Discovering La Guelaguetza

Music festivals in many places around the world focus on popular bands and professional recording artists. The event is not so much about experiencing a culture, but partying with your favorite music and fellow fans. Those festivals have their place, but they are no comparison to the atmosphere and cultural enlightenment you can experience at La Guelaguetza!

Every year, performers from seven different regions of the Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced WA’HAKA) gather to dance, sing, and display their cultures to thousands of onlookers in Oaxaca City. Oaxaca is a diverse part of Mexico, where 16 people groups make their home. During La Guelaguetza, this diversity is celebrated as everyone cheers on the many indigenous cultures represented.

The Guelaguetza is a celebration in which representatives from the many communities of Oaxaca come together and celebrate the diversity of their traditions and cultures. Suzanne Barbezat, Mexico Travel Expert

Origins of a Grand Festival

The word “Guelaguetza” comes from the Zapotec language. It means gift, sympathy, affection, cooperation, offering, and includes the concept of exchange or reciprocity. Traditionally, villagers would come together for a public event like a wedding, and everyone would contribute something to the festivities. The food, decorations, entertainment and more were a shared responsibility between everyone who attended. This cooperation lightened the burden on the “host” family and deepened the bond between family and friends alike.

Guelaguetza began well before the Spanish colonial times of the 1500s. The Mixtec peoples developed rituals to worship the corn goddess, Centeotl, concluding the celebration with the sacrifice of a virgin slave girl. After the Spaniards moved in and formed colonies, the Catholic missionaries persuaded the people to adopt a new tradition: a feast day dedicated to the Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). The modern Guelaguetza festival vividly shows this morphing of the festival over time — through storytelling, folklore, dancing, and music.

Guelaguetza in 2016

Guelaguetza will be held July 25 – August 1, 2016. The festival always takes place from Monday to Monday, usually the first Monday after July 16. A huge amphitheater, with seats for 11,400 spectators, sits up on the hill above the city of Oaxaca and plays host to the festivities. Part of the amphitheater has a roof, but most of the audience will be exposed to direct sunlight. When you come, be sure to wear a large hat and put on some sunscreen.

Each of the seven regions represented in the festival come with their best dancers decked out in brightly colored costumes. After each performance of song and dance, the performers toss out gifts to the crowd. These gifts are always some small token representing their culture: fruit, handicrafts, or other trinkets from their region.

Some of the dances you should watch for are:

The Dance of the Pineapple Flower (Flor de Piña)
The Dance of the Bull vs. the Bullfighters (Torito Serrano)
The Dance of the Bottle (Jarabe de la Botella)
The Dance of the Feather (Danza de la Pluma)

The whole festival includes parades, arts, crafts, and food. “Oaxaca is internationally known amongst food connoisseurs as having exceptionally delicious cuisine. Tantalizing Oaxacan dishes typically feature exotic mole sauces accompanied by fragrant aromas.” Textiles, ceramics, and other handicrafts show off the amazing talents and beauty of these indigenous peoples of Mexico. Much of their art plays an active role in the processions, as seen in the monos de calenda. These are the huge puppets made out of paper mâché on top of a clothed frame.

Guelaguetza has become a major tourist attraction, and is the most famous indigenous celebration in Mexico. Come check it out! If you’re looking for a cultural experience, you won’t be disappointed!


More about Oaxaca: Cooking classes & Must do’s

Where to Stay

Casa Divina Oaxaca is a charming and intimate resort located four blocks from the many fascinating historic sites and wonderful restaurants of downtown Oaxaca. The resort, located within a lovingly restored 19th-century Oaxacan home, reflects the culture of this fascinating city. Authentic Oaxacan art hangs from sun-dried clay walls, making Casa Divina Oaxaca truly feel like a home away from home. Oaxaca is a historic and cultural marvel famous for its spectacular architecture and delicious food. Immerse yourself in this magical place at Casa Divina Oaxaca.

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