The ancient cities that pepper the Yucatan may be abandoned, but the heart of the Maya beats strong throughout the area and timeless traditions spring to life. Meet the Maya and see how they live by witnessing Momentos Sagrados Mayas or Sacred Mayan Moments, a community theater production featuring over 200 actors of all ages from seven different villages in eastern Yucatan. This moving and colorful event is a celebration of village life, customs, faith and festivities and takes place on Sundays at 4 p.m. from January 20 to March 10 in the village of Xocen, a 30-minute drive from the colonial town of Valladolid.
Village Life in Xocen
Thatched homes, each with its own tiny garden and huerta or orchard where hens, turkeys and pigs scrabble for food under orange, lime, guava and mango trees, line the streets of Xocen. The ubiquitous tricycle taxis ferry people around the village, men work in the milpas or cornfields and women go about their household chores, grinding corn to prepare tortillas for the family meal.
As the sun sets, villagers down tools and join visitors making their way to a clearing in the forest. Dotted with trees and Mayan huts, the grassy bowl is a natural stage for Sacred Mayan Moments, a < portrayal of Mayan life performed by over 200 actors hailing from communities in eastern Yucatan.
Community Theater Momentos Sagrados Mayas is a theater production staged by actors from the community and written and directed by Maria Alicia Martinez Medrano of the Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena (Rural and Indigenous Community Theater Workshop), an arts group founded in 1983 as part of a community development project in Oxolotan, Tabasco. The group has worked with communities in nine Mexican states, including Tabasco, Sinaloa, the state of Mexico, Morelos and Yucatan, and has trained more than 22,000 actors over the last 30 years.
The work of the Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena has received glowing reviews at home and abroad and the group is best known for its performances of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and for Blood Weddings, by Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Two hundred actors from villages in Tabasco performed the play in Central Park, New York and in Lorca’s birthplace, the village of FuenteVaqueros, in Granada, Spain. Members of the group have been studying Mayan traditions in the Yucatán for more than 20 years, with the aim of bringing them to the public eye through community theater performances and of preserving legends, dance steps, music, garments, rituals and festivals for posterity. The view is that communities may benefit financially from the performances, which represent a source of income to supplement traditional activities such as agriculture and beekeeping. Organizers also hope that the pride that older people feel for their culture will be strengthened and passed on to younger generations. Sacred Mayan Moments is a work in constant evolution, telling the story of today’s Maya.
Bey’o’oná: this is our story
From the village elders and the h’men or Mayan priest to the smallest child, the actors in Sacred Mayan Moments are of all ages. Some of them live in Xocen and the others hail from neighboring villages such as Dzitnup, San Silverio and Tikuch. They come together to tell a tale of corn and copal incense, of dreams woven into the threads of a hammock or the delicate embroidery of a huipil, of solemn worship, the celebration of life and the explosion of sound and color that heralds the village fiesta.
Different vignettes or scenes of village life are reenacted, and include the appearance of the H’menes or Mayan priests who greet the dawn with offerings of copal and perform a ritual requesting divine protection for the village. They kneel before a cross, which is draped with a shawl according to Mayan custom, and pray to God and the saints who watch over the community.
A procession of standard bearers headed by the priests, the village authorities and the leaders of the gremios or guilds takes to the stage. Their white garments contrast with the bright colors of their banners as they parade past the audience. They leave their flags center stage at the foot of a ceiba, the sacred tree of the Maya. A series of scenes involving different members of the community follows. Children play and women approach the altar with offerings of flowers and flickering candles. Young girls gather in the shade of the ceiba to gossip and giggle at their admirers who sidle past showing off and casting longing looks in their direction. A wife pursues her drunken husband and his compadre, shaking her fist and scolding the irresponsible pair with a tirade of insults. Woodcutters, hammock weavers and embroiderers show off their craft. Women draw water from the well, carry corn to the mill to be ground and then prepare tortillas on a comal or cooking stone placed over an open fire, a method used for thousands of years in Mayan homes.
The stage fills with children who play and perform traditional songs and then disperse as another procession appears. Women enter from one side carrying colorful banners and from the other, men bearing racks covered in yellow, brown, black and blue corn cobs and the corn plants themselves. They wait patiently for the priest to arrive and bless the corn with offerings of copal and pozol (a drink made with corn, cacao and water) in honor of Chaac, the Mayan rain god.
Members of the different community guilds approach carrying white banners and floral offerings and singing “Viva Cristo Rey.” They then give way to a reenactment of the Hetz mek ceremony, the Mayan baptism. The baby is blessed by the priest and carried on the hip of its godparents for the first time. They give it the tools it will need during life: for boys a tiny machete, hoe and a gourd and bag to hold water and food, and for girls, household items such as a needle, cooking pot and hearthstones.
The Village Fiesta
The event draws to a climax with the annual village fiesta. The most important day in the community calendar, la Vaquería mixes Catholic ceremony and pre-Hispanic rites. Fireworks are set off with a resounding bang and young men carry a young ceiba tree on to the stage, planting it in the middle of the village square. They are followed by the local band and a couple of drunks who started their celebrations early and are scolded for their pains.
The official festivities begin with the Cabeza de Cochino, a dance around a pig’s head on a pole festooned with flowers and ribbons. The pig’s head is a traditional offering to the gods to ask them for a good harvest.
Dressed in cowboy hats and carrying gourds, young women known as vaqueras make their entrance and dance around the pole in a celebration of life.
The villagers then encircle the ceiba to ask for protection and permission to start the dances or jaranas. During a real village fiesta, they may dance for days in its shade, dancing in honor of the gods, the sky, the sun, the moon and the earth itself. The vaqueras are joined by children, then by young people, matrons and grandparents all eager to show off their dancing skills. Children are taught to dance at the age of four and some of the steps they learn from their elders are over 200 years old. Young couples dance around the pole, weaving the ribbons into a web of colors and then by changing direction, unfurling them again.
In the midst of the festivities, a funeral cortege appears; a reminder that death is never far away. A man has died and his widow is leading the veiled mourners to the cemetery to bury him. The dancers fall silent as the coffin passes and then start to stamp their feet in tribute to the deceased, accompanying his soul as it begins its journey to heaven.
The dances reach their climax with El Torito, a dance representing a bullfight. An actor portraying the bull makes his entrance, pursuing villagers round the stage and challenging the dancers to a duel of strength. They accept and give chase with swords and machetes, eventually cornering the defiant, but now visibly tiring, animal and killing him. The “bull” is blessed by the hmen and carried off stage.
Sacred Mayan Moments concludes with a blessing for the spectators. Then the entire cast takes to the stage once more and chants the words: Esto somos…aqui estamos…Bey’o’oná…huay’an’oné… “This is our story and here we are,” releasing the captivated audience from a magical world of ritual, tradition and color.
If you would like to see Momentos Sagrados Mayas(Sacred Mayan Moments), private tourscan be arranged throughThomas More Travel. Spend the morning exploring the charming colonial town of Valladolid, one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos or Magical Towns, villages or towns that are important for their rich heritage, craft and culinary traditions, natural beauty or historic monuments. Your Valladolid sightseeing list includes San Gervasio Cathedral and the Town Hall in the main square, the street known as Calzada de los Frailes and San Bernardino de Siena Convent, Santa Lucia, Santa Ana, La Candelaria and San Juan churches, San Roque Museum and Zaci Cenote. Stroll through the leafy park in the main square and call in at the Craft Center and Town Market and be sure to sample some Yucatecan cuisine for lunch. By prior appointment, it may also be possible to visit Casa de los Venados, a privately owned restored colonial home with an impressive collection of Mexican folk art, with over 3000 museum-quality exhibits. Tours take place at 10 a.m. and visitors are asked to make a small donation, which goes to support a local clinic and charity work in the area.
In the afternoon you’ll drive to Xocen for the open-air show. You need to be there at least 15 minutes before the performance is due to begin at 4 p.m. The cost of admission to this unforgettable event is $150 pesos per person.
More information: firstname.lastname@example.org or at the travel desk in all six of the Royal Resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen.