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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> Indigenous Dance in Michoacan 2020 for El Año Nuevo y el Niño Jesus tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Indigenous Dance in Michoacan 2020 for El Año Nuevo y el Niño Jesus

Michoacán is one of the more challenging places to document indigenous culture, as the government isn’t into promoting these events. Most of them are located in the Meseta (Plateau) Purépecha. These rural villages are located about one to two and half hours west of Pátzcuaro. Many of the dances in this area date from the 16th century. It’s always an adventure to travel to one of these villages hoping you have arrived the day the event is going to take place.

The first place I visited was San Lorenzo on January 1st where the people in the village celebrated the New Year along with the birth of the Baby Jesus. One of the most interesting activities is watching young men getting dressed as female Maringuilla dancers. These dancers represent the Virgin Mary. This elaborate undertaking takes at least two hours to dress the young men in various skirts, aprons, blouses, a head wrap, jewelry, hair ribbons, a hat, rebozo and the mask. They stood on a straw mat underneath the portal where they hung onto a rope to steady themselves as the clothing was added piece by piece.

Once this was completed they and the Cúrpite (male) dancers met up with the group of the Negrito (male) dancers on the plaza who were accompanied by the Mayordomo of the village and various authorities. Four women carried an anda (a procession float) with a Virgin surrounded by fresh flowers in the procession. It was a lively day with joyous music and food.

My next adventure was to visit Nurio and Sevina on January 3rd. When I did this same trip last year, I was unable to photograph the dance of the Ermitanos in Nurio as I arrived the day after the fiesta. The Ermitanos are also young men who wear a real fox skin mask over their face, a tall pointed dunce hat and cross-stitch embroidered aprons trimmed with lace draped around their shoulders as capes and around their waists. Much to my surprise when I arrived in Nurio a fiesta was taking place. Little girls, boys and women were dancing arm and arm and running down the streets accompanied by a live band. The dance of the Ermitanos was going to take place at 3:00 that afternoon, but I had an appointment to met Manuel Valencia, a master mask maker in Sevina to photograph the Danza of the Negritos. Fortunately, the last day of the fiesta in Nurio would be the next day and the Ermitanos would dance again at 3:00.

When I arrived in Sevina I met Manuel Valencia at his home. He has won numerous awards for his masks when he participates in the concurso in Uruapan during the Domingo de Ramos Feria and the concurso during La Noche de Animas in Pátzcuaro. He usually receives first place for his masks. The Danza de los Negritos was quite interesting as the dancers wore masks with pink skin, blue eyes along with gold beards and mustaches that represented the Spanish and they wore black suits. After they danced, there was a large dance presentation on the plaza in front of the church with the Negritos and other masked dancers with live music.

When I returned to Nurio on January 4th, once again I saw the children and women running in the street. Lunch was served to everyone there including my driver and myself. Three o’clock rolled around and there was no sign of the Ermitanos. In the past, I’ve discovered the police know more than anyone else about an event. When I asked them when the dance was going to take place, they told me it had been canceled. They canceled it because the dancers had gotten too violent and drunk the day before so they locked them up. When this dance takes place the dancers huddle in a pack and they take on the role of the fox and become violent. Once again, I was unable to document this dance.

On January 5th I returned to Sevina again to photograph their version of the Pastorela dance. In the past, the dance was made up of four little girls and boys depicting shepherds trying to make their way to visit Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus. Along the way they are stopped by three devils who want to halt their journey. The devils are slain by St. Michael with the aid of an emitano known as a hermit who dresses all in purple. In the past the children were dressed all in white and they carried a thickly decorated tinsel staffs called a bacul. A little boy portrayed Saint Michael. The devils and the ermitano were adults. In Sevina, the pastorela dance was completely different. In place of the three devils there were Chele dancers, which are unique to this village. There were two teenage boys depicting Saint Michael and at least six ermitanos. In Sevina, the shepherds were only little girls and they didn’t carry a bacul. The remaining dancers were teenage girls and boys dressed in folkloric traje wearing sombreros. Prior to visiting Sevina to photograph their version of the Pastorela dance, I had no idea this dance varies in other parts of Michoacán.

On January 6th I returned to Ihuatizo for El Día de los Tres Reyes (3 Kings Day). This is a lively event where both men and women go from house to house to dance in the courtyard first and then they dance in front of the nacimiento in each of the homes. A live band accompanied them. The women who wear traditional clothing in Michoacán are called “guares”. The men who danced were called “los capateros”. They danced arm in arm. They represented the three kings. A masked viejo dancer who rang a bell guarded the women dancers. In each home food and alcohol was served. In some of the homes a piñata was broken or plastic beach balls were thrown from the second story of the home to the crowd below.

On January 7th I went to Angahuan to photograph their dance concurso between the two barrios of the village. The dancers in this village are small boys and teenagers. The word “cúrpite” translates to those who come together. When I arrived they were having lunch in the casa del carguero, the home of the people who sponsor the fiesta. Some of the little boys were open to having me take their portrait, but the majority of them told me “no”. After lunch dancing took place in the casa accompanied by a live band. Once this was done they walked down to the plaza to compete with the other barrio. The dance was divided into two categories, one for children and another for the teenagers. Within each category there was the dance of the “feos” (boys in tattered clothing and wearing masks), the Cúrpites, the Viejitos, the Maringuillas and then a Viejito dancing with a Maringuilla dancer. As it was getting late, I didn’t photograph the teenagers in the concurso. What I particularly enjoy about Angahuan are all the nacimientos they have set up in the atrium of the church. The church and the nearby huatápera hospital were built in the 16th century. The church was beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, which lasts until El Día de Candelaria on February 2nd. After this date, all the nacimientos are taken down in all of the homes and churches.

Finally, my last outing was on January 8th to photograph the concurso of the Kúrpites in Nuevo San Juan Paragaricutiro, which is west of Uruapan. The Kúrpites dress differently in this area of Michoacán. I had no idea that this was a major city rather than a rural indigenous community. I obtained a press pass to photograph the event, but the main event, which was the competition of the Kúrpites, wasn’t going to start until 2:00pm and I arrived at 10:30am. I was told that 80 photographers and many TV crews would be there for the main event. We were only allowed to take photos in a specific area. The platform was so tall I couldn’t see the feet of the folkloric dancers who performed before the main act. Due to the upcoming crowd, heat and I had to wait another hour and a half; I decided to return to Pátzcuaro. I really enjoy taking photos in a more intimate setting.

It was a very busy time experiencing all of these beautiful and unique customs of indigenous culture in Michoacán.

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Waiting for the procession in San Lorenzo
Waiting for the procession in San Lorenzo
Two Negrito Dancers
Two Negrito Dancers
Música
Música
Adding ribbons
Adding ribbons
Carrying the anda
Carrying the anda
Adding the hair ribbons
Adding the hair ribbons
Children in procession
Children in procession
Andas inside the capilla
Andas inside the capilla
Entering the plaza with Mayordomo
Entering the plaza with Mayordomo
Dressed for the procession
Dressed for the procession
The procession
The procession
A group effort
A group effort
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