Proud of its roots, the Purepecha community prepares to celebrate, as every February 1st, the millenary ceremony of the New Fire (Kurhikuaeri K'uinchekua) to thank Mother Earth (Nana Kuerajperi) for the favors received throughout the year. This tradition, namely, marks the beginning of the year for this indigenous culture of Michoacán, according to their own productive cycles of the land, and gives way to the revitalization and dignification of their traditions.

Although today it is governed by the Gregorian calendar, this ethnic group remembers this event.  Previously, the Purépecha year was made up of 18 months of 20 days, so that the beginning of a new cycle for this ethnic group was registered on these dates. The celebration recalls that the Purepecha community comes from fire, because it is the daughter of the Sun, its main god.

The smell of mole, corundas, and aguacate is wafting in the air; the last two are boiled dumplings the size of a fist, traditional food of the four regions into which this indigenous community divides Michoacán: Sierra, Cañada, Lacustre, and Ciénega.

Those characteristic aromas are mixed little by little with the smell of burnt gunpowder from the firecrackers, as well as with the notes of the son, the abejeño and the pirekua, genres of the Purépecha music that accompanies the fire (kurhi or ch'upiri) to the community of Nahuatzen, located in the plateau, 105 kilometers northwest of Morelia, capital of the state, and which this year is the site of the festivity.

Although the New Fire ceremony is the most representative of this indigenous people, it is a ceremony of reflection, not religious or political. Some of the objectives are to rescue the collective memory and all those cultural elements of the past, such as the ancient Purepecha tradition of orally transmitting knowledge from one generation to another.

There are no historical records that can accurately mark the beginning of this cult in pre-Hispanic times; it was in 1983 when this ethnic group began to take it up again. During the meeting, in addition to the ceremonies of presentation of the fire and its protection, cultural, artistic, and ritual activities are carried out. For example, the custom of bartering is practiced as in the past and the Purépecha people are heard speaking their mother tongue.

As it is a celebration to recover values, stimulants such as alcohol are prohibited; the way is closed to any political or partisan issue, and even street vending is not allowed, except for handicraft products. It is, in short, the celebration of Purepecha pride.

New Fire Ceremony (Kurhikuaeri K-uinchekua). Purepecha community.
New Fire Ceremony (Kurhikuaeri K'uinchekua). Purepecha community. Photo: INAH

The tradition of the New Fire (Kurhikuaeri K'uinchekua)

Among the Maya and Aztecs, there were several calendars that measured days, months, and years, some based on the lunar year, others on the solar year. One was the 360-day solar year calendar: the Cempoallapoualli; another, the Tonalpohualli, among the Mexica, and the Tzolkin, among the Maya, used basically for divinatory purposes. A third one, the Xiuhpoualli, is celebrated every 52 years, according to the division of 4 times 13 years.

The Huicholes of Jalisco and Nayarit perform numerous rituals that last for six days. Among the Tzotziles and Tzeltales of Chiapas, the change of baton of the civil and religious authorities of the town is done.

The Zapotecs of the Isthmus celebrate their candles, calendars, and fruit throwing in the different towns that make up this region of our country. At the end of the year there are two peculiar manifestations: the gift of the Tanguyu (they give the Zapotec boys and girls clay dolls, horses with riders for them, dolls with bell skirts with babies in their arms, and fruit baskets on their heads, pots, molcajetes and tiny plates for them) and the elaboration of El Viejo by the children, using old clothes and the oldest huaraches that have been used throughout the year, a coconut is placed on his head, he is stuffed with corn and rockets, a hat and a cigar is placed on his head. On the last day of December, at 11 or 12 o'clock at night, the burning of the Viejo begins, ending the year and starting another.

In Oaxaca, Zoque youths dress up as "huehues" (old men) and "burn" the old year and then go to celebrate with the community. In other towns, the old people use rockets to illuminate the sky and observe it carefully when the new year arrives, so they can know if it will be a year of rain or drought.

Source: INAH 1 & 2