Monday is the start of the 82nd Guelaguetza (Zapotec meaning “to share”) here in Oaxaca. This festival is probably the most popular in the jam-packed Oaxacan calendar of events and brings thousands of people from all over the state of Oaxaca to celebrate their traditional dances, clothing and foods.
In communities such as Teotitlan del Valle, the system of Guelaguetza, or reciprocal exchange is also used when there is a celebration that requires a lot of different items, or expensive items. For example, if your family is to host an event, you might go to your neighbours, family and friends and ask for help in buying different items, knowing that when it is their turn to host a festival or celebration, you will also help them with their obligation. Each person’s offering, or “guelaguetza” allows the celebration to take place, and reinforces the community bonds in these traditional pueblos.
Because there are so many different indigenous communities in Oaxaca, not all pueblos are invited to officially take part each year – ensuring that every year different communities get to showcase their traditional dances and music. Different groups who may not be invited to dance as part of the main auditorium will still come to Oaxaca and perform in calendas (street parades) in the streets of central Oaxaca, giving people a chance to see their regional dances and music.
Walking through the streets north of the zocalo in the evenings this week you are likely to run into an impromptu calenda. Women holding straw baskets on their heads as they dance in perfect formation, men dressed entirely in white with bright scarves at their necks, and a marching band following close behind to provide musical accompaniment for the dancers.
Of course, with most festivals here – hey what am I thinking – ALL festivals here, there are cohetes; the exploding rockets set off from the rear of parades, near churches, outside your house at 3am, it doesn’t matter. I am guaranteed, regardless of the cause or country, to think of Oaxaca forevermore every time I jump startled by a random loud bang.