The term Guelaguetza, the most important custom of the Oaxacan people, derives from the Zapotec term "guendalezaa" which means "offering, present,fulfilment" because, during colonial times, the wealthy Spanish elite had the legal right to receive the first and best of the harvest collected by the indigenous people.
Lunes del Cerro (Monday on the Hill) Festivals 2011
The Lunes del Cerro Festivals and the ‘’Octava,’’ or second Festival 8 days later, are celebrated every year in the City of Oaxaca during the second half of the month of July and include nearly 100 cultural, sporting and folkloric activities. These include: the competition to select the Representative of the Goddess Centeotl, the Parades of Regional Delegations through the streets of Oaxaca on the Saturdays before the Mondays on the Hill, the presentation of the ‘’Bani Stui Gulal’’ at la Plaza de la Danza (an open performance area in southwest of the city) wherein the ways in which Mondays on the Hill have been celebrated in various past periods are present along with the representations of various legends of the Oaxacan people such as ‘’Donaji…the Legend’’ (which focuses on the last Zapotec princess). Afterwords, the sporting events take place, including the classic cyclists who race a route through the streets of the city.
In modern times, as part of these activities, the dances of the Guelaguetza are emphasized. These dances are presented on the two Mondays following the Festival of the Virgin del Carmen on July 16th. The entire population of Oaxaca participates in this event, turning it into a festival which beautifies our city, patrimony of mankind.
However, the Lunes del Cerro Festival, which has prehispanic origins has not always been celebrated in the same way. We examine its history during the following periods:
Academics indicate, based on historical data, that the Lunes del Cerro Festivals have a long standing relationship with homage to Centeotl, the goddess of ripe corn who was established in the region by the Mexica (Aztecs) upon their arrival in 1498. However, some historians indicate that before the arrival of the Aztecs, a cult dedicated to a Zapotec deity of rain, Pitao Cozobi already existed, because of the previous existence of the Zapotecs in the area, this goddess’s antiquity could be greater.
The temple to Centeotl was located on what is today one of the slopes of the Fortin hill and was celebrated during the 8th month of the Zapotec calendar (western calendar month of July) with a ceremonial medly which includes the selection, deification and sacrifice of a young woman representing the goddess. This celebration took place in the midst of music, singing and dancing.
The Zapotecs, who also celebrated, at the same time of year, the goddess Pitao Cozobi, deity of rain and fertility of the fields, coincided with the ceremonies to Centeotl, if not in exact form, at least at heart. The preceding allows us to suppose that these festivals, held by the Mexica (Aztecs) from 1498 on, were immediate ancestors to our modern day Lunes del Cerro festivals.
Colonial Period and Independence
From the arrival of Spanish soldiers, Catholic priests attempted to erase every vestige of ‘’idolatry’’ and overcome the resistance of native people. For this reason, the Spanish founded the cult of the Virgin of Monte Carmelo to replace that of Centeotl, today called Carmen Alto, first constructing a hermitage called Santa Veracruz and, later, a Catholic temple in the exact location of the previous temple to Centeotl at the base of hill called, by the Zapotecs ‘’Dani Noayaa Loani’’ and, by the Spaniards, ‘’Cerro de la Bella Vista.’’
The Sunday following the 16th the traditional Procession de Corpus was celebrated and the Monday after was known as as ‘’the parade of the white lilies.’’ In this way, families became accostumbed to travelling to the Cerro de la Buena Vista to collect lilies for offerings to the Virgin and repeating the process 8 days later in the so called ‘’Octava,’’ or Mexican tradition that Catholic festivals be repeated 8 days after the original.
At the beginning of the 17th century, in the month of July, Catholic priests began to organize processions, parades and ‘’mojigangas,’’ in which they introduced the ‘’Tarasca,’’ which represented a dragon. Because this addition caused such fear and outrage, however, it was quickly removed and replaced by ‘’the Giants,’’ enormous dolls representing the different races of the world.
Following instructions given by the then bishop of Oaxaca, Don Tomás Montaño y Aarón, the dolls would dance, the afternoon of the first Sunday after the 16th of July, in the atrium of the temple of Carmen Alto, before a select audience. So that the rest of the population could also enjoy the dance of the giant dolls, another dance was performed the next day in a place called ‘’Petalillo,’’ also on the Fortin Hill. This took place from 1741 on, making it the first of the festivities attended by the people of Oaxaca on the Fortin hill. Because the dance open to the general public took place the day after Sunday, until present day the festivities have been celebrated on Monday.
Pre and Post-Revolutionary Periods
During this period, the external acts of the festival of Corpus del Carmen Alto, celebrated the first Monday after July 16 at the base of the Cerro del Fortin, included music, parades and a general coming together of the entire Oaxacan community. As time passed, new activities were gradually incorporated into the annual festivals. The entirety of Oaxacan society attended these parades and activities, all attempting to demonstrate their highest elegance. All members of Oaxacan society climbed the Fortin hill, including groups with names such as: "the lizards", "the cowboys" and "the Oaxacan Chinamen". As time passed, new activities were added but the idea that the festivities be held on Monday was always respected. It would be nothing more than approximation to name a specific year in which these activities began to be called, "the Festivals on the hill" but it is likely that this name dates from the colonial period.
Origins of the Dances of the "Guelaguetza"
The term Guelaguetza, the most important custom of the Oaxacan people, derives from the Zapotec term "guendalezaa", which means ‘’offering, present, fulfilment,’’ because, during colonial times, the wealthy Spanish elite had the legal right to receive the first and best of the harvest collected by the indigenous people working their lands. This first right to the crops was called the "Guelaguetza".
Also, in the towns of the Oaxacan region an ancient tradition exists that those invited to a party or event (such as a wedding, baptism or funeral) do not arrive empty handed but rather bring gifts of food, drink or money. These "cooperaciones" are not considered simply gifts but are rather recorded in a book so that the receiving party can reciprocate in kind during future events.
With this in mind, on April 25th, 1932 Oaxaca hosted the commemoration of the 400 year anniversary of its designation as a city according to the decree issued by Emperor Charles V of Spain at Medina de Ocampo.
To commemorate the event, a "Racial Homage" was organized and offered to the City of Oaxaca by Margarita Santaella, the so called "Señorita Oaxaca". During the event people from all regions of Oaxaca: la Costa, la Cañada, la Mixteca, la Sierra, the High Papaloapan, the Istmus and the Central Valleys, presented an exhibition at the base of the Fortin hill. Each group presented their principal traditional dances along with characteristic products of their lands such as fruits, handcrafts. All of these items were given to "Señorita Oaxaca" and to the audience at the end of each performance.
Why did this festival happen and why was it remembered with such joy by the people of the CIty of Oaxaca?
The reason was as follows: immediately before the event, on January 14th, 1931, the city had suffered through the worst earthquake of the century. The earthquake lasted four minutes and its intense destruction sowed fear and consternation in the city. Nearly 80 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed, the dead and injured were beyond count and the city was nearly abandoned by its residents.
Because of this, the Comemoration of the 400th anniversary along with the discovery of the treasures of Tomb 7 at the Monte Alban archeological site by Antonio Caso on Janaury 9th, 1932 were cause for great joy and had a soothing effect on the people of Oaxaca who still found themselves recovering from the previous years' disaster.
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