By Brooke Gazer
In a small village like Copalita, where many of the workers in Huatulco live, it is assumed that when a fiesta occurs the entire village is invited. We all enjoy a party and if everyone is involved, it makes for a more cohesive community. This can become a major financial burden for those responsible for the celebration. When our maid’s son was to be married the family considered it to be a huge social responsibility.
Traditionally in this region, it is the family of the groom that is responsible for the celebration. They are gaining a new family member, someone who will eventually contribute to the economy of the family unit. In the case of our employee the bride was from a different village so it was especially imperative that they demonstrate that the girl will be accepted and well cared for in her new home. Any degree of stinting on the wedding could be interpreted negatively.
Oaxacans have a generous nature and part of their tradition is that neighbors, friends, and relatives help out with the cost of events like weddings. Cases of beer are donated, someone may organize the music, and any number of details might be assumed by those wishing to help. Like any celebration however, the lion’s share of the effort and expense ultimately falls on the family in charge. In preparation for this enormous event, our maid needed to take several weeks off work.
The fiesta was held in the garden outside her home in Copalita. In Mexico, the main meal is served mid-afternoon and this is when the festivities began. We were privileged to be invited, but since we had guests arriving in the afternoon we came rather late for the meal. When we arrived, our employee looked exhausted but she beamed when she saw us. She found us a place at one of the tables and served us a generous plate of traditional mole. She introduced us to several of her friends as “Mi Patrona” (My patron). I have tried to discourage this term but old ways die hard and this is what she calls me even now that she is retired.
Once everyone has eaten the tables were cleared away, and chairs were moved back, allowing an empty space in the center. This is when the fiesta ceremony began. The women of the groom’s family passed little gifts out to all the ladies as the band began to set up. I received a small piece of pottery with the date glazed onto it along with a towel for tortillas, embroidered with the name of the bride and groom.
The bride and groom are escorted into the center of the room and seated under a “relago”. This is a large cage covered in crepe paper with colored streamers hanging down.
Smartly dressed in a rainbow of colors, all the young single women come forward, each carrying a small clay pot. These young women sing a traditional song known as “Media Xhiga” as they dance around the newlyweds. One by one each girl breaks the pot at the couple’s feet. Once all the pots are broken, each girl takes hold of one of the streamers and they walk in a circle around the seated couple. As they walk the crepe paper begins to unravel and confetti falls like rain over the couple. This ancient Zapotec custom originated in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, but is celebrated by many who are not necessarily Zapotecos.
Following this, the men are invited to form two lines. Two gourd pots appear and are placed at the feet of the bride and groom. The men place paper bills inside one or the other pot, one for the bride and one for the groom. At the end, they count it up and make an announcement. Apparently it is a friendly competition as to who brings in the biggest haul. Rick, clueless as to what was what, got into the wrong line tilting the scale in the bride’s favor even though the party was in the groom’s village. The previous night the party was at the bride’s village and by the time of the second fiesta the couple are looking a bit worse for the wear but are making a huge effort to smile.
The band begins, drinks are passed around, and couples, including the newlyweds, begin dancing. There are several plants in the garden but the surface is packed earth. Noticing the delicate white lace trim on the bride’s dress is trailing in the dust made me cringe just a little. Although she is unlikely to ever wear it again, my practical “gringa” sensibilities cannot help but worry that her dress will be ruined.
Dozens of little kids have gotten into the party spirit, giggling and tearing about. The piles of confetti that litter the ground are irresistible to these kids as they scoop it up by the handfuls and begin throwing it, everywhere… along with the dust that comes with it. Soon everyone has confetti and dust on their clothes, coating their skin, and in their hair but no one seems to notice. This is just part of the fun.
As the evening wore on the volume of the band increased. I could feel the bass of the speakers go right through me and it made my organs hurt. Our maid knew we had guests to look after in the morning and understood when we thanked her and said good night. She looked as if she might have liked to have done the same but the fiesta lasted well into the wee hours.
Although she needed another three days to recuperate, the party was considered an enormous success and her new daughter-in-law was appropriately welcomed into the family.
Brooke Gazer operates an ocean view bed and breakfast in Huatuclo. www.bbaguaazul.com