The Zoque Coiteco Carnival is one of the most representative celebrations of the town of Ocozocoautla Espinoza, also known as Coitus, located 20 minutes away from the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. Ocozocoautla is bordered on the north with Tecpatan, the south with Villaflores, the east with Berriozabal, Tuxtla Gutierrez and Suchiapa, and the west by Jiquipilas and Cintalapa. The ethnic group the Zoque, appear to be similar with the ancient Olmecs. Today, that are scattered mainly throughout the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Oaxaca and Veracruz.
The Zoque Carnival begins on the seventh Friday before Ash Wednesday, and can last up to one week. This period of celebration shows religious elements from the three cultures that make up the identity of the region: the Zoque, Arabic and Spanish, the latter which were introduced after the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. The Dominicans were responsible for the evangelizing of the region.
This celebration brings together traditional musicians and dancers, dressed in flamboyant and colorful costumes and stylized masks with human faces, which honor Tajaj Jama, whose name in the Zoque language means Father Sun. Their rituals symbolize the struggle between good and evil, between the Moors and Christians, which is why the main characters represented are Muhammad, David, and the horse of Arab-Spanish origins, and the tiger, jaguar, and monkey of Zoque origin.
The musical instruments used during the carnival are the drum, and a reed with 24 notes, traditional Zoque instruments that symbolize the beating of life and the whistling wind.
Description of the characters:
MUHAMMAD: He carries a large wooden machete with a bloodstain, a mask, a cochombí hat, a cape and leggings used as a blanket. There are two Muhammads, one representing San Antonio and one that represents the Virgin of the Nativity.
DAVID: A colorfully dressed child. He has a bag, a machete, a crossbow and a sling with which he beats Goliath.
THE HORSE: Represents the apostle Santo Domingo and he carries a horse-shaped frame, twisted ribbon, and a machete.
THE TIGER: He wears a flashy suit made of ribbons, boots or sandals, and a tiger’s head, usually of painted cloth, resembling the skin and face of the jaguar.
THE MONKEY: Represented by a child whose costume consists of a hat and black clothes, shoes or sandals, a head scarf, a wooden mask in the form of a black and white or white and red spider monkey. The monkey symbolizes the vitality, joy and above all the ancestral roots.
Muhammad and the dancers represent the soldiers of the giant Goliath. David and the dancers represent the soldiers of Israel.
The Zoque Carnival’s other events: Coronation of the Queen of Carnival, Mohammed Golden Award, Queen’s parade and floats, and Visits to the Cohuinás (the chiefs houses). The Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday.
(Photographs: provided by the State of Chiapas Secretary of Tourism for the promotion of the entity).