Friday, July 15, 2011


   The Guelaguetza, or Los lunes del cerro (Mondays of the Hill) is an annual cultural celebration in Mexico that takes place in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca and nearby villages. The celebration includes parades complete with walking bands and the marketing of food, statewide artisanal production, and souvenirs, but centers on traditional dancing in costume in groups, often groups of only one sex. Each costume and dance usually has a local historical and cultural meaning. Although the celebration is an important tourist attraction, especially in the capital city of Oaxaca, it also retains significant independent cultural importance for the people of the state.

Oaxaca has a large indigenous population, 40 percent, compared to 15 percent for Mexico as a whole. Indigenous culture in the state remains strong in its own right, with over 300,000 people in the state who are monolingual in indigenous languages. Unlike the Yucatán, where the indigenous culture consists of closely related groups of Mayans, the indigenous people in Oaxaca are from many different cultures speaking mutually unintelligible languages. The celebration dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish

and remains a defining characteristic of Oaxacan culture.   Its origins come from celebrations related to the worship of corn.  Communities from within the state of Oaxaca gather to present their regional culture in the form of music, costumes, dances, and food. It is the most famous event of its kind in Mexico.
   Like many indigenous traditions in Mexico, this festival was adapted to Catholic traditions after the conquest. The sacrifice of a virgin slave girl was eliminated, and the Guelaguetza became a celebration in honor of the Virgin del Carmen. After a terrible earthquake in the 1920s that destroyed most of the city, the festival was re-organized as a statewide cultural event to rebuild the morale of the people.  It began to take on a

more modern form as a display of each region's unique dance, and became more of a show than a spontaneous festival. In the 1970s a stadium dedicated to the festival was built on a prominent place on Fortin Hill in the center of the city. Foreign and national tourism became increasingly popular when Oaxaca became a UNESCO world heritage city in 1987 and when a modern limited access highway was built into the city in November 1994. Before the highway, transportation was so slow that it was virtually impossible to go to Oaxaca from Mexico City for a weekend trip.

   The celebration takes place on consecutive Mondays at the end of July in towns around the state and in the capital city's open-air amphitheater built into the "Cerro del Fortín", a hill that overlooks central Oaxaca. In 2010 this tradition will be changed as the venue will instead be the soccer stadium. The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and is usually interpreted as the "reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services". The literal translation from Teotitlan del Valle is 'Tortilla de Milpa Zapoteca' or the tortilla from the Zapotec farm.

Dates celebrated
   Each year the Guelaguetza is celebrated on the two Mondays immediately following July 16, except when the first Monday falls on July 18, the day on which Benito Juárez died. Out of respect for Oaxaca's most famous son, the celebrations are postponed for one week, falling on July 25 and August 1 (as occurred in 2005).   However, side events associated with the festival,such as concerts, are held all during the month of July.


   As the festival became a bigger tourist attraction, there was an inevitable backlash from purists that saw the ancient traditions being used for commercial purposes. There is a subgroup that vocally pushes for a populist Guelaguetza, or a return to the more spontaneous celebrations of the pre-Columbian era. The 2005 decision to conduct two performances a day for each of the two Mondays, was perceived by many traditionalists as a blatant attempt accommodate more ticket purchasing tourists.

   The commercialization of indigenous culture is hardly unique to Oaxaca. The Hawaiian luau and hula dances and the Flamenco dances in southern Spain are other prime examples. In Oaxaca, where there is conflict between some groups and the state, the festival can become a focal point of contention.

   Due to protests against the state government led by the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, which were met with State Violence, the State-Sponsored Guelaguetza was not held at the Cerro del Fortín as planned in 2006, but instead a free, "Popular Guelaguetza" was held by APPO. The 2007 celebration was boycotted by APPO, and attempts to hold a Popular Guelaguetza were thwarted by government police repression, including the killing of at least one attendee and disappearance of many others