Guelaguetza is the greatest festival held in the marvelous state of Oaxaca; a giant celebration where the culture and traditions create an incomparable rainbow of colors.
The origins of this internationally sized festival appear to lie in the colonial era, closely related to the festival of Corpus of the Temple of Carmen Alto, a temple belonging to the order of Carmelites, set in the foothills known to the Zapotecas of the region as Bella Vista (beautiful view). This celebration in the era of New Spain would take place on the Monday following the 16th of July, and then again eight days later, which they called la octava, or the eighth.
The enthusiasm of the indigenous people of the city spurred them on to take part in the festival, making the town of the indigenous of Guaxaca the most prominent among other neighboring towns. To the north of this settlement the Marquesado del Valle was founded in 1521 upon the orders of Hernan Cortés, whose land was conceded by the King of Spain and that of Xochimilco, allowing Guaxaca to be considered the capital of the region.
The indigenous people of the town jealously guarded their traditions, giving special emphasis to a celebration in which great offerings and honor were paid to Centeotl, the god of sweet corn. However the collision of cultures due to the era of conquest and colonization was to transform the idiosyncrasy of the indigenous people, causing over the passing of time a blending of ideas and beliefs.
Such a process was in the hands of the evangelicals, who, in order to make the imposition of their catholic rituals more acceptable, allowed the formation of a culture in which elements of the indigenous traditions could be incorporated. The external ecclesiastic acts were much more festive and spectacular, thus achieving the gradual incorporation of the regional tribes into the Christian faith, which the European conquerors so eagerly introduced. And thus two very different cultures gave life to a festival in which all of Oaxaca participates, proudly celebrating the heritage of their predecessors and glorifying the union of the townships which all were born under the same sky.
The Guelaguetza of the Lunes del Cerro represents the offering by the representative groups of the seven traditional regions to the city of Oaxaca. These regions are the central valley region, Sierra Juarez, La Canada, Tuxtepec, La Mixteca, La Costa and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, all of which form representative delegations which display their cultural patrimony through dance, lively music, traditional song and full regional dress.
The word Guelaguetza is a zapoteca one which means to participate cooperatively: a gift which holds no obligation other than reciprocity. This is why Guelaguetza is the greatest festival where the people of Oaxaca celebrate with such gusto As each delegation finishes its artistic presentation, they hand out to the members of the public their own Guelaguetza , made up of characteristic objects from their respective regions.
Other folkloric shows have recently been incorporated into the Guelaguetza festivals, much to the delight of the public. One example is the delegation parade, which is organized according to the traditional calendar, and takes place the Saturday before each Monday. A large round lantern covered in material called la Marmota leads the parade, followed by the giants and the China Oaxaqueña, women from the city carrying baskets overflowing with beautiful flowers, accompanied by a musical band and the joyful fireworks masters. The rest of the delegations follow the procession, each one preceded by traditional music from its region.
In the course of the morning of that same Saturday, a contest is held in the historical center, which delights the audience: a representative of the god Centéotl is chosen, who will preside over the festivities, and who, for this honor, will be accompanied by 7 women who represent the chosen one’s region. The participants do not compete in a beauty contest per say, despite dressing proudly and sumptuously in their regional dress and displaying their great beauty. The worthy representative of the “god of sweet corn” shall be the one who best represents their region and who is most familiar with their traditions.
The Bani stui gulal , which means repeat of antiquity, is a presentation which takes place on the Sunday night, explaining the history of the Lunes del Cerro throughout the ages. Some hours later, at 5:00 am on Monday morning, the chirimiteros of the central valleys play the song Las Mananitas (a traditional Mexican birthday song) with whistles, drums and maracas until the night gives in to the heat of the rising sun. People go to the hill, they enjoy a succulent Oaxacan breakfast before entering the auditorium where the audience is invited to a preview of the marimba and chirimiteros, and at 10:00 am the Guelaguetza begins. And as night falls in the auditorium there is a presentation of the legend of Princess Donaji; daughter of the Zapotec King Cosijoeza and the Mexican princess Coyolicatzin.
There is so much to see in Guelaguetza Between the first Monday and “the eighth” there are many different activities, such as food shows, handicrafts or sports events, exhibitions, concerts and presentations of customs and traditions from the most diverse Oaxacan communities which lay spread across this state so rich in history.
On “the eighth”, or the second Lunes del Cerro, the delegation parade, the Bani stui gulal , the Guelaguetza and the Legend of the Princess Donají are repeated. The common enthusiasm of the people of Oaxaca to preserve their ancient traditions is overflowing in the Lunes del Cerro festivities!
The Guelaguetza of the Lunes del Cerro is an incomparable event, of wide reaching cultural influence for Oaxaca and the world, attracting thousands of visitors to a multicolored cultural cradle whose charm never fails to delight. A city whose roots are a mixture of indigenous spirit and the great constructive work of the Spanish conquerors; a center of feverish activity which welcomes visitors with joy; a city of incomparable beauty and soft harmony thanks to its characteristic architecture; the unforgettable city of Oaxaca, home of the Guelaguetza.