Thursday, October 30, 2008

On to the Altars . . .

No word on the luggage yet, so I’ve purchased clean underwear, shampoo, and a t-shirt. I must say my outlook has improved vastly.

Wandering around the city, I ran into several parades of small school children in costumes, complete with live marching bands!

Here, I accidentally also caught a proud mama with a camera phone!

Of course, I didn't actually come to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead to see cute little kids in costume - it's just a special bonus! I come in large part because of the art and craft of the region, and the specific crafts that emerge to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Like the altars constructed to honor the dead. What can I say? I'm a total sucker for those places where art and spirituality co-mingle.

So, today, I totally lucked upon groups of college students working hard on building altars full of Day of the Dead offerings as part of a contest. I wandered by several times during the day (as I got myself a comfort-food pizza, checked out some craft shops, etc.). As a result I was able to get shots of several of the altars in various states of construction. Several of them were laid out on the ground, and used flowers, dry beans, rice, and even mounds of dirt, shaped and colored with chalk, to create the images. All were constructed to either honor a specific dead person, or something important in history such as Mayan or Zapotec heritage. Here's one of my favorites, even though I have little understanding of its specific meaning:

They were working in teams, laughing and working together to get the altars built.

They had closed off a section of the street, and covered it with awnings.

Aren't the flowers gorgeous? It's mostly marigolds and cock's comb.

And this one is just mounded and colored dirt . . . from what I could make out, it was constructed to honor a faculty member who had died this year.

Look at how many people are working on it together!
Those are all people behind the lines, not spectators!

Here it is later.

Check out all the detail - from what I could see, they were taking colored chalk, ground very fine, and using tiny funnels to apply the details, and larger pieces of mesh to shake out color over the larger areas.

And here's another one - a "traditional" (ie, what I'm used to seeing) stepped altar. Depending on the intention of the builder, the steps in the altar can stand for five phases of life, the seven regions of Oaxaca, or the number of boxes available. The idea is that the beloved dead come here, take the essence of the offerings, and know that they are remembered and honored. Some builders put effort into representing Earth, Air (represented by the cut paper caught in the wind), Fire (candles), Water, and Spirit. It is also traditional to put things out that were enjoyed by the dead in life, such as fruits, bread, even cigarettes, as well as images of the dead or a sugar skull with their name written on it. Some will use candles, incense, and even pathways of marigold petals to guide the souls of the dead to the altars. Often, a mat is laid at the altar so that the dead can rest after their long journey.

Here, there are also live figures, beautifully costumed in Oaxacan garb!

Yes, I did see her stop to rest her arm for a few moments - and she smiled. It's not quite as serious as the Beefeater guards in London.

And the honored guest - with a Corona!

Everyone was snapping photos - touristas and locals alike! It was a wonderful creative, celebratory spectacle - and it was amazing to me that the students worked so hard together to put it all together, and then, only hours later, were tearing it all apart! I love to imagine that, when I pass, my loved ones might choose to remember me in such a joyful - and crafty - way.


Serena Barton said...

Wow, Bridget, I didn't know you are in Oaxaca! I'm going there in December but wish I were there now! Thanks for these incredible photos.

gl. said...

fabulous! yes, things are definitely looking up.

"I love to imagine that, when I pass, my loved ones might choose to remember me in such a joyful - and crafty - way." hmmmm... this gives me ideas. sven & i spend this time of year reviewing our health proxies & living wills, etc. maybe we should add "art/craft memorial" to the list. ;)

serena, you're going, too? what fun!

BoneFolder said...

Wow. I'm jealous (except for the luggage and delays part). This looks fantastic. No wonder de Meng trips down there every year (bumped into him yet?)

We've had a pretty good halloween -- I had a cool costume and went to a big steampunk thingy going on locally, and tonight we made sugar skulls and strung up Mexican paper banners -- but so weedy and pathetic compared to your pictures.

Michael5000 said...


The part about the cute kids was much like Mrs.5000 and my simultaneous trip to Hood River, but once you got to the alters you definitely won the exotic trip prize!