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La Guelaguetza

La Guelaguetza

Annually on two Mondays following the July 16, in the Mexican Oaxaca, one of the most picturesque cities in the country, the Guelaguetza , or "Mondays on the Hill", is held. This celebration is dedicated to the customs, gastronomy and culture of the peoples of the state, and there are more than ten of them here (Oaxaca is considered one the most ethnically diverse states in Mexico). Today, about 70% of its population amount Indians, and it’s the highest rate in the country.

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The traditions of the ancient Mexican holiday Guelaguetza date back to colonial times and are concerned with a procession, held by church Carmen Alto, which was built by the Carmelite nuns on the Fortin’ hillside (the hill is also known as Daninayaoloani, or the Hill of Beautiful View). The procession has been held on the Sunday following after July 16 and repeated in eight days. The Mixtecs, Zapotecs and other tribes, inhabiting the modern Oaxaca in those days, liked the festival: from immemorial times, the indigenous inhabitants of the present state organized the similar celebrations in honor of the goddess of corn Centeotl. The festivities intertwined in natural way, and today Guelaguetza is the brightest event in the cultural life not only in Oaxaca, but in the whole country.

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The word "guelaguetza" comes from the Zapotec language; there it meant "to participate, to share, to give". The celebration, in fact, is a joint project of the various ethnic communities of the state which calls the people upon to give the joy of communicating with their culture. Each region of Oaxaca represents the most valuable thing in the festival: dances, music, songs, folk costumes. After the performance of each participant, the audience is given sombreros, fruit, souvenirs – it is their guelaguetza, the gifts from the heart.

Besides the dance program, during Guelaguetza the bright performance Bani Stui Gulal is organized, and it acquaints the viewers with the history of the holiday and its traditions in different eras. This show was firstly represented in July of 1969.

The main event of Guelaguetza is a competition for the title of queen of the festival, the goddess Centeotl. The girls from around the state of Oaxaca may participate, and the main criterion for the selection of the winner is not a beauty, but the knowledge of Guelaguetza’s traditions, local costumes and history. The winner will be heading parade and receive a crown.

One of the most interesting moments of the holiday is the theatrical performance based upon one of the most popular local legends about the life and death of Zapotec Princess Donaji (in the language of the Zapotecs the name means "great soul"). It has live music of pre-Hispanic period: it’s performed on drums and sea shells; 90 dancers in colorful costumes of Zapotecs and Mixtecs acquaint the viewers with the story of love and heroism of Princess Donaji and Prince Nucano.

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In our time, "Mondays on the Hill" were celebrated the first time in 1932, when the inhabitants of Oaxaca celebrated the 400th anniversary of the city. Then they and visitors from the surrounding villages gathered on a hill not far from Oaxaca, dressed in national costumes. In 1974, the special amphitheater with seating capacity of over 11,000 people, where the major celebrations of Guelaguetza are held now, was built in Oaxaca. It’s necessary to book the seats in the amphitheater in good time, because the "Mondays on a hill" are one of the most popular festivals in Mexico.

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During the holiday throughout the city the traditional Mexican music sounds, different performances are held, the artisans sell their wares, and the chefs prepare dishes of national cuisine on the street.

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