The LGAI program of UNACH’s Oral History and Tradition class took a field trip to the Carnival de Tenejapa on February 16, 2012. The festivities last for 12 days and we arrived on a Thursday morning, about mid-way through. Carnival, as it is celebrated around the world, is a time when the world is thought to be upside down, a time when everything is in reverse, and anything goes. The Mayan descendants may have readily adopted this originally Christian-based festival because of when if falls in relation to their calendar. According to my limited understanding, the Mayan calendar consists of 18 twenty-day months, which makes 360 days in the year. That leaves 5 days unaccounted for. These five days, in and around Carnival time, are the five days in between years. It is during this time that certain rituals and ceremonies must be carried out in a specific manner to insure the continuation of the cycle of time; to be sure the next year will follow and bear fruit.
There are many rituals and roles involved in the festivities: advisers, musicians, women’s roles, characters played, prayers, singers, children, flag bearers, mayordomos, and the bull and cow. Our group paired up into teams, each team researching one area. Nigdily and I were in charge of the Torro (bull) and Vaca (cow).
We started out in the church, where a group of men, alfereces, dressed in red satin, straw hats covered in ribbons, and carrying red flags on long poles were reciting prayers, which turned into jokes. Jokes and joviality are an important part of every aspect of the rituals, it seems. The joke was on us when one of them offered us some posh and said that if I learned Tseltal he would marry me. Another one of our classmates, who is originally from Tenejapa, was also in the church. One of the alfereces knew her father, so they invited us all to accompany them as they left the church and paraded around the town pursuing the Torro.
The Torro and Vaca are made out of straw mats covering a wooden frame. A genuine bovine tail is attached to the backside, and horns crown the top of the arch shaped figure. A man is inside maneuvering the beast. The Torro has lighter colored horns and a darker tail. The Vaca has the darker tail and the light colored horns. She dances more suavecita, gracefully, and the bull más fuerte, stronger.
We followed the parade through the plaza and along dirt streets, past corn fields and stopped in front of a house. We all made a circle around the Torro, who danced while the musicians, dressed in black furry tunics, played flutes. More posh (fermented liquor) was passed out in what were once glass votive candle holders, and a warm corn drink they called posole, was also passed around in a gourd. It was only about 10:00 in the morning so we passed on the posh, but enjoyed the posole.
It went on like this, stopping at houses along the way, and back to the plaza. There was another group pursuing the Vaca, who was also dancing while musicians played.
On the plaza two sacerdotes, or festival priests and advisers, sat. A row of women in white tunics embroidered in red geometric designs, sat under the portal serving chicha, another corn beverage, also slightly fermented and refreshing. The Torro and Vaca would occasionally stop to exchange jokes with, and perhaps receive advice from the sacerdotes.
It was from the sacerdotes that we obtained most of our information. The Torro and Vaca are constructed by all the participants—two cargos of 42—on the Monday following the first day of the carnival, when the red flags are brought out, which is always a Sunday.
The beasts are representations of the “devil”, and that is why they are being chased throughout the festival, to rid the community of negative aspects for the year to come.
There are three or four men who take turns carrying the Torro/Vaca costume. At the end of the festivities, the Vaca and Torro are dismembered and pieces are given to members of the community as blessings for their homes. On the last day of Carnival a real bull is chased through the streets and killed. The meat is parceled out to community members.
It seems as if all the rituals and festivities were carried out as planed at the Carnival de Tenejapa, as the new year is going pretty well so far. Thanks for keeping it all in order, guys!