Tehuana Celebrations

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 5.44.07 PMBy Brooke Gazer

The Isthmus of Tehuántepec is about 200KM south of Huatulco. Women from this region, who are referred to as “Tehuanas”, hold several elaborate celebrations each year. We all like to dress up when attending an important event and these ladies are certainly no exception. The traditional formal costume of Tehuanas is among the most ornate and distinctive in Mexico. In fact Frida Kahlo, who had a flair for the dramatic, often favored this style. The two piece dresses are frequently made of dark velvet and are covered in a vivid motif of embroidered flowers. This ensemble is referred to as a “Traje de Gala” (party dress) and the elaborate hand work can take up to a year to complete. These works of art sell for as much as 20,000 pesos although less ornate examples are available. Since not everyone can afford to own a “Traje de Gala” it is possible to rent one for 1000- 1500 pesos.

Tehuanas also value gold jewelry of the regional design. These are elaborate pieces of multiple gold medallions held together in various patterns of fine gold filigree. Gold is an important status symbol and women sacrifice a great deal in order to lavishly complement their ensemble with ornate necklaces, earrings and bracelets. I am told that gold adornments are more important than a big house and that heirloom pieces are passed down through generations.

Tehuanas call their celebrations “Velas” and one of the more important ones, La Vela Xunaxi (Shoe-na-she), is held annually in Huatulco. This year it will be on April 28 at the Dreams Hotel. Prior to the fiesta there will be a parade though La Crucecita offering everyone an excellent opportunity to see dozens of examples of these exquisite costumes. If you are in Huatulco, do not miss the chance to partake in this rich spectacle, complete with brass bands. Order a drink in one of the many restaurants around the Zocalo and wait for the show to begin. Throughout the parade Tehuanas have a tradition of tossing gifts out to the spectators, symbolically sharing their prosperity. These gifts include fruit, candy, toys, and other small items.

While this fiesta is an opportunity for Tehuanas from around the country to reunite with friends and family, La Vela Xunaxi is not limited to those from the Isthums of Tehuántepec. All visitors are welcome to attend the evening festivity; the only restriction is that everyone must arrive in traditional dress. Men get off easily with a white shirt and black pants but women would need to rent a “Traje de Gala”. If you enquire in La Crucecita at the Martha Jary Panaderia, Calle Macuil #209, the owner Magdalina Mendez Diaz, can help both with rental arrangements and tickets for the Vela.

This Vela is great opportunity to taste some of the best cuisine in Mexico. A dinner typically features fifteen to twenty dishes of the region so bring your appetite and be prepared for lots of music and dancing. Be sure to have a long siesta the afternoon of the party because Velas go on well into the wee hours. In addition to their exquisite style of dress, Tehuanas are famous for their stamina and lust for life.

Brooke Gazer operates a bed & breakfast in Huatulco www.bbaguaazul.com