While reading the other students’ blogs I was moved by the many personal stories I encountered. From grandmother’s advice to personal cultural confusion, this, I thought was the most interesting part of blogging; getting to know the person hitting the keyboard on a very personal level. I enjoyed learning about other parts of Mexico some people discussed and posted pictures of. I enjoyed the stories of childhood experiences that brought so much life to a simple webpage. For this reason I want to make this entry about Tecalitlan, Jalisco; my family’s small town in which I spent half my life discovering. Unfortunately, this entry will not touch on Aztec dance, but I hope it gives readers a better idea about my cultural identity and why the study of the Aztecs, thier dance, and Mexico is so important to me.
Traveling to Tecalitlan is about a two-and-a-half hour plane ride. No, the small town with one major road for travelers to enter and immediately exit does not have it’s own airport. The closest official airport is two hours away in Guadalajara. Usually my aunt would take a taxi to Guadalajara to pick me up and the driver would make the two hour treck back to the house. My grandmother built her “retirement” house next to the childhood home they grew up in. My grandmother and her five siblings moved from home to home when she was young, but eventually ended up at this old, yellow, two-story home. I remember living at the old house when I was 3 or 4 and I did not want to go to the kitchen because I would have to walk by the dark, empty rooms. The house made noises all the time, and in Mexico, there are so many stories adults tell to scare kids, I could imagine “la llorona” waiting to scare me as I ran by the rooms. But my grandmother’s house was finally built by the next time I made the trip to stay for another few years. The house is very rare. It doesn’t have a front door, people walk-up to a gate, which leaves nothing to the imagination. The visitors can see everything in the house. As you enter the gated door, there is a big patio area then a few stairs take you to a foyer where you can choose to either take the stairs to the second floor or continue to the kitchen, dining room and den area. Just past the dining room and the bottom floor restroom is another open area containing la “pila”. This is a large ceremic box, per se, with a water knob connected to it. This area is designated to wash dishes and clothes. On the second floor there are four bedrooms and a second bathroom, and another patio area with the gate unlocking to the roof of the next door house to hang newly washed clothes. Just writing about the house takes me back to those days. I remember having to worry about stepping on scorpians. I would always wear shoes because of this fear, I would check the bathroom tub before getting in because that was one of their hidding places. Now thinking about it, I don’t know why I was so scared? The hospital is across the street from my grandmother’s house. How funny!
The following link shows great pictures of the town and it also includes a map. The town is much more populated now than when I last visited, but the pictures show the beauty of its landmarks.
On this map, Tecalitlan is between Guadalajara and Colima:
I also found the coat of arms for the municipality of Tecalitlan, Jalisco.
I found the information about this coat of arms on the following link:
The description of the coat of arms is as follows:
- The style of the coat is from France and it is cut into a cross shape.
- The top left quadrant shows two volcanoes; one erupting and the other covered with snow, which signifies the majestic panoramic view of the land.
- The top right quadrant shows a “charro” playing a harp, and he stands in front of arches significant of colonial architecture.
- The lower left quadrant shows a Nahuatl symbol, which was recuperated from Spain and indicates the name “Tecalitlan.”
- The lower right quadrant shows a silhouette of a sugar cane plantation.
- On top of the four quadrants sits a golden crown with nine points encrusted with emeralds and rubies.
- All this is over a hawk with its wings extended, its legs open and its tail down. Its head looks sideways and only showing one eye. Where his claws grasp the coat, there are two golden columns with red and green ribbons around them.
- Over the coat of arms there is a band with the inscription “Tecalitlan Jalisco,” and underneath is the date 1776.
These are just a few memories and facts that can give the reader a better idea of where I come from and who I am.
I found this clip on YouTube. It is again from my family’s hometown of Tecalitlan, Jalisco in Mexico. It shows the “velada” of the Virgin Mary. I was trying to translate the word “velada,” but I cannot come up with a word in English that will describe what happens at this event. It is somewhat similar to a wake, during the burial rites a person goes through after their death. Except a “velada” is in a broader sense so much bigger and ceremonial. The clip starts with cuts of different bands and people dancing and celebrating. At 2:40 there is a small clip of a male danza which is interesting because they are not dressed in the custom Aztec dress. It is a more contemporary Indian dress style. It is also interesting that kids are part of the group. Danza groups usually consist of all adults, all males, all children, or all females. After the danza, the clip is focused on the “velada” with the priest in the background going through the mass. I hope you can see how important music and dance is during this time of celebration and in this culture, which can be originated from the time of the Aztecs. ENJOY!
While researching through numerous Google searches I quickly found that I was getting nowhere with the keywords “Aztec dance” and “Danza Azteca”. I then changed my search to look for a dance god and found the name Ozomatli. This is the Nahuatl word for the Aztec monkey who was considered the companion spirit and servant of the god Xochipilli, the god of music and dance. I found that a popular band is also named after this god; therefore my Ozomatli search produced many links to the band’s performances, reviews and websites. I ran into a question and answer page asking exactly what I was thinking: how do I find information on Ozomatli the Aztec monkey instead of Ozomatli the band? Luckily one of the responses gave a simple answer: type in “Ozomatli” and “Aztec monkey” as the search words instead of Ozomatli alone. With this search the first few websites gave an abundant amount of information about the Aztecs and the importance of dance in their culture.
Dance and music within the Aztec society was not only dedicated to religious ceremonies. The rhythmic movement to music has a symbolic meaning and is an element of ceremonies with a variety of purposes, which includes hunting, warfare, harvest or victory celebrations, or a rite of passage such as a marriage.[i] Some ceremonies are even named for the dance performed. Dance was also a sacrificial gift to the gods. As I mentioned in previous blogs, I can see dance as meditation to get closer to the gods, but to get to this elevated mental state, the dancer did not only have to concentrate on the movements, the music was also an integral part. Music and dance were of equal importance. According to Dr. Arnd Adje the Aztecs did not have a word for music. Music was the “art of song” or cuicatlamatiliztli, and musicians did not play but “sang” on their instruments. To dance was “to sing with the feet.”[ii] This shows the importance of melody and rhythm, which is also attributed to dance.
Dance was also a measure of social status within the Aztec society. There were numerous dance rituals and ceremonies by different classes and Adje details some of these different dance trends within the Aztecs. The common man provided dance entertainment in their own homes as well as in local festivals, and the instrument of choice were various kinds of rattles and small whistles. While reading Music, Song and Dance among the Aztecs-a short introduction it seems like the higher the social class, the more advanced and resonating the instruments and performances became. The Aztec priests performed in the temples and used trumpets, large rattle-sticks, slit-drums, turtle shells, flutes and whistles. Sacred temple chants by priests or the gods’ representatives were accompanied by metal bells and conch tinkles, as well as eagle whistles, small flutes, ceramic drums and slit-drums. There were also professional musicians who performed for the court. They resided in the “house of the Cloud Serpent”, also known as mixcoacalli. Adje says of these court performers:
“The court musicians performed the music of large circular dances, in which often hundreds of dancers took part. They also played for their ruler, such as during daily banquets, which were accompanied by acrobats and dwarfs, and were ordered to play for the wealthy merchants in their private feasts.”
These professional court musicians had the most varied and abundant instruments of all performers. Another group was the warriors, best known from the eagle and jaguar societies. They performed in the courtyard of the “house of song” or cuicacalli. The noise and music from this group was the loudest and most frightening with shell trumpets, drums and whistles.
It is interesting that each group had a different way of expressing themselves through music and dance. It is also understandable that the professional court performers would have the most elaborate dances and the warriors would have the loudest routine, while the unprofessional common man only performed for their own entertainment. Each group integrates their social status as well as their social importance through dance and the instruments they use for the music they express.
[i] Waldman, Carl. “dance.” Word Dance: The Language of Native American Culture. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1994. American Indian History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp? ItemID=WE43&iPin=ind3337&SingleRecord=True (accessed June 3, 2009).
[ii] Adje, Arnd. Music, Song and Dance among the Aztecs-a short introduction. http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/index.php?one=azt&two=mus&id=395. (accessed June 4, 2009)
Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” endured harsh criticism since before its release, but I enjoyed watching this film for the entertainment value, as well as the history it brought to life. Watching the film was not easy due to its goriness, and it is difficult to imagine a society so bloodthirsty. The Mayan culture, as well as many other native tribes of the time, believed in human sacrifice, maybe not to the extent of what was portrayed in “Apocalypto”, which is one of the major criticisms against Gibson and this film, but it was a part of their religious beliefs. Human blood fed the gods appetite and in return the gods appeased the humans. The sun god was one of these important deities for these Native American tribes. If the sun god was pleased, then it would appear and help with the light needed for survival, such as with the growth of crops. This is what was seen when Jaguar Paw and the other villagers are taken into the Mayan city. The sacrificial ceremony is taking place.
Watching “Apocalypto” for a second time and without subtitles was extremely revealing. I was able to focus on details I easily missed during the first viewing because I was busy reading the subtitles. Gibson recreated an amazingly descriptive image of the Mayan culture, and two scenes caught my interest; the first when the old man is narrating a story to the tribe, and second was during the sacrificial ceremony by the Mayans.
During this first scene, the tribe sits around the fire as a family, listening to the elder with great attentiveness and respect. Even the young children, whom we know are not to be able to sit still for a long time, stay in place showing their respect to the ritual. When the elder ends his tale, music then takes over the group. This leads to an outbreak of dance, which is a large part of how this society expressed themselves. This is not a religious ceremony; it is simply a part of their daily lives. They celebrate their ancestors and the present through dance; it is an expression of their tribe and who they are.
The second scene was during the sacrificial ritual by the Mayans. Here, music and dance also play a large role. Various groups are seen dancing in different areas during the ceremony, and for what looks like different purposes also. One group of men dance at the foot of the pyramid where the heads and bodies of those sacrificed fell onto. They act almost insane because they are so ecstatic when the decapitated heads and headless bodies fall in front of them. Another group of dancers are seen while the prisoners are led to start their climb up the pyramid. It is a group of woman dancers and they resemble an almost evilness as they work together to scare the rattled prisoners even more.
During my first viewing of the movie I did not pay much attention to both of these scenes, and I also did not realize how important dance and music were in the everyday lives of this culture. “Apocalypto” is an overwhelming film. The story, the images, and the emotional struggle the viewer goes through make it hard to see many of the details during the first viewing. I can watch it again and I am confident I will see more information I missed in the previous two viewings. Unfortunately, Gibson’s portrayal of the Mayan culture is not very accurate, but I feel it is a good movie because it showcases some of the Mesoamerican land and the native people. Unfortunately, many people are not familiar with the history of the Mayans or other Pre-Hispanic indigenous people, but at least Gibson’s movie brought some light to this interesting topic. For me, I am glad I am able to recognize what large role music and dance played in other tribes and other areas of Mesoamerica. The Aztecs are one of the more recognized native tribes, but some of my research has delved into the different dances performed by other tribes also. It was also interesting to see the dance ceremonies in another medium, like this movie, instead of written descriptions, drawings, and pictures.
I felt very uncomfortable while researching Aztec Dance because I was hoping to find something on the web, but there is not much on the history of Danza Azteca. Elizabeth mentioned Facts on File, which we can access through our library here at MSMC and this database has its own “American Indian History” section. I was so excited! I typed “dance” into the keyword search and over 10,000 results came up. I then narrowed my search to “sun dance” and there are 385 total results including 86 biographies, 16 primary sources, 1 map and 282 events and topics. I cannot wait to get started on my research for my next blog. I think an explanation of the dance dress will be next.
Danzas Aztecas have peaked much interest in the United States. Mexican people have made Aztec dance a way to preserve their culture, and have also made it available to anyone wanting to explore their indigenous cultural history. Today, Aztec dance is about entertainment rather than religious tradition, but why did the Aztecs start this tradition of dance? Was it only a religious custom? Or was it merely entertainment? Today, Danzas keep the ritual alive to honor their ancestral culture and to preserve the history of the Mexican identity.
Quetzalcóatl: Aztec round dance
In the pre-Hispanic era the ritual of song and dance was known as “IN CUICATL IN XOCHITL” in Nahuatl (el canto y la flor), which translates to “the song and flower.”[i] This reference to a flower was a way to integrate an offering ritual with nature. It was a way for the Aztec people to stay in contact with the gods in their natural manifestation, nature. These indigenous people lived with an active attitude toward every aspect of their lives, which included not only worshiping their gods as part of their religion, but also the nature in which they lived in because it was provided by these deities. They worshiped and sacrificed for the sun god to appear every day. If the sun god appeared, or if the sun rose, it would advance the cycle of life, which would then help their crops produce, and give the light needed to harvest, and work for daily survival needs. Aztec dance was a way to worship and honor deities, but it was also a survival need.
Aztec Dance was concentration in motion. One can almost look at this as a way of meditation with movement. The dancer’s concentration on the movement and steps could channel the offering to the god as well as focusing on their goals of prayer. Ritual dance was known as Macehualiztli, which translates to “deserving.” The dance represents the eternal search of man for cosmic harmony and integration of body and spirit.[ii] It was considered a form of prayer, but also a complete way of life and communication with what was most important to these people, their gods.
This communication is evident with the movements made during the dance. The serpent-like actions represent fertility, the squatting to the floor represent the earth and crops, the twirling in the air represent the soul, the alternating of forward and backward steps represent fire, and the zigzag steps represent water.[iii] These steps are extremely simplistic, but this is what enabled the dancers to concentrate on their goals and their prayer. They connected everything that was part of the dance with nature, and therefore made it easier for the body, mind and nature to become one. The individual dancers also work together to become one entity and reach the goal of complete attentiveness. The dancers unite to create a corporal expression to worship and communicate with their gods as they are expressed in nature.
Aztec Dance is one of the most basic expressions of artistic and cultural spirit of the native people of Mexico.[iv] For the Aztecs this tradition was a part of life, and fortunately we are able to see this fascinating way of life today.
As I watch videos and see pictures on the internet of different Danzas I get an overwhelming sense of pride to see how beautiful this tradition is. I do not feel a spiritual connection to deities as the Aztecs did when they preformed, but I can feel a connection to the dancers because we share a common ancestry. Seeing the costumes and emotion from the dancers helps me better understand why the Aztecs brought about these customs and how important they were in their daily lives.
It looks like everyone is out on the street. Children, adults, elders, and even dogs line the sidewalks of Tecalitlan, Jalisco. Abuelo starts his travel to the front door with his old rusty chair, and bright pink plastic holding it together. The chair is not very sturdy; an imprint of his butt is quickly turning into a dangerous tear. You know he is going to fall right through it any day, but it is his favorite chair and today there is no time to think of it. Today is special. This is the day of The Virgin de Guadalupe and the procession of danzas is about to pass by.
A child runs by yelling, “Ay vienen!” Here they come! In the distance an array of bright feathers peek out of a cloud of dust. Unfortunately, the town does not have paved roads, except for the two mile stretch of main road bringing visitors in, and quickly getting them out. This made a cloud of dust hover over the dance processional as they stomped their feet on the dry dirt with fervor. The sight of the dancers also brings a melodic thumping of drums as well as the rattling of bells, which gave me, a five year old child, chills. It is an amazing sight to see the whole town involved in such a beautiful display of honor of our culture, of our heritage and of our ancestors.
The first group is a male group with the most elegant costumes. Three or four men usually led setting the melody with drums. What a sight! I remember standing in amazement as each group went by. Our house is at one end of town so by the time the procession arrived, the sweat and exhaustion is visible on their faces, but this is not enough to keep them from presenting the dance at full emotion.
My Abuelo (he was actually my great-grandfather, but I would call him “Abuelo”) would give me the play-by-play on each group. “Mira,” he would start, “Those feathers symbolize the Aztec warriors.” Then a few minutes later again, “Mira…” I did not grasp the importance of these days, but at that time I was mesmerized with the colors, music and fanfare of the day.
I remember wanting to be a dancer. I enjoyed the performance so much from my front door, but unfortunately I went back to Los Angeles to start school and did not have this first hand exposure to the Danzas Aztecas anymore. When I returned to live in Tecalitlan I was 13 years old, and I could only help the danzas by walking the processional and carrying water for the girls in my friend’s group. This gave me a sense of belonging even though I was a visitor from the United States, but I get a feeling of pride talking about this experience because I know how remarkable it is in my life.
I was able to find a video of a danza from Tecalitlan on youtube.com. The group in the video is not one I remember, but I like that it is an all female group and even though the steps and use of instruments are very simplistic, the procession is amazing. Please take a look:
Blogging is all I can think about since our meeting on Sunday. What should I write about? Who is going to want to read my rambling about Aztec Dance? I spent three days trying to figure out how to upload a video on my sight. I even had my co-worker converting files on special software. Then I thought I had to buy an upgrade through WordPress.com. I’m sure you know how frustrated I felt… Well, this has been an adventure already, let’s get started.
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