Purepecha fiesta in Ajijic, Jalisco
– When going to war doesn’t work, try winning by artistic merit…
“Way back when”, in the mists of history, Lake Chapala was a frontier zone, a Mexican equivalent of the Wild West. Neighboring tribes of pre-Columbian Indian tribes fought over its shores, and its resources, with control swinging from one tribe to another over the centuries. To the west were the Colima Indians, to the east the Purepecha, who eventually came to dominate a vast swathe of west central Mexico, with dominion over a territory that stretched at one time as far as the shores of Lake Chapala in the west, and the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the south. At its maximum extent, the boundaries of the Purepecha “kingdom” closely paralleled the present-day boundaries of the state of Michoacán.
We can’t prove that the Purepecha ever fought or traded in Ajijic, but they certainly did so in the viciinity of Tizapán el Alto on the lake’s southern shore.
The Purepecha are a tenacious people and have held on to more of their ancient culture, language and traditions than most Indian tribes in Mexico. This culture includes a love of art and making things with their hands. Skills they’d developed to mold clay, fashion copper items and compose superb examples of feathered art were re-employed, after the arrival of the Spaniards, in weaving, basketwork and carpentry.
They may not have conquered Ajijic in the old days, but the Purepecha never gave up. They didn’t even ever surrender to the mighty Aztecs. Now, they are seeking to take Ajijic by artistic stealth, beginning next month when a special Purepecha Fiesta is to be held in Ajijic plaza.
The Fiesta begins on October 12, “Dia de La Raza” (literally “Day of our Race”), a national holiday observing the survival and resistance of the indigenous Mexican. (Forget about Columbus Day in Mexico; without Columbus, the Purepecha, or the Aztec, of another of Mexico’s hundreds of Indian tribes, might have ruled all of North America by now). This year, the Purepecha and the Pueblo of Ajijic will celebrate their roots together.
This is the first Purepecha Fiesta to be held in Ajijic. The Fiesta seeks to recognize the rich contributions of the Purepecha community to the heritage and culture of the region. It is hoped that the event will offer everyone an opportunity to bridge cultural separations and participate in the ancestral traditions of the Purepecha Nation, once the second largest empire in Mexico. The people of the highlands will bring their traditions not as a commercial event, but as a sharing of their culture, accompanied by tradional foods, music and dances. There will be storytelling and poems in the Purepecha language, with spoken translations in Spanish and English. The director of Radio Xepur, the Purepecha language radio station in Cheran, will talk on the importance of community radio. The Fiesta is also an opportunity to learn more about the millenia of practical wisdom amassed by their “curanderos”, or herbal medicine practicioners.
For the Fiesta to succeed, community support is vital. We are invited to participate with them in a procession from the Temple of Guadalupe near Seis Esquinas (Six Corners) to the Ajijic Plaza. A colorful carpet of flowers will adorn the street from the bank to the Ajijic San Andres Church. Some sixty artisans will demonstrate their artistic techniques (ceramics, weaving, mask making) in the Paseo de los Artistas and master-craftsmen in folk art from all over Michoacan will present a week long feria of their skills and artwork from October 12-20. Many regions of Michoacán will be represented and this will present a wonderful occasion to acquire unusual works of art for your collection or to pick up holiday gifts for friends and relatives.
The State of Michoacán Handicrafts “Casa” is covering the costs of transportation. Additional contributions towards the expenses of mounting the Fiesta are being sought from the community. The tickets of sponsors (asked to contribute 1,000 pesos or more) and donors (200 pesos) function as raffle tickets for a number of prizes offered by community businesses. Tickets can be bought in advance at several locations in Ajijic and will also be available in Ajijic Plaza at the start of the fiesta. All profits will go to the indigenous communities to help support and preserve their traditions. This effort comes at a time when indigenous communitites are under particularly severe economic stress. Purchasing an advance ticket will give you special privileges on October12. In addition, your ticket will be entered in a raffle for a framed vintage 1943 silver gelatin photograph from the famous Neill James archives, taken during her travels in the Purepecha region. An entertaining account of her Purepecha travels is included in Neill James’ “Dust on my Heart”, reprinted in 1997 by the Lake Chapala Society.