Afro-Mestizo Holy Week in the Costa Chica of Guerrero

Lent is part of the calendar of festivities (civic and religious) celebrated by the Afro-mestizo population of the Costa Chica of Guerrero, which, as in the rest of the country, goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

Afro-Mestizo Holy Week in the Costa Chica of Guerrero
This is how Holy Week is celebrated in Taxco, Guerrero. Photo: Secretaria Cultura Guerrero

Within the calendar of festivities (civic and religious) that the Afro-Mestizo population of the Costa Chica of Guerrero celebrates is Lent, which, as in all the country, goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday; this period concludes with the days of Holy Week or Semana Mayor, which are Holy Thursday, Friday, Saturday of Glory and Easter Sunday.

At present, the celebration of Holy Week has variations from one community to another in terms of representations and organization, however, it also maintains a series of constants.

Although the Holy Week celebration is important among the Afromestizo population, on other dates, there is greater participation of people, both men, and women, as well as children and adults. Because they combine the "sacred" and the "profane", and in addition to fulfilling the rituals, they include fun and food preparation for the whole community.


The beginning of Lent has Carnival as an immediate antecedent, whose importance lies mainly in the fact that during one day there are no food prohibitions nor is sexual abstinence prescribed, both behaviors are the opposite of those that must be observed during Lent.

In the past, in the communities of the Costa Chica on the day of Carnival, it was customary to walk through the town at dusk singing the traditional paspaques by a group of singers accompanied by guitars. Paspaques were couplets that were improvised and sung in every place the singers stopped, generally mixing in their content themes of Holy Week and characteristics of the person to whom they were dedicated. Some were versed as follows:

That it is here or it is not here
where we come to give
because they say that here lives
a private gentleman lives here.

The particular gentleman
may we be excused
because it is a day of the year
we have come to sing to him.

This house is measured
with a hundred rods of ribbon
that inside is the glory
and on the outside is King Solomon.

Miss Daria
the pearl that in the sea bred
baptized in Santa Roma
godfather St. John of God.

Christ went around the world
preaching the doctrine,
but in the end, he was crowned
with the crown of thorns.

Peter said to Jesus:
Lord, I love him well enough
and Jesus answered him
with arrogant words:
three times you will deny me
before the cock crows.

On the tree of the cross
a turtledove crowed,
asking for Christian water
of which Jesus took.

Let's go little fellow
let's go, let others come
to do them the favor
that they have done us.

Here I bring you the present
the three nails of the cross,
here they are bad people
because they do not turn on their light.

This tour was done house by house and the owners were obliged to open the door and give cooperation, money owed, to the singers.

On the occasion of Carnival, the dance of the "Macho Mula" was also performed (possibly still danced in some Afro-Mestizo communities), a picaresque representation in which the dancers went through the town accompanied by the children. The first ones had the right to ask for cooperation and when a person refused they could take an object from a house, such as a machete, the handle of a mat, or anything else. The owners had to go to the police station to pick them up and pay a fine.

Nowadays, the Carnival festivities are mainly attended by children who go around the streets or outside of school breaking shells, throwing handfuls of flour at each other, or getting wet.

The course of Lent and the Holy Week

The date on which Ash Wednesday is celebrated is movable as everywhere else. On this day the first mass of Lent takes place and people go to church to take the ashes that the believer receives when the priest draws a cross on his forehead.

From Ash Wednesday onwards, the following six Fridays are celebrated. This point is of great importance in the Costa Chica, because each Good Friday is in charge of a different municipality of the region, being year after year as follows:

1st Friday in Juchitán, municipality of Juchitán.
2nd Friday in Cujinicuilapa municipality.
3rd Friday in the municipality of Igualapa.
4th Friday in Huajintepec, municipality of Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca.
5th Friday in Maldonado, municipality of Cuajinicuilapa, Oaxaca.
6th Friday in the municipality of Ometepec.

In each of these places the population of the communities of the interior of the municipality and also of the nearby municipalities, whether indigenous, Amuzgo and Mixteco, mestizo, or Afro-mestizo, gather. That is to say, Good Fridays are the occasion in which all types of the population of Costa Chica converge, a meeting that propitiates and strengthens interethnic relations.

The purpose of celebrating Good Fridays is to comply with the Catholic religion and on the other hand, they are used for recreation and commerce, since large fairs and regional markets are established.

It is common that in addition to the fairs, livestock and handicraft exhibitions are held, along with cultural events, palenques, cockfights, and horseback riding. In Maldonado, for example, dancers from the community of Huehuetán, the municipality of Azoyú, are invited to perform the "Conquest" dance. The fairs in Igualapa and Ometepec are the ones that concentrate the greatest number of visitors.

It is not uncommon for pilgrimages to arrive at each of the places where the Good Friday fair is held, even from other states, such as Oaxaca, to fulfill a mission or simply to attend the festival.

On Palm Sunday, before Holy Week, palmitas are sold either in the market or in the atrium of the church; these are made with palapa leaves; they are blessed in the church and kept in the houses throughout the year, as it is believed that this is to prevent "bad spirits" from entering the house.

From Palm Sunday until the end of Holy Week, it is customary to cover the saints in the church with a purple cloth.

On Holy Thursday, the first activity of the celebration that involves collective work is the construction of an arbor called "Calvario", which consists of a wooden structure covered with a palapa (palm leaf) adorned with natural and paper flowers, as well as fruits from the region, cashews, grapefruit, bananas, etc., candles, water, and copal. This structure is destined to be the prison of Jesus and is erected in one of the chapels of the town (in the case of Copala it is in the chapel of the Holy Cross in the neighborhood of Charchove) or in the house of the mayor.

On the night of Holy Thursday, the people gather in the church and from there the first procession goes to Calvary. In this procession, the image of Jesus of Nazareth is carried (without cross or crown of thorns), an act called "the arrest of Jesus". During the journey, rosaries are prayed and religious songs are sung by candlelight. Along the entire route, which is already pre-established, more people join the procession. Once the procession reaches Calvary, the image of Jesus is locked up and blindfolded. He remains imprisoned all night for his vigil, two rosaries are prayed, and afterward, white pozole with coffee and bread is distributed to all present.

In general terms, in almost all the Afro-mestizo communities the organization of the celebration of the Holy Week is in charge of the community leader or the priest. In the first case, the priest may have been appointed by the community or he may be the one who requests the position, this frequently happens when they have to pay a duty.

In Copala, for example, the mayordomos are changed and appointed on Holy Thursday night. In the election participate all those who are part of the brotherhood of the saint are elected after "correrse cabildo", that is, after reading the list of members of the brotherhood. At the "correrse cabildo" each one of the named persons is committed to delivering economic cooperation in exchange for a blessed relic (a piece of cloth that was part of the saint's dress) that will be worn around the neck as a scapular. The money collected is destined for the expenses of the following year's celebration and is handed over by the outgoing mayor to the incoming mayor.

On Good Friday at approximately nine o'clock in the morning, the saint is taken out of the Calvary, again he is led in procession through the town; for this reason, the streets have been decorated with shredded paper, and natural flowers (usually bougainvillea) and palapas. This procession is carried out in the same way as the previous day; accompanied by the priest, the songs and prayers are sung, and a new element is integrated which is the Virgin Mary.

The Stations of the Cross are also staged on Fridays. In some towns such as Las Vigas and Ometepec, the representation is done by people from the same town, who characterize the characters of Jesus, the apostles, the Jews, and the three Marys (Virgin Mary, Magdalene, and Veronica). The Stations of the Cross are developed in the already established stations, which are previously decorated with flowers forming an altar; the saint stops there while praying to him.

In other localities such as Juchitán and Copala, the representation is a combination of live characters with images of the church. Despite the differences in both types of representation, the theatricalization of the Passion of Christ is notorious. In the tradition of Copala, on Good Friday a child is dressed in an attire similar to that of Jesus to help carry the cross.

In Juchitán and Copala, women used to cry when they met the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus on the Way of the Cross, which earned them a reputation as mourners in the region. A characteristic that also prevails in Costa Chica is that the men carry the image of Jesus and the women carry the image of the Virgin Mary.

On Good Friday Jesus is crucified and at night the image of the Holy Burial is taken out of the church and is taken to another chapel. This image is returned on Saturday morning.

Saturday of Glory is a particularly important day for the Afromestizo population, it is loaded with a series of beliefs and cultural practices; for example, on this day at noon it is customary to hit the trees with a machete in case they do not bear fruit or if they bear little or poor quality fruit. Children between four and six years of age are also pulled by the ears or given a "whipping" so that they grow up and stop being bad-mannered.

For a long time in Costa Chica it was thought that during Holy Week no work or chores should be done, nor was it allowed to bathe. Both prohibitions were eliminated on Saturday of Glory. To comply with the first prohibition, the women would turn over the mats and the men would hide their machetes. Regarding the second prohibition, some legends said that the women who transgressed the prohibition and bathed turned into mermaids and the men into fish; legends that otherwise are very well located within the coastal environment.

Among the customs that have been particularly lost is the preparation of some foods such as totopos, pinole, tamales chocos, and tizacas that are served as "sustenance" for the whole Holy Week. The most usual nowadays is that families go to the beach on Saturday of Glory to bathe in the sea.

A current belief in many Afro-Mestizo communities is that on Easter Sunday all baptized Catholics must attend mass. It is worth mentioning that on the coast, children who have not received the sacrament of baptism are called "moros", as a way of indicating that they are not yet integrated into the Catholic religion.

Also part of the belief system of the coastal peoples is the idea that there are three dates in the Catholic calendar in which one can "lose the world"; these are Good Friday, Holy Thursday, Corpus Christi Thursday, and the day of the Assumption of Mary. This loss can happen if people do not respect the prohibitions and do not keep vigils.

By Francisca Aparicio Prudente