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Feb 12

Festival of San Sebastian, Chiapas

The past few posts were focused on the floral embroidery in Zinacantan. But what about the festival of San Sebastian?

On our first day, we attended the “raising of the jaguar tree”. There must be a joke about “how many men does it take to raise a sixty-foot “jaguar” tree”? In this case, I counted about forty but that didn’t include the men cutting and hauling the alder tree, nor those who were cheering the others on. The raising of the tree symbolizes the reenactment of the beginning of time, the rising of the Milky Way in the night sky. It’s also the stage for the antics of the jaguar and his assistants, the black-faced men.

So what antics does the jaguar perform? In Maya mythology, the jaguar was considered the ruler of the Underworld, a symbol of the night sun and darkness.  If a person could be half-jaguar and half-human, he could rid himself of cultural restrictions and act upon his hidden desires. So is this the reason why the jaguar men climb the tree and the tricksters throw stuffed squirrels at them (squirrels represent sexual transgressions), while the jaguar men “try” to catch the squirrels and shove them into a cage? No matter what the reason, it was great fun watching it all.

The black-faced men represent tricksters, the other side of the earth, and the escaped slaves from Colonial times. Joined by other clowns who are evil who choose not to follow the traditions and break rules. These two character-types danced through the church plaza lighting fireworks all around, and chasing after the jaguar men who were dressed in fake fur.

Chiapa de Corzo Celebrates

Let’s drive a good hour away from the Chiapas Highlands to the Fiesta Grande which takes place for two weeks in the hot, humid lowlands of Chiapa de Corzo. Three patrons are honored during this time, San Sebastián being one of them. This was no small village celebration but one big blow-out party.

Meet the characters of this fiesta: The Parachicos are traditional dancers with finely carved wooden masks of European face–clear, blue or green eyes, goatee, and a hat made of hennequin fiber to resemble blond hair, with hung ribbons, representing the Spaniards of the time of the conquest. Their attire consists of a shirt and black trousers, a colorful serape and rattles called chinchines that give rhythm to dance. The Parachicos were named by UNESCO in 2010 on the World Heritage List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

And then there are the very colorful Chuntáes (Chunta, Chiapas origin word meaning servant)—males who dress as women to imitate the old servants.

If you’ve enjoyed traveling along the cloth road, share this on. By doing so, you help sustain the artisans and their traditions.
If you want to attend next year’s Maya Festivals, check our Traditions Mexico tours.

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