|Detail on patron saint|
|Baile de los Toritos, Nov 1|
Once I had decided to go, I still had to figure out what to wear and what to bring. I sometimes wear a güipil over a dress or skirt when I go to important events (I've blogged about this previously). However, I know that when non-Maya women wear traje típico, it sometimes raises hackles about appropriation. The alcaldía indígena of Chichicastenango was one of the groups that spoke out publicly when Miss Guatemala appeared at the Miss Universe pageant wearing an outfit based on the male traje típico from Chichicastenango, and a special kind of traje reserved for elders, members of the cofradías, and so forth. So I was a bit wary about wearing a güipil and possibly offending the alcaldes. I decided to just wear neat clothing (I actually do not have anything very fancy here with me, which I now sort of regret, but it is way too late to do anything about that other than, I guess, start combing the PACAs). It also seemed that I should bring some kind of gift or offering, so I decided upon a bottle of 8-year old rum. Thus armed and outfitted, I set off. I hadn't asked where the lunch was going to be held, and so I went to the house of the principal general (I was pleased that I was able to find it myself on foot in the day; Chichicastenango is not that big but it had been nighttime and very crowded when I had come two days earlier). I knocked at the door and a woman let me in. There were several women and I explained that I had been there two days earlier and that we had been invited to have lunch with the alcaldía. It took a few tries before I made myself understood, and then the women conversed among themselves and finally someone told me that they were not at the house, but somewhere else. I asked where specifically it was, but instead of giving me an explanataion, they asked the two young girls to accompany me, and giggling a bit, they did.
|At lunch with the principal general (2nd from left)|
and two other members of the alcaldía indígena
|In many of the dances, there are figures|
like this, dressed up as conquistadores,
masked in white-face (and with
|The members of the Baile de los Toritos|
My friend Kan is a member of one of the two companies that were there, but since the dancers were fully masked, I didn't have time to try and figure out which of the dancers was him. It was very crowded and while I liked being able to see a more complete choreography than what I have seen at the rehearsals I attended (they are public events, complete with food and drink), I didn't want to stand around in crowds. So we walked around the town, and then I returned to the meeting room of the alcaldia.
It was an impressive sight, forty or fifty men kneeling on the church steps, clad in black garments, headdresses in bright colors, and most with a white canvas bag slung over one shoulder. After the prayers were completed, they cleared a space on the steps and one of the men (I could not tell whether he was a cofrade or a member of the alcaldía indígena, but I can find out, I am sure) danced. In one hand, he carried a small wooden statue of Santo Tomás, the patron saint of Chichicastenango, on horseback. In the other hand, he carried a metal apparatus, a kind of hollowed-out globe, that had been fitted with fireworks.
|Dancing on the church steps|
|Cofrades of the Cofradía Santo Toma|
cofradia has its headquarters. There were people there already. A marimba orchestra, outfitted in shiny matching suits, was already in full swing, and the rest of us filed in, crowding the courtyard. There had been some tourists on the streets as we paraded around, but none of them joined in the procession, and by the time we arrived near the cofradía's headquarters, they were no longer to be seen. The members of the alcaldía indígena who had accompanied the march were ushered into an inner room in the house, where they seated themselves behind long narrow tables that were set up in an L on two sides of the room. There were many people crowded into the room and into the doorway. I decided not to try and squeeze in very far but worked my way to the doorway and peered in. It wasn't clear to me exactly what was happening, as people did move in and out of the room throughout the time I was there.
It was bustling with people, and soon the members of the cofrade came outside and a few started to talk with me, asking me who I was, what I was doing in Guatemala, asking what I thought about the procession. There were some young men there eager to try out their few words of English. Two of them were busy taking photographs with their phones, and we all laughed when they took pictures of me as I was taking pictures of them. We also chatted a bit, and then joked about dancing. They asked for my contact information, and so I gave out my cards -- I had my university make up some cards for me for this year, with my Guatemalan cell phone numbers, and although it feels as though I have given them out to everyone and their families, I still have a few hundred left, and so I have been trying to get rid of them. I am not really worried that they might fall into the wrong hands. Anyone, friend or foe, who really wants to find me can easily do so.
I have written earlier about a dilemma concerning whether or not to take photographs of people who are inebriated. My current thinking is that in large public celebrations, where I might want to photograph a wide shot that include dozens or even hundreds of people, it would be impossible to frame a shot so that there were no people "under the influence". I am not going around with a Breathalyzer. However, I will avoid photographing anyone who is visibly affected by alcohol (i.e. really unsteady on his or her feet, or passed out). This extends to more intimate settings with friends as well.
The members of the cofradía started to bustle around, and then formed themselves into a long line stretching all the way to the back of the courtyard, where it disappeared into one of the rooms in one of the buildings that surrounded it. The mystery of what they were doing was soon cleared up, as they started to pass along hollowed-out gourds containing a kind of atol -- a generic term for a beverage made of corn meal or another kind of flour made of grain, mixed with water and cooked. They were passed from hand to hand along the line, and then handed to people in the crowd.
|The members of the cofradía forming a human chain|
to distribute atol to all the celebrants
Some atoles are sweet, others are rather plain. The man nearest me asked somewhat hesitantly if I would want some. I eagerly said yes, even though the atoles here are a bit bland for my taste. In El Salvador, there is a kind of atol called atol shuco (meaning "dirty atol" --- shuco comes from the Spanish word for dirty, sucio) that has some salt and ground roasted pumpkin seeds (or pepitoria) mixed in. So I was handed my jícara (gourd) and sipped at the atol. The cofrades seemed pleased that I liked the atol, and when I had finished and returned my jicara, I was immediately handed another one by a different cofrade. I explained that I had already had one, and I didn't want to deprive anyone. He insisted that there was plenty and that I should have another. I finished that one, as the cofrades watched approvingly, and then when I handed back the empty jicara, a third man tried to hand me a third cup of atol. At this point, I thanked him and said that there was no way that I had room for another atol right then as I was quite full (and, frankly, I didn't want to have to try and find the bathroom in the cofradía. It's not that I'm super-fastidious. Some places have outhouses, some have indoor toilets, some public bathrooms have paper and others don't. When you have to go you have to go. I have scrambled into bushes or behind trees along highways when the need strikes and I know that there is not a bathroom anywhere nearby. But in a large, crowded celebration with a lot of people consuming beverages, the bathrooms can get pretty funky even if they are relatively clean and modern, and if I can avoid using one in those circumstances, I do. So I managed to avoid having to drink a third atol without, I think, offending anyone and then made my way back to my car and back to Chinique. I arrived in time to catch the last of the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the local cemetery.. but that's a subject for a different blog.