SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – Among the Sierra Madre mountains in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, the Tenejapa municipality is home to the Maya-Tzeltal Indians who, despite the passing of time hold fast to their identity, culture and customs.
Their world-view is ruled to this day by the Mayan calendar based on periods of the earth’s fertility, with rituals performed at the end and beginning of the annual growing cycle.
The Tenejapa Carnival has a beauty and symbolism all its own, with major religious ceremonies leading up to festivals of the liturgical calendar.
It is also the only carnival in the Chiapas highlands that goes on for 13 days, and is in honor of Manojel (Jesus Christ).
During the annual festivals, traditional priests in regional garb pray for the well-being of each family, of nature, and to beseech rich harvests.
Enveloping the mysticism of the Tzeltals are the incense of copal, the music of drum and flute, and the alcoholic posh.
This year the carnival began on Sunday, Feb. 4, with the presentation of flags, an act that marks the start of the festivities. All the organizers of this festival, called standard-bearers, carry flags on their shoulders to the altar of the church.
After prayers they go out in the streets waving their flags and stopping at the homes of religious authorities, where they pray and dance for the well-being of the community.
The Tenejapa Carnival is celebrated with fun and jokes, while the the character “El Torito” (Little Bull) accompanies the standard bearers, the guardian Bankilal and the singers and musicians through the streets.
This is the Tenejapa Carnival, where the folklore and customs attract thousands of Chiapas natives and Mexican and foreign tourists to witness the color, music, joy and religious devotion of a living culture.
Enrique Perez Lopez, director of the State Center of Indigenous Language, Art and Literature, told EFE that the dancers “recall some of the Mayan legends of the creation.”
He said the participants interpret passages from the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas. “They recall their ancestral fathers and mothers. And within its religious syncretism, its mixture of Catholic and traditional beliefs, this festival has been associated with Jesus of Nazareth,” he said.