Chiapas, a Mexican state rich in history and diversity, boasts a plethora of customs and traditions that have evolved over centuries. One researcher, Alejandro C. Corzo, a passionate dance teacher, has dedicated years to unraveling the beauty and symbolism behind the ethnic groups' dances in Chiapas. With a particular focus on the Coastal Region, which stretches along the Pacific coast and encompasses several municipalities, the researcher delves into the distinct ethnicities and influences that have shaped this vibrant cultural landscape.
Ethnic Influences on Dance and Costumes
The Coastal Region of Chiapas is a melting pot of ethnic influences, each contributing to the unique character of their customs and costumes. The Istmo-Costa region, predominantly inhabited by the Zoque people, bears cultural similarities with the neighboring Isthmus of Tehuantepec. For instance, the dance “La tortuga del arenal” showcases how a single dance can vary in rhythm and expression across different regions. While it is performed in Tehuantepec with a slow, solemn rhythm, in the Coastal Region, it bursts with joyful movements and a faster tempo, highlighting the diverse interpretations within the same cultural thread.
On the other hand, the Soconusco region, inhabited by the Mames and Zoques ethnic groups, has been significantly influenced by the Guatemalan Mames and the Huaves of San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca. The costumes of the Mames men, for instance, underwent modifications over time due to cross-cultural encounters. The historical account of the “quita mashtate” (remove mashtate) river incident, where the force of the river tore off their attire, reflects the fascinating interplay between culture and environment.
Women's Costumes and its Symbolism
The costumes of women in the Coastal Region have also evolved over the centuries, reflecting the intermingling of different cultures. Modifications were made to differentiate the attire of Mames women in Mexico from their counterparts in Guatemala. The introduction of long underwear and blanket shirts by missionaries to replace the original mashtate was driven by religious and cultural sensibilities. Yet, remnants of traditional elements, such as handkerchiefs worn to keep mosquitoes away, persist in the modern-day costumes.
In Tapachula and Tuxtla Chico, the Huave influence is evident in the costumes of Mames women. While both wear large huipils, the former displays vertical stripes in yellow, and the latter features red with horizontal stripes. The historical ties between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Tapachula further explain the influence of Huave costumes on Tapachultec women.
Preserving Ancient Traditions through Festivities
Festivals and rituals have long been a conduit for preserving ancient traditions and beliefs. In Tuxtla Chico, the patron saint festival dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul remains a cherished tradition. The “jalada de los patos” (duck pulling) ritual, which has deep roots in pre-Hispanic times, serves as a propitiatory rite to bring rain and fertility to the land. This fascinating blend of indigenous practices and Catholic beliefs underscores the resilience of ancient customs in the face of historical changes.
Tonalá's festivities in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi encompass several intriguing customs, including the “tirada de frutas” (fruit throwing) brought by the Juchitecos from Oaxaca. This event, integrated into the celebration of Saint Francis, allows locals to partake in a vibrant parade where girls in regional costumes throw fruits to the delight of onlookers. The customs, dances, and costumes of the Chiapas coast exemplify the state's rich cultural mosaic, celebrating diversity and heritage. Let us celebrate the vitality of these customs and traditions.
Sources: De tradiciones y costumbres – Regiones Istmo-Costa y Soconusco by Alejandro C. Corzo, Correo del Maestro. No. 47, pp. 51-53.