México on the National Mall

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Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2010: México

A highlight of summer in Washington, DC, is the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. For this year's festival, the featured country was México and the USA folk theme was Asian Pacific Americans. (Americans with ancestry in Asia or the Pacific islands.) I try to get there more than once during the relatively brief presentation--only two weekends and a few weekdays on either side. So, I first took some time on Friday to go over and scope out the festivities.

The Mall at the Smithsonian Metro stop was bustling. Good to see so many people out on a sunny Friday. In front of me were the craft displays from Mexico and the artisans. But, to the right, mariachis were playing in the music tent. I went over there first. I listened for a while to Mariachi Tradicional Los Tíos, a group from Jalisco.

Wixárika participants in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
They were an all-string mariachi band, no brass. They also wore simple white campesino attire rather  than the charro costume. After the music, I went back to the folk traditions and crafts area. In the center, a group representing the Wixárika or Huichol people from western central Mexico, were demonstrating traditional ceremonies and medicine as well as games to entertain young visitors. They have maintained their traditional language and religious beliefs. A handcraft unique to the Wixárika are beaded pots and figures. (Tiny beads are applied to a clay base to form a design. Very expensive to buy in the Marketplace!) Their unique attire were white pants and tunics with red embroidery and sombreros covered with feathers. 

Time for lunch before the Voladores at Noon, the highlight of this Folklife Festival. I selected Chicken in Mole Poblano.

Mariachi Tradicional Los Tíos
I've liked Mole dishes for a long time. This selection included simmered sliced chicken with Mole Poblano, accompanied by rice and black beans. The lunches had been prepared in advance and stacked up, anticipating the crowds, so, this was not the best Mole I've ever had. But I was glad to try it.

Noon. Time to line up around the Palo Volantín erected in the middle of the festival grounds. The Festival had brought Voladores from Tamaletón in San Luis Potosí to perform the Danza del Bixom Tíiw ceremony. We'd seen the Voladores de Pantalpa perform at Tulum. That was more or less a show. But this would be as real as one could see without traveling to Tamaletón on a feast day. To perform the Danza del Bixom Tíiw, four voladores, or fliers, mount a pole, tie on and "fly" to the ground, while revolving around the pole thirteen times.  (That has significance for 4x13=52 weeks in the year.) The ceremony dates back to the pre-Columbian era and originated as an offering to the god of corn for a successful harvest.

Folklife Festival participant in traditional Wixárika attire
It's now performed in March on St. Joseph's Day and in November.

The ceremony began with a procession by four women and four men, the voladores. (Women are rarely voladores.) The women left offerings of corn and other items at the base of the pole and proceeded to use a censor to spread incense over the offerings. At the same time, the men danced while one played on a  flute and wooden drum. The women then took up a garland spread around the pole while the first two men ascended. The women slowly danced around the pole holding the garland. (A sort of Maypole dance I thought.) The last two men, including the captain with the flute and drum, then ascended. The four fliers made final preparations, tied on their ropes and then lay back to dive off of the pole. The revolving upside-down descent of Los señores voladores was spectacular! The captain continued to play his flute and drum, while also suspended upside-down, all the way down! At the bottom, the voladores righted themselves and landed.

Wixárika paraphernalia
At the conclusion, the four men and women stood by to regard the Palo Volantín, perhaps acknowledging a successful ceremony.

On Saturday, I returned to the Mall to take in more of the Folklife Festival. Susan came, too. We arrived at 11:00 a.m. at the time things were getting started. More crowded today--but not as crowded as tomorrow on the Fourth of July! We were headed for the cultural displays when we saw a troupe performing in El Salo n de México, the dance tent.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2010: Mexico
It was the Chinelos de Atlatlahucan. This group, from Morelos, performs a Carnival dance in handmade costumes. The dance traces its origins to the Colonial era when the Spanish would not permit the indigenous people to participate in Carnival celebrations. So, they came up with their own, a dance that made fun of the Spanish Colonials. The costumes masks are a cartoon of the Spanish, with blue eyes and exaggerated  features and beards. The black costumes are handmade, incorporating designs of the dancer's choosing, and topped with feathered hats. (The first thing that came to my mind were the Mardi Gras "Indians" of New Orleans. But the style fits in with other elaborate Carnival styles in the Caribbean basin.)  Interestingly, while the characters depicted are male (beards) the dancers are women. They danced in a jerky style, further mocking the Spanish Colonials. Accompanying the dancers was the Banda de Morelos.

We went to the cultural area to see more there.

Map of participating Mexican cultures
  The Chinelos de Atlatlahucan had a display on the making of their costumes. Next to it were displays on distilling tequila and mezcal, the legendary Mexican spirits, from the maguey plant.  There, we learned the purpose of the famous worm in mezcal bottles. If the worm floats, the mezcal is not ready. If the worm, sinks, the mezcal is ready to drink!

At Noon, Los voladores de Tamaletón again performed the Danza del Bixom Tíiw ceremony to great acclaim. Afterward, Susan and I had lunch in the other festival site, celebrating Asian and Pacific heritage. We selected Chicken Tikka from the Indian food tent along with Mango Lassi to drink. Mmm, this was good! Better than the Mole.

A lot of dance was going on in the Asia Pacific area. The previous day I'd watched a Mongolian-American heritage troupe perform traditional dance.

Description of the Danza del Bixom Tíiw ceremony in Teenek culture
(From Springfield, VA, no less.) On Saturday, a Lao-American group called Lao'd and Proud was breakdancing. (To L-Pop music, I suppose.) The Tea House was quieter, with a demonstration of Singapore-American cooking. We paid a visit to the Marketplace where we found a few handcraft items to start our Christmas shopping (and a CD of Mariachi Tradicional Los Tíos).

montecarlostar says:
Wow this was definitively a very complete demonstration of mexican culture. Thanks for sharing!
Posted on: Jan 19, 2011
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Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2010…
Smithsonian Folklife Festival 201…
Wixárika participants in the Smit…
Wixárika participants in the Smi…
Mariachi Tradicional Los Tíos
Mariachi Tradicional Los Tíos
Folklife Festival participant in t…
Folklife Festival participant in …
Wixárika paraphernalia
Wixárika paraphernalia
Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2010…
Smithsonian Folklife Festival 201…
Map of participating Mexican cultu…
Map of participating Mexican cult…
Description of the Danza del Bixom…
Description of the Danza del Bixo…
Top of the Palo Volantín
Top of the Palo Volantín
Folklife Festival grounds
Folklife Festival grounds
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: ascending t…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: ascending …
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: womens dan…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: women's da…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Womens cos…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Women's co…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Womens cos…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Women's co…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: tying on
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: tying on
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: final prepa…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: final prep…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw
Danza del Bixom Tíiw
Danza del Bixom Tíiw
Danza del Bixom Tíiw
Danza del Bixom Tíiw
Danza del Bixom Tíiw
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los señore…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los señor…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los señore…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los señor…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volador…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: Los volado…
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: conclusion …
Danza del Bixom Tíiw: conclusion…
Baile de Jarana from Campeche
Baile de Jarana from Campeche
Mole Poblano. Simmered chicken in …
Mole Poblano. Simmered chicken in…
Portal to the handcraft and cultur…
Portal to the handcraft and cultu…
Teenek culture in San Luis Potosí
Teenek culture in San Luis Potosí
Teenek culture display. Among the …
Teenek culture display. Among the…
The Teenek women wear a ceremonial…
The Teenek women wear a ceremonia…
Preparing for the Danza del Bixom …
Preparing for the Danza del Bixom…
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan interpret…
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan interpre…
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan handmade …
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan handmade…
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan headgear
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan headgear
Explaining the Chinelos de Atlatla…
Explaining the Chinelos de Atlatl…
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan. (Morelos)
Chinelos de Atlatlahucan. (Morelos)
Banda de Morelos
Banda de Morelos
Totomoxtle (corn husk) crafts and …
Totomoxtle (corn husk) crafts and…
Totomoxtle (corn husk) crafts and …
Totomoxtle (corn husk) crafts and…
Demonstrating Zapotec weaving
Demonstrating Zapotec weaving
Tequila still
Tequila still
Vintage tequila still
Vintage tequila still
Tequila cabinet
Tequila cabinet
Mezcal distilling process. (Oaxaca)
Mezcal distilling process. (Oaxaca)
Harvesting the maguey plant for me…
Harvesting the maguey plant for m…
Mezcal still
Mezcal still
Explaining the mystique of mezcal
Explaining the mystique of mezcal
Mezcal bottles
Mezcal bottles
Folklife Festival 2010: Asian Paci…
Folklife Festival 2010: Asian Pac…
Folklife Festival 2010
Folklife Festival 2010
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
Mongolian heritage dancers
South Asia heritage: Girls in Saris
South Asia heritage: Girls in Saris
Singapore-American cooking demonst…
Singapore-American cooking demons…
India: Chicken Tikka and Mango Las…
India: Chicken Tikka and Mango La…
Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian turrets
Smithsonian turrets
Washington
photo by: b93sp