Oaxaca's Guelaguetza: A Must-Attend Event!

If you have read our previous blogs, you already know that there is nothing we recommend more than visiting Oaxaca at least once in your lifetime. The beautiful state of Oaxaca is one of the most diverse and culture-filled destinations in Mexico and, for this week’s blog, we have decided to highlight one of the most spectacular events in Mexico that celebrates indigenous cultures and that is happening right now in Oaxaca City: The Guelaguetza.

The marvelous Guelaguetza, also known as Los Lunes del Cerro (Mondays of the Hill), is a yearly celebration of the coming together of cultures, costumes, and traditions in which the eight different regions of Oaxaca get together to share amongst themselves and with the rest of the world each aspect of their unique culture. This is demonstrated through dances of their region, which include traditional dresses, music, and stories. For this reason, we believe that visiting Oaxaca during Guelaguetza is a must as there is nothing similar where one can appreciate all of these elements in one visit!

Guelaguetza What? (and Where, and When)

Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word that denotes the act of cooperative participation; it is a concept that encompasses a gift that has no obligation other than reciprocity. As such, in the Guelaguetza, or Lunes del Cerro, one can witness this exchange enacted by representative groups from the eight regions of Oaxaca: Los Valles Centrales, La Sierra Juárez, La Cañada, Papaloapan, La Mixteca, La Costa, La Sierra Sur, and the Istmo de Tehuantepec. Here, every group showcases their rich cultural heritage and traditions through music and dances typical of their region. In these dances, one is able to witness the astonishing traditional clothing of each region as well as their regional sones (sound and music); this a culture-rich event where all aspects of their culture is present. At the end of their display, each group distributes their guelaguetza, or gift, to the audience, made up of objects characteristic to their respective regions.

Although this is mostly a display of regional dances held at an auditorium, that is not the only thing present. Between these two Mondays the streets of Oaxaca are filled with an array of cultural activities throughout the city where one can enjoy every region’s gastronomic delights, appreciate and buy artisanal textiles, art, and other goods, and assist exhibits of representation of beliefs and customs in every possible form. Also, the city houses multiple concerts, art exhibits, and many more cultural events that promote and diffuse Oaxacan culture in all its manifestations. Lastly, at the same time as the Guelaguetza, Oaxaca City also hosts its famous Festival del Mezcal, where thousands of Mezcal breweries assist to present their products.

The Guelaguetza, or Mondays of the Hill, takes place in Oaxaca City and its surrounding municipalities. This yearly celebration is held in Oaxaca City the two Mondays following July 16th, starting at 10am. However, if such Monday falls on an 18th (commemoration of the death of Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first indigenous president from Oaxaca) it will be pushed back to the next Monday. So, for example, this year it is being held since Monday, July 19th and will continue until Next Monday, the 26th. However, in 2016 when the first Monday after July 16th was an 18th, it was pushed back and celebrated from Monday July 25th to Monday August 1st.

Roots of The Guelaguetza

The word Guelaguetza is derived from the Zapotec guendalezaa that roughly translates as “reciprocal exchange of gifts, offerings, and services”. The roots of this celebration date back to pre-Hispanic times, where religious rituals to propitiate the gods in return for sufficient rain and a bountiful harvest were held in a place known by the zapotecs as Daninayaaloani, or Cerro de la Bella Vista (Hill of Beautiful Sights). In this time, the inhabitants would honor Centéotl, the corn’s goddess with a yearly celebration where dances, rites, and a vast feast. This offering took place during the rainy season, when it was essential for the rain to continue to bring forth the best crops. 

With the arrival of the Spanish in Oaxaca, the observance of Corpus Christi was promoted by the Carmelitas (a group of nuns dedicated to the Virgen del Carmen Alto) who built a temple at the skirts of the Cerro de Bella Vista. The Corpus Christi observance together with the Guelaguetza created the Lunes del Cerro and both Catholic and non-catholic Oaxacans look forward to these celebratory Mondays.

Modern Guelaguetza

Today, the Guelaguetza has become such a famous and anticipated event in Oaxaca (although with its controversy for locals and other groups in Oaxaca) that, in 2010, the city built a new open-air amphitheater for the festivities, built into the Cerro del Fortín, overlooking Oaxaca’s center city. The morning of the Lunes del Cerro is dedicated to traditional dance shows and the afternoon is reserved for the famous re-enactment of the legend of the Princesa Donají, the last Zapotec princess by the Ballet Folklórico de Oaxaca. Although this auditorium holds the main events and presentation of these dates and you need a ticket to get into, one can catch representations of these events throughout the town and in nearby municipalities.

There are a number of official events, including the contest to select the goddess Centéotl (corn fertility goddess) on the Sunday before the first Monday where all eight regions participate. The goddess Centéotl is chosen from among the candidates sent by each delegation, and is chosen based on her knowledge of the area's history, customs, and traditions, rather than for physical beauty. 

As popularity to this event grew, more and more folkloric displays were added to spread Oaxacan culture, as it is the Desfile de Delegaciones, or Municipalities’ Parade, organized as a traditional Calenda. This Calenda is headed by a marmota (a large fabric sphere held by a pole), the giants (giant paper-maché puppets), chinas oaxaqueñas (women dancers dressed in traditional clothing with baskets on their head or hands) and a band of music. After them each municipality follows with music proper to their region.

Although Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states and each region encompasses different complex and rich culture and traditions, we find it fantastic to be able to have the opportunity to fill ourselves with a taste of each in one single event. We could not mean it more in encouraging everyone to witness this event at least once in their lives! 

So, what do you think? Was the Guelaguetza something you knew before? We would love to hear from you! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter where we share content like this as well as exclusive offers!

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1 comment

Mary G Baker

Great article.

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