Speaking of death, I was wondering if all of those body paints were approved by the health authorities although I suppose that being covered by that stuff for just one day is not a huge risk.
One thing that is a shame is the absence of female participants even though the bare chests might pose a problem. But devilettes could have a completely different look if somebody went to work on the project.
Finally, one thing that makes this set of photos even more outstanding than usual is that they are not overloaded with people. While you might have regretted the lack of crowds for the ambience, it is much more rewarding to be able to study the people and participants when they are not in the middle of a crowd.
Last Edit: Sept 17, 2017 6:38:36 GMT by bixaorellana: replace smiley
Ah, you are ever kind, Fumobici! I will say in my defense that I severely pruned the number of pictures I took, but really, I think the affair worthy of the 125 that will make up this thread.
Bjd, apparently Spain has a carnival tradition going back to the middle ages, but severely interrupted by Franco, who banned carnival in 1938. It stayed banned until the return of democracy in 1977. I believe it's like Mexico, though, in the sense of not being observed everywhere in the country. There's a bunch online about it, as here and also here. In that second link you'll see participants who look somewhat like those in Binche plus others in northern Spain dressed in devil-y looking animal costumes.
Kerouac, I was very in the mood for something different, celebration-wise. Whereas women in wide colorful skirts with flowery baskets on their heads are all very well, I've seen an awful lot of that. As for the motor oil -- . Used motor oil is put on dogs here as an old-fashioned "cure" for mange. Of course there are those trying to educate the public out of doing this, not least because it can damage the liver. Surely it's not good for people, either. I asked about the paint & was told there was no problem -- the same thing Mexican electricians tell you as they blithely work on wiring without first switching off the power. I cringed seeing those little kids covered with paint. I asked one of the devils about the men dressed as women and he said it was a carnival thing and that women also dressed as men. It must be pretty hard for women to really make a point of dressing as men nowadays. What can they wear that's different -- polo shirts and jeans? Thanks for the stonework compliment. I'm always fascinated by that antique combination of dressed stone, raw stone, and brick, especially since those old churches often have wall two feet thick or more.
Bixa. Can you please stop this. I have all my holidays arranged for a long time and cannot see myself getting to see all of this in person for quite a few years. I am even looking up the cost of flights from Zambia in case it is particularly cheap (obviously, no it isn't). It's like being hungry and all you can do it look at recipes. I will compromise though and just look out of one eye to make sure I'm not missing anything.
Aw, Mark ~ I'm sure I've semi-duplicated enough shots for you to get a good idea even with the compromise. Maybe by some fluke you'll make it here before you expect to. It would be exciting to see your take on this culture. ]
Returning from lunch grumpy but nourished, I go sit on the low curb surrounding the basketball court. We onlookers are all waiting for five o'clock, which is supposed to be the judging of costumes.
The loneliness of the long distance bell ringer ~
Yep -- we're definitely in Mexico ~
Here come the cops. These men may not look like a crack force, but they have real law upholding power. San Martín, in common with most of the municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, observes usos y costumbres. Break the law here and you could wind up in the jail shown earlier. Htmb and Kerouac may remember the harrowing story we were told about usos y costumbres justice.
And here's the ersatz wedding party. The woman next to me on the curb got a kick out them, saying "There's even a quinceañera!
The costumers are arriving. Check out the baby doll ~
What is going on here is that the grease demon wants to enter the center area & is being told that devils are forbidden. He is insistent, as were all the devils who tried to get in there. Finally the policemen formed a cordon around the center area, with their backs to the onlookers. This provoked the devils to run around and around the ring of cops, "accidentally" brushing against them.
We onlookers were able to buy all kinds of things to rot our lungs and our teeth ~
Posture! Confidence! You need to look like a winner!
Meanwhile, outside the cop cordon, Stromboli shows off his moves ~
It's five o'clock and his shadow is showing ~
Waggle that bell!
The band plays and I think the costumers are supposed to be dancing in the middle of the floor. As often happens at these events, I'm not sure how it's supposed to be organized or if it even is organized. The milling around part is still interesting.
What can one say? It's astonishing, and to repeat a word from my earlier comment because no other word serves, utterly alien. It's pretty, it's ugly, it's sweet, it's scary, and naturally it's strangely beautiful too.
That was super cool Bixa! So much to take in when you look at the extraordinary amount of thought and talent went into making those masks and those costumes. I noticed the unhappy bride seemed to be wearing a wig. Or does her hair grow right onto her forehead?! The grooms shoes haven't seen polish lately and low and behold his Bestman isn't wearing any socks! Was this a genuine wedding..?
Can I ask you about the oily torso men. Is that car engine oil or a Vaseline sort of stuff?
This last series of pics really blew me out of the water Bixa.
The colors, attention to detail while evident in all the others really comes to a climax in these, attesting to a keen eye and skill. (the shot of the devil with the bird skull is mindblowing!!!)
In retrospect, what I mentioned earlier on about the absence of an "audience", I have to agree with Kerouac in that your report makes for a far more a uniqueness that crowds of people, tourists most especially would be devoid of and makes it that much more singular. (all the more reason why we stick to "the beaten path" here in NOLA as opposed to going to Canal and Bourbon Street here with all the "bead whores" etc.)
Also, ditto on the shots of the church stonework. Worthy of some entries in the Image Bank under whatever appropriate thread.
(P.S. T. loved this report as well, most especially the video. He is somewhat of an amateur Carnival historian and actually before you even posted the links about Spain, he already knew about that bit of Carnival history on the global level. As an aside, our friend Maria from Miami has a brother who is on assignment in Trinidad for a piece on Carnival there for National Geographic magazine. I can't wait to see this issue when it comes out).
Thanks, Fumobici, for your kind attention and appreciation and also for so perfectly describing the essence of this folk tradition!
Tod, it's a fake wedding and part of the whole San Martín carnival tradition. I am almost positive that the bride is actually a young man. In the picture of them entering the court, there's something about "her" chest that's a giveaway, ditto her face in the seated photo. Re: the stuff smeared on the devils ~ as far as I know it is engine oil -- some of those devils definitely smelled like motor oil. I think the black is used oil and the red might be one of the varieties of diesel oil that's red. Huge thanks for the lovely compliments!
Awww, Casimira ~ thank you so much! The bird man was a great indication that I was about to see some of the famous San Martín carved masks. I don't know if the lack of crowds was standard are because of the time of day or because the whole thing is supposedly a three day festival. The emptiness combined with the sudden appearances of whooping demons made it all wonderfully dreamlike. Of course I'm hugely flattered that T enjoyed the thread -- he knows so much about NO carnival & as you say, its historical background. I'll look out for that Trinidad issue of National Geographic!