The Accidental Party

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The Accidental Party, Continued.

Our streak of stumbling into towns a day or so before a major festival continues. From the blueberry festival in Macias, Maine last fall, to Mardi Gras in New Orleans a few weeks ago, we seem to have a knack for arriving in town on the brink of one of their grand gatherings. (We missed SXSW in Austin by only a few days).

We arrived in San Miguel Allende, a mountain town in central Mexico, for three weeks of intensive Spanish study, only to find ourselves on the cusp of the festival of El Senor de Conquista, dba Christ of the Conquest. On the first Friday of every March the Chicchimeca Indian dancers, or Concheros, begin the celebration by dancing in several groups around the Jardin, the plaza, to loud, penetrating drumming. They begin in the morning and dance for ten hours, in colorful costumes of feathers and sequins. Odd groups join, such as a group of men dressed in drag fighting a figure a wooden bull.

The Concheros are dancing in celebration of the history of the statute of Christ on the  altar in the church San Miguel de Archangel, which sits at the head of the plaza. The church itself is a stunning pink gothic creation. (See photos).

In the mid 1500s, a group of friars in Chiapas set out to evangelize the Indians in the states of Quetetero and Zacateca. The usual statues made of wood were two heavy for the friars to carry on their long journey through dangerous territory, so they constructed one made of corn stalks and paste, which weighed less than two pounds.

The friars didn’t make it. Not far from San Miguel, the Chichimecas, a nomadic tribe, attacked and killed every last one. Oddly, they left untouched the statute of a brown-skinned Christ. Every year since the village has held a mass on the day of the massacre, and gradually the Indians began coming into the village and participating. Eventually, the Chichimecas became tired of the bloodshed and allowed themselves to be converted. They maintain many pagan rituals to this day, including the dancing and drumming and small animal sacrifices. On this day, in effect they are celebrating their conquest by Christ.

As if that weren’t enough, last night, Saturday, was the beginning of Cuban Week in San Miguel. On the same square where the Indians had been dancing a few hours earlier, a large Cuban band rocked an audience of hundreds with great salsa music. IMG_1445IMG_1434IMG_1200

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