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Mexico. The Mexicaneros. A space in time

The Mexicaneros, are an ethnic group, who keep their traditions and costumes alive through celebrations, dances, and rituals.

The Mexicaneros are an ethnic group currently settled in three villages: Santa Cruz, in the state of Nayarit, San Agustin de San Buenaventura and San Pedro Jícoras in the southeast of the state of Durango. They speak a variant of the Nahuatl language. Their origins are still uncertain. According to some researchers, they are of Tlaxcalteca origin, some others think they come from the sierra where Nahaua peoples settled during the colonial period.

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According to other sources, they are a Nahua population of Jalisco who withdrew into the mountains during the same period. Whatever their origins are, the fact is that the Mexicaneros are a group that culturally belongs to the Flecheros, and their beliefs are based on Mesoamerican mythology.

Agricultural ceremonies

The Mexicaneros practise rainfed agriculture in stony soils. The land is left fallow for ten years before reuse. They mainly grow corn, together with pumpkins and beans. The agricultural work is run by one family or extended families. Agricultural ceremonies are fundamental to strengthen social links among the group. The mitotes, the xuravet or ‘custom’ are ceremonies to ask for rain, health and good harvests. These ceremonies, which are basically a request for life, take place in courtyards owned by some families, or in a communal area located in the political-religious centre of their land. From one to five ceremonies are held during each of the five periods of the year. The communal mitotes are: the plume xuravet or iwit (held between February-March), the water xuravet or at (held between May-June) and the Elotes xuravet or elot (held betweenSeptember-October).

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Fasts and abstinences are required to attend these ceremonies, which generally last five days and are directed by the oldest man of the courtyard or patio, who has been trained for five years to be in charge of these events for life. During the period of agricultural ceremonies, villagers offer some flowers and a log, every morning for four days. They put their offerings on an altar, which is oriented to the east.
The oldest man of the patio says prayers in the morning, at noon and in the evening; that is when the sun rises, when it is at its zenith, and when it sets.
In the evening of the fourth day dances start. Everybody, men, women and children dance all night to the rhythm of five music styles and the “Deer Dance” around a bonfire. These rhythms require to be played by a skilled musician, who uses a large gourd as a sound amplifier, and a wooden bow with a rope made from ixtle material. The bow is placed on the gourd and the musician taps it with small sticks. The music styles are Pájaro amarillo, Pluma, Tamal, Venado y Estrella grande.

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Dances end at sunrise, with ‘the fall of the deer’. This dance is performed by a man who carries on his back a deerskin and holds in his hands, the head of the animal. The man represents the deer chased by another person disguised as a dog. The deer plays pranks on the participants. Overnight, the oldest woman of the patio prepares the ‘chuina’, the ritual meal, which consists of deer meat mixed with dough. The old woman is helped by other women of the community. At dawn, the oldest man and oldest woman of the patio wash the face and the stomach of participants with water. The ceremony ends with the words of a ritual specialist who reminds people that abstinences must be observed for four days more to ‘comply’ with the divinities’ will. The rite and prayers reflect how the members of this group feel extremely linked to nature. Hills, water, sun, fire, the big star, Jesus Christ, and the action of man, guarantee human existence.

Civic celebrations

The Mexicaneros celebrate many civic feasts and patronal festivals: such as the Candelaria, Carnival, Easter, San Pedro, Santiago and Santur. People, annually appointed, are in charge of the organization of these events.
These festivals generally last for eight days, but it takes one year for their organization. During the two days before, the day before, and the day when dances start, those in charge of the celebrations offer food to the saints, and organize the ‘Palma y Paño’ dance performed by young people along with a ‘Malinche’. They are dressed in colourful clothes, and wear elaborated China paper crowns. The dance, which is a complex dialogue between music and dance movements, is accompanied by a violin, and it is also performed during processions.

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During the Holy Week, which is the week before Easter, several abstinences must be observed. People are not supposed to eat meat, or to touch the river water because it symbolizes the blood of Christ, and listening to music is also forbidden.
On the ‘Holy Saturday’, some musicians gather in the church, and play five polkas accompanied by a violin, guitars and a bass guitar. During the procession that follows some organizers carry images, some others shoot fireworks. After the processions the organizers carry large baskets with clothes of saints. They go to the river, burn a firework to symbolize that from that moment people are allowed to touch the river water again.
The organizers wash the clothes of the saints and hang them to dry on the bushes nearby. They also offer to the attendees some “guachicol” or” mezcal”, a distilled alcoholic beverage produced in the region. Then the images are brought back to the temple and the clean clothes are put away.

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Another popular festival among the Mexicaneros is the Santur festival or the festival of the Dead or Feast of Ancestors. On this occasion, people build private altars at home where they put offerings. They also prepare some small tortillas with zucchini, corn cobs and peas. They honour the deceased by visiting graves and bringing the food they prepared, candles and javielsa flowers, which they pick up on their way to the cemetery. After visiting graves, people reach the church where they make other offerings and light some candles.
On the occasion of the feast of Saint Peter, which is observed on 29 June, many people arrive from other communities, since many miracles are attributed to this Patron Saint. People look forward to the feast of Saint Peter, which marks the beginning of the rainy season. The organizers of the event offer beef stew at noon and music from hired musicians. In the evening a procession with dances is held. Everybody attends the celebrations: authorities, and the entire population. At the conclusion of the procession, a large number of fireworks are burst into varied arrays of colour, lighting up the sky. Each feast marks a space in time among the Mexicaneros.(J.L.)

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