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History and significance of the Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca

Updated: May 20

The Guelaguetza festival is not just Oaxaca's most significant cultural event; it's a vibrant celebration of indigenous heritage and unity.

Parade Guelaguetza festival
Parade at La Cruz de Piedra Guelaguetza festival.

The term "Guelaguetza" originates from the Zapotec language and translates to "offering" or "gift." This concept embodies the spirit of reciprocity among families. In 1932, a commemorative event was organized to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city of Oaxaca. Representatives from all eight state regions were invited to showcase their traditional dances, each delegation bringing symbolic gifts. This cultural spectacle was subsequently named "Guelaguetza," symbolizing the richness and diversity of Oaxacan traditions.

To Oaxacans, Guelaguetza is more than a festival; it represents brotherhood, loyalty, support, and friendship. It unites families and communities, weaving them into a tapestry of shared cultural heritage, pride, and solidarity.

This festival embodies the spirit of communal work and cultural unity among 16 different ethnic groups in Oaxaca.

Historical Background of the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca

Pre-hispanic Origin

The Guelaguetza dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. After the Aztecs conquered the Central Valley of Oaxaca, they built a temple near Cerro de Fortín to worship Centeotl, the Corn Goddess. Zapotecs joined in these rituals, which laid the foundation for the communal celebrations.

Colonia Era Syncretism

During the colonial period, Zapotec and Mixtec communities migrated near the Cerro de Fortín to stay connected to their ancestral roots. By 1700, the syncretism between indigenous and Christian traditions was evident, with annual processions for St. Carmen integrating indigenous and Spanish elements such as fireworks, costumes, and music.

Modern Evolution

1932, the "Homenaje Racial" (Racial Homage) was held, and it was considered the precursor to the contemporary Guelaguetza. This event involved performances by people from Oaxaca's various cultural regions. A few years later, part of its tourism strategy included building a new stadium, the Rotunda de la Azucena.

Formalization and Commercialization

Until the 1970s, Guelaguetza was an informal, free event. In 1974, the construction of Auditorio Guelaguetza introduced admission fees, which deterred many lower and middle-class Oaxacans due to high ticket prices.

Alternative Guelaguetza

In response to the commercialization and accessibility issues, local teachers of CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) organized the "Guelaguetza Popular Alternativa" in 2006. This alternative celebration aimed to reclaim the tradition for the people and continued to be celebrated annually, parallel to the official state event.

Top traditional dances and music performed during Guelaguetza

The Guelaguetza festival showcases a vibrant array of traditional dances and music from the state of Oaxaca's eight regions. Here are the eight most representative dances from each region.

1. Los Valles Centrales - Danza de la pluma

2. La Sierra Juárez (Sierra norte) - Sones serranos y jarabe de la botella

3. La Cañada -

4. Tuxtepec - Flor de piña

5. La Mixteca - Jarabe Mixteco

6. Istmo - La Sandunga

7. La sierra sur - Las chilenas

8. La costa - Las chilenas

Spanish words you should know to get a full Oaxaca Spanish Immersion during the Guelaguetza

Mastering Key Spanish words can transform your experience at Oaxaca's Guelaguetza into an unforgettable cultural Oaxaca Spanish immersion.

  1. Cerro means hill or mountain. In the context of the Guelaguetza, it refers to the "Cerro del Fortin," the hill beside Oaxaca City where the auditorium for the Guelaguetza festival is held.

  2. Espectáculo means Spectacle or show. It describes the grand performances and cultural displays during the Guelaguetza.

  3. Feria means fair and refers to the various market stalls, food vendors, and artisanal displays accompanying the Guelaguetza celebrations. Famous fairs during the Guelaguetza are "La feria del Mezcal" or "La feria del Queso y del Quesillo"

  4. Calenda is a traditional Oaxacan parade, often featuring music, dancing, and large paper mâché figures.

  5. Convite: Invitation or feast. In the context of Guelaguetza, it can refer to a communal gathering or feast, often inviting people who participate in the celebrations.

  6. Desfile is also a Parade. In the context of Guelaguetza, the processions are a crucial part of the festivities. Each procession takes place the Sunday before the festival, which always falls on Monday, and all the delegations from the different regions participating partake in this parade, showcasing traditional dances, music, and costumes.

  7. Leyenda: Legend. It refers to the myths and stories from Oaxacan culture that are often shared and celebrated during the Guelaguetza.

  8. Traje regional: Regional costume. These are the traditional outfits worn by participants in the Guelaguetza, representing the diverse indigenous cultures of Oaxaca.

  9. Monos y marmotas de calenda: Giant puppets and lanterns used in the parades. "Monos" are large figures made of papier-mâché, while "marmotas" are big lanterns.

  10. Jarabe: A traditional folk dance, during the Guelaguetza, various regions perform their versions of jarabe, showcasing their unique choreography, music and cultural expression. Jarabe Mixteco is one of the most famous dances, usually beginning with one of Oaxaca's most famous songs, "La Cancion Mixteca."

2024 Guelaguetza Festival

The Guelaguetza festival takes place on the last two Mondays of July, except when one falls on July 18, the anniversary of the death of Mexican president Benito Juarez, Oaxaca's most famous and honored politician. In those years, the Guelaguetza takes place on July 25 and August 1.

In 2024, the Guelaguetza festival will be on Monday, July 22 and 29.

2024 Guelaguetza Festival Calendar of activities

July 1 - Inauguration of the festivities of the Guelaguetza

Convites de la Guelaguetza 2024

July 6, 12, and 13 at 18:00, starting from La Cruz de Piedra.

Guelaguetza Parade

July 20 and 27 at 17:00, starting from "La Fuente de las 8 regiones" through Calzada Porfirio Diaz, Avenida Juárez, Abasolo, Alcalá, Morelos, Gracia Vigin, ending at the Alameda de Leon beside the Zocalo.

Guelagetza Festival (Lunes del Cerro)

July 22 and 29 at Auditorio Guelaguetza 10:00 and 17:00.

Other events

Bani stui gulal - July 20 and 27 at 20:00 . Auditorio Guelaguetza

La Leyenda Donaji - July 21 and 28 at 20:00. Auditorio Guelguetza

2024 Guelaguetza festival official progam
Guelaguetza festival official program

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