A couple of weeks from now, three of my friends and I are headed southeast, around Lake Chapala, to the city of Sahuayo de Morelos in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. Why?, you ask. Because it’s the patronales fiesta in honor of Santiago, or St. James the Apostle, the patron saint of Sahuayo. And each year, on July 25, Sahuayo residents put on one of the most fantastic parades I have ever seen.
This is not your typical Mexican pueblo festival parade consisting of marching bands, floats, pretty girls, and guys on horseback. Oh, no! This, my friends, is a spectacle of epic proportions, comprised almost entirely of the dancing Tlahualiles, colorfully dressed, masked performers sporting huge feathered headdresses.
The origins of the Tlahualil and why they are such an integral part of the Festival of St. James is debatable, to say the least. I mean, here you’ve got what appear to be Mexican warriors marching in a parade dedicated to a Catholic saint. And in the war between the Church and the natives, it’s pretty clear who “won.’ But historical facts be damned, there’s a fiesta to put on!
And, my oh my, do they ever! A day or two after the festival has ended on August 4, the locals of Sahuayo start the planning and preparations for the next one. It takes a lot of time, thought, work, and money, and the groups only have about eleven and a half months to take care of it all.
Each group, and there are up to about 35 or 40, consists of members of an extended family or neighbors in a particular barrio of Sahuayo. Each one of those groups is comprised of from 10 to 50 marchers, and even larger support groups…..from those who come up with the theme to those who come up with the design to those who construct the headpieces and who sew the costumes to those who accompany the marchers on the big day, providing water, food, and support as necessary.
This is truly, in the broadest sense of the term, a community affair. And it’s not restricted to only the members of the community or family who currently reside in Sahuayo. Last year, we talked to many people who now live in other parts of Mexico or in the US, but who had returned home for the fiesta.
As on the north shore of Lake Chapala, where I live, we saw lots of US plated vehicles. But when the doors opened, white haired white people did not pour out. Instead, the vans were full of Mexican families. We spoke with folks from every geographical area of the US who had taken vacation time from their jobs to return to Sahuayo to provide time, helping hands, and money to their relatives and to introduce their children to the remarkable fiesta de Santiago.
Here are a couple more photos from last year’s parade, and a link to a music video which, oddly enough, I find particularly apropos! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqUtEXmSHfA