Custom and Ceremony
No place exceeds highland Guatemala for pageantry. The religious calendar peaks at Semana Santa (Holy Week), when virtually every town in the republic is ablaze with color; and its skies and air waves, barraged by pyrotechnics. Almost any week, however, some town in the area celebrates its fair. The highlight of any town´s fair is the feast day of the patron saint and the religious procession in his honor. However, fairs have a secular side too. Religious fairs last typically a week, less in small places. However, the food vendors, game tents, and carnival rides, featuring the Rueda de Chicago (Ferris-Wheel), may remain for a few weeks.
Election of Indigenous Queen
Also, associated with most fairs, is the election and coronation of the town`s indigenous queen. Beauty is not a criterion for her selection, however. Rather, character, community service, knowledge of Maya culture and the Catholic religion, proficiency in one`s native dialect, and oratorical skill are the bases upon which she will be chosen. The coronation is a real spectacle. Young exotic queens from throughout the nation arrive to bid farewell to the exiting indigenous queen, and also to usher in the reign of the new.
There are astonishing beauties in attendance attired in the most intricately-designed and vividly-colored ceremonial clothing their towns can produce. Elaborate headpieces and crowns carved from wood adorn their splendid, radiant faces. Huipiles requiring months of labor by skilled weavers hang to below their knees. Banners draped across their breasts identify their pueblos and their titles. Swaying rhythmically to the son Rey de Quiché, they dance tirelessly into the night with a grace becoming divas. They are a credit to their towns and a source of pride to the nation. Moreover, they preserve the Maya culture.
Music and Dance
Music and dance are central to Maya festivals. Chirimiya and tambor (flute and drum) lead the processions. Small brass bands follow along. Marimba accompanies the dance steps.The Dance of the Mexicans and the Dance of the Negritos share the theme of drunkenness.The Dance of the Negritos has nothing to do with racial denigration, however. The Dance of the Little Bulls (toritos) portrays the bullfight. In addition, there are various other folkloric dances: the Dance of the Giants, the Dance of the Deer, and the Dance of the Monkeys, to name a few. There are also dances with fire and pyrotechnics .
Dance of the Conquest
The Dance of the Conquest relates the epic tale of the Conquest of Guatemala by Pedro de Alvarado and his rag-tag mob of coarse ignorant Estremadura sailors. Gringos today reinvent themselves in Guatemala. Likewise, the Conquistadors elevated themselves to the status of hidalgos (sons of someone) in the New World. The conquistadors sport long-bearded white masks. However, when they raise those masks, they reveal dark brown faces, angular noses, and almond-shaped eyes. Dark-skinned women in bright ceremonial huipiles, with thick black hair cascading over their shoulders and hips accompany the conquistadors in the processions, These women also walk hand-in-hand with their toddler sons, also dressed as conquistadors (called Moors)..Thus, as a sideline to the Dance of the Conquista, is told the story of the birth of the mestizo.
In addition to the traditional dances is the rather absurd Dance of the Convites, also known as Dance of the Disguises. Dressed in costumes which appear to have been made in Hong Kong, a plethora of personalities abound. Vikings, barbarians, pre-Republican Chinamen, and cavemen with bones through their noses dance along with members of the rock group Kiss. Tweety Bird does the two-step with Sylvester the Cat. Alongside, Rev. Al Sharpton bops with boxing promoter Don King. Michael Jackson moonwalks alone. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton and George Bush slow-jam together, locked in a languid and tender embrace.
Sense of Community
The reason I walk with the Catholics has nothing to do with religion, however. It`s that they speak to me and greet me. They ask me how I`m doing. When I arrive at their activities, they treat me as an honored guest. They invite me to partake of ceremonial dishes and drink, and pat me on the shoulder. Thus the Catholics provide me with an unconditional sense of community without requiring that I believe as they do.