A Mexican tradition which involves mainly going to the cemetery for an all-nighter and literally dine with the dead. For some reason this has transformed into making the recreation of the tomb at our homes, schools, offices, and malls.
Maybe is the lazyness of going to the cemetery during the wee hours of early November 2nd. After all in places like here in Mexico City it can get overcrowded. Yes, he have not only traffic jams and packed subways, also cemeteries.
There are endless ways of doing a day of the dead altar. Some very odd, others very Catholic. I may say I’m no scholar but actually I am an Anthropologist, so I’m gonna tell you what I use and put.
A must is cempaxochitl flowers (also known as cempazuchil). These are the flowers of the dead. Then I put food, candles, and objects.
For food what I put were amaranth skulls (these are the original ones used by the Aztecs Mexica), sugar skulls (more modern and popularized by White American hipsters for some odd reason), bread of the dead (which is made and sold only during these days), some like my mom like to put their favorite meals when they were alive, perhaps also alcohol drinks and cigarretes (against hipsters’ advice they can’t do any more harm in the other side).
With candles many make crosses, circles — I make a native cross signaling the fours cardinal points. Yes, indigenous peoples had crosses, not Christian though.
Photo I shot last year of the carved pumpkin I did.
Whether Mexicans accept it or not, Pumpkins are originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. And I fear Mexicans will be more prone to reject the historical fact than Americans (or the rest of the world for that matter) because there’s a strong anti-Halloween sentiment in Mexico.
And to think Mexicans feel offended by Donald Trump’s vision for HIS country, and still they also feel hatred (and even bigotry, I shall add) against all things Halloween. Allegedly they dislike Halloween because it’s an “all-American Holiday”, but if you ask me that title should go to the Fourth of July or Memorial Day. Anyhow, in the process Mexicans have developed hatred against pumpkins! They hate more these innocent pumpkins (they’re food after all) than Donald Trump! Media, ads, and even government propaganda attach these orange yankee “demons”.
Let’s have a raw reality check.
Pumpkins are Mexican. I wonder if the RNC are asking for visas to these friendly orange fellas. They were originally domesticated 10,000 years ago by the indigenous people that inhabited the region, most likely the ancestors of today’s Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Mixes (and others). Just like it was done with beans, squash, corn and chilli in Tamaulipas and Puebla, pumpkins began to take its current shape in Oaxaca.
The reason pumpkins ended up in Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is because it is what white settlers found (or immigrants, I’m confused to what Ann Coulter would say — not). To those days pumpkins had already extended over North America. “So those savages had trading routes before the arrival of Europeans?” Yup, pretty neat for a hoard of savaged, won’t you think. (Coff, coff, sarcasm, sorry if you’re like Sheldon Cooper and can’t read between lines. Coff, coff!).
To sum up.
Mexicans are bigots with their own stuff. Most of the time Mexicans are fighting for things they don’t have facts or data. That’s why there’s a saying here in Mexico that you gotta have the “hair of the donkey in you hand”. Don’t ask me, that’s the way the proverb goes, but I assure you it sounds way cooler in Spanish. It means that you gotta have your info before speaking, whether we’re talking gossip or a scientific breakthrough.
If you want to read or more know about true (and exciting) Mexican history, download my ebook Till Stars Shut Their Eyes. It has romance, action, and poetry!
One of my students learning how to write Ancient Maya glyphs.
First I taught them how to transliterate their name phonetically into Maya glyphs. This in order to grasp the concept of constructing Maya cartouches.
A Maya cartouche is composed by one or several glyphs.
Once they knew how to write their name in Mayan, we began building sentences in order to comprehend structure. One easy task was to begin writing using the TZOLKIN-HAAB’ DATE + NAME + “WAS BORN” sentence that was used a lot by the ancient indigenous Mayas. This formula was written like that in glyphs while read: In the year X of the month Y so and so was born.
Zapotec mother goddess Xonaxi. Oil on wood. 9 x 11.
Portrait I painted of the great Zapotec mother Goddess, Xonaxi. She created — alongside with her husband Cosana — the Earth, the Sun, and mankind.
These manifestations of reality, understood by Western minds as gods and goddesses, were actually the way Ancient Mexicans summed up nature’s phenomena. That is why there was no word for god or goddess in indigenous languages like Zapotec or Nahuatl, but only used for scholarly purposes.
She is considered protector of humans, for we are their sons. Not only Zapotec culture, but many other had and still have this concept of the mother goddess.
As an overseer of fertility, Xonaxi personifies human being’s life cycles. Xonaxi wears the Milky Way galaxy Zapotec glyph as her symbol (below her necklace). A macaw, another of her symbol, is in her headress.
Portrait my model Ximena dressed with the regal military attire of the great warrior ruler. Lady Ñuñuu Dzico Coo Yodzo, who stood up against the imperial aspirations of 8 Deer Jaguar Claw.
Although a ruler, she is considered in the literature as a warrior Queen, Lady Six Monkey.
At a young age, she visited the enigmatic Vehe Kihin cave to seek the favor from her revered ancestors to rule her people. She became ruler of what is now Jaltepec, Oaxaca almost 1,000 years ago.
A violent wedding.
On the way to her wedding, Lady Ñuñuu was ambushed and attacked by political enemies. Two towns in the road rose against her. She and her wedding carriers successfully repelled the attack, winning her military admiration, and thus being condecorated with the Quechquemitl of War.
The Lady wear War.
The quechquemitl is her distinctive garment with which she appears in ancient books and drawings. The quechquemitl is delineated by a chevron-like glyph which is read as “war”. Along with her dress these became her official attire, but also part of her name as written in millenia-long ancient books for posterity.
A jaguar seat — it’s all in the details.
Here, she is seated in her seat of power (equivalent for a throne), as depicted by each ancient codex with a jaguar hide. Such seats were used only by rulers. This was also applied by ancient scribes when writing history, putting rulers above a jaguar seat. These details help us now discern who were rulers of importance, and who were client or lesser rulers. After all, indigenous Ancient Mexico was all about protocol and sophistication — contrary to popular belief. While at that time (11th to 12th century) in England or France royals were very austere and plain (it was way before Spanish customs were introduced into King Henry VIII’s court) in the Oaxaca-Puebla realms of the Mixtec, Zapotecs, and Mixe lived in a sophisticated and courtly manner.
A woman who fought imperialism.
Lady Ñuñuu fought ruler Eight Deer Jaguar Claw’s imperialistic expansion. His men-at-arms sprawled across the Three Mixtec regions (locally known as Las Tres Mixtecas) — from now tourist beaches of Oaxaca to the mountain region and the valley area. No one could stop Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, especially after being anointed with the nose-piercing of power by the Toltecs, perhaps Quetzalcoatl himself. Little did they know what 8 Deer plan’s were. Lady Ñuñuu fought him personally, but was defeated. She along her husband and sons save for one were executed.
8 Deer became the first Yya Canu, meaning ruler of rulers, hence Emperor. Four Wind, Ñuñuu’s only surviving son avenged her mother many years later, executing 8 Deer and automatically becoming the second Yya Canu.
Photo and text by Miguel Omaña.
An ancient Mexican native altepetl (capital city) whose origin spans back to the time of the Toltecs, the prestigious city of the Eastern Lands of the Valley of Mexico, and where monumental artistry flourished. Today it is under the lascerating erosion of oblivion – and yet it is still there, as many places in modern Mexico and Central America. I continue to visit the sites that appear in my novel, this is another one.
Coatlinchan shared power with the Toltec main city.
During the heyday of the Toltecs, Coatlinchan was linked to Tollan Xicocotitlan (today known as famously tourist site of Tula in the state of Hidalgo), the epicenter of all things Toltec. Although there’s the idea that Tula was the political High Capital of the Toltecs, the reality was that rulership was shared under a then innovative system for sharing power which included Coatlinchan and gave status to the city.
Coatlinchan was part of beginnings of the Triple Alliance political system.
After the fall of the superpowers of this world – Teotihuacan, Tikal, and Calakmul – the overwhelming political vacuum forced the orphan new nations to survive by trying a different political system. The era of the imposing one-capital gave way to the Triple Alliance scheme. Three cities elevated each as a capital, but working in joint efforts. Apparently this project was successful since it appeared not only in Central Mexico but also at the Maya world in the Yucatan Peninsula and at P’urepecha land in Michoacan (Perhaps even in the Chalchihuite-Altavista region).
Henceforth Tula, Coatlinchan, and Colhuacan (nowadays in the Iztapalapa borough, Mexico City) comprised the Triple Alliance of Central Mexico. The lives of those Three Heads (as it was also called) were so intertwined, that the list of their rulers is confused from one another. The problem with the Triple Alliance system is that one polity tends to gain more voice than the other two. In this case it was Tula, who was regarded as the center of all things artistic, cultured, and civilization. This made the alliance fragile.
After Tula falls, Coatlinchan goes on.
After many eerie omens, Tula collapsed. The reasons are countless, but this left Coatlinchan alone with its sister city Colhuacan. Although Colhuacan enjoyed more proximity with Tula’s elite, they retained the glory of safekeeping the continuation of the lineage of Toltec families. What Coatlinchan kept was something that with times proved to be far more valuable, prestige over the cities, towns, and people of the Eastern Lands. These territory was East of the later known as Lake Texcoco, an interconnected set of five great lakes. Its elongated size spanned from the north in what is today the state of Hidalgo down south to the state of Morelos.
Turbulent times as northern immigrants descend to the Valley.
The fall attracted a continuous influx of immigrant contingents that arrived from the vast Northern lands. They were the first humans to be affected by what we now know as desertification caused by the climate change phenomenon (also known as global warming). Whatever the origin or cause, global warming forced thousands to leave each year to seek fairer climates. One of those who arrived changed the destiny of this part of the world, Xolotl. With a massive group following him from the Tampico, Tamaulipas area, Xolotl Amacui took political control of Central Mexico. Way before Nazi Germany’s blitzkrieg or George W. Bush’s shock-and-awe, in matter of months Xolotl’s men-at-arms seized the land in-between the limits of Michoacan to the Gulf of Mexico. This time is turbulent for Coatlinchan, and literally there is no dynastic link between the before and after of Xolotl. This only happened to cities or capitals where its rulers refused to be under the rule of Xolotl. Whatever the case, Xolotl spared the city and its inhabitants.
The Chichimec Domain era, Coatlinchan brights again.
The high capital was now Tenayuca (today Tlalnepantla, state of Mexico), and from there the Chichimec Dominion ruled sternly but ironically not to impose their way of life, but that which existed before them. Xolotl, his son Nopaltzin, his grandson Tlotzin Pochotl, his great-grandson Quinatzin Tlaltecatzin, and his great-great-grandson Techotlalla – each implemented major modern reforms to establish civilization ideals as the highest the people should pursue. These reforms found dissent amongst other Chichimec immigrants which were established in the Eastern Lands. A struggle that put Coatlinchan in the political spotlight, since the rebellion was to be crushed within its territory.
The uprise of a lover named Yacanex.
Swiftly Coatlinchan allied with Tenayuca to contain the uprise led by Yacanex of Tepetlaoztoc. A manwho also rose because he wasn’t permitted to marry Atotoztli of Colhuacan, who was already given to Huetzin of Coatlinchan as wife. Tenayuca, Coatlinchan, and Colhuacan quickly movilized to hide Atotoztli in Coatlinchan from the rebel Yacanex. This infuriated Yacanex and his thousands of followers from the area of Atenco. They took their fight against Coatlinchan, after all, this city represented the interests or failures in the Eastern Lands. In painted chronicles we can see Huetzin of Coatlinchan (son of the Tlatoani of Coatlinchan) against Yacanex. The war lasted many years, and in each combat Coatlinchan and its allies winning.
Then came Azcapotzalco to rule them all.
After the war, Coatlinchan remained standing, its sister city Colhuacan did not. This city was the last of the Toltec Triple Alliance, and so important elite intermarried with them, connecting many genealogical links to Coatlinchan, including that of a then minor city called Mexico Tenochtitlan (pronounced meSHIco tenochTItlan), and a rising star called Texcoco. But the rising star rose much faster because one of its sons was famed poet warrior Nezahualcoyotl. Texcoco slowly but surely shadowed Coatlinchan. The era of the Chichimec Domain was long gone, but Azcapotzalco desperately made all that was possible to retain its importance. Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco declared itself the sole heir of the rulers of Tenayuca — which he was a heir, but not the sole one. The new Huey Tlatoani (High Ruler) established military garrisons in Coatlinchan in its bloody war against Texcoco. The fiery bravado with which Azcapotzalco ruled made the Mexica Aztecs one of their finest pupils. But the students learned so good, that it superseded the teacher.
The ultimate Triple Alliance is forged, without Coatlinchan.
When the Mexica Aztecs destroyed Azcpotzalco in their war of independence, the Triple Alliance was once established over the ruins of the Tepanec ruins. Sadly, the new Triple Alliance did not include Coatlinchan. The reason was that Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco, Itzcoatl of Mexico, and Tlacaelel of Mexico reached a compromise with the surviving Tepanecs. After all, they were afraid one day they could turn against them. So instead of Coatlinchan, the only Toltec Triple Alliance city, Mexico Tenochtitlan and Texcoco chose Tlacopan (today Tacuba district, in Mexico City) as the third head of the alliance in order for the Tepanecs to be represented in the new Triple Alliance the world now wrongfully knows as the Aztec Empire.
Coatlinchan was so prestigous, that even Tlaloc refused to leave.
Coatlinchan survived in times of these “Aztec Empire”, contrary to what the extremely biased chronicles of the Mexica Aztecs want us to know, this city was never touched in war or other form except when Nezahualcoyotl fought the Tepanec fighters shielded in Coatlinchan during the reconquest of his nation in times of Maxtla. The city flourished artistically under the poet warrior tlatoani. Coatlinchan built a gigantic statue of Tlaloc (or perhaps his wife Chalchiuhtlicue), the manifestation of rain. After all, Coatlinchan was and still is surrounded by fertile land, and the city depended on rain and dreaded hail.
After our holocaust, Mexico gained independence from the Hispanics and struggled to find an effective political system. Dictators came and went. And after Porfirio Diaz, Mexico was ruled by the surviving revolutionaries of the Mexican Revolution. Their new government wanted to modernize the nation, especially in education. So they did a controversial move in such endeavor, they collected masterpieces from each city and ancient indigenous nation to be displayed in one unique site in an upscale area of Mexico City. One of such masterpieces was the Tlaloc of Coatlinchan. Its inhabitants refused the move, but the government with monumental machinery carried the Tlaloc who also refused to go from Coatlinchan, for it poured a heavy rain during its entire trip and rare technical problems appeared. But not even Tlaloc was safe from the modernization the Mexican government wanted.
What of Coatlinchan today?
The rain ceased once the colossal statue rested in its new home, outside of the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City’s famed Reforma Avenue (across from where the President lives). Perhaps after all Coatlinchan is still so prestigious, that its major treasure was taken to be showcased to millions of foreigners and tourists from around the world. The irony is those tourists nowadays take #selfies for their Instagram accounts with the mighty giant of Coatlinchan, but nobody visits now the city that made the statue, started the idea of the Triple Alliance, and dodged wars. Totally understandable, since today’s rulers have no interest to boost efforts for people, here in Mexico or abroad, to know such cities as Coatlinchan. It is of relatively complicated access, and has no infrastructure to receive visitors. Coatlinchan once shone, in the best of Mexican history, and now lies dark in the best of globalized society.
To get my novel, where the city of Coatlinchan appears, you can find it here or at online book retailers.
What lies within every person
is no mere earthly flesh,
pints of red gushing secretion,
or sheer elations, nor
tangled ties of daily passion;
be it sincere goodness
or evil grandest in action.
Oh! But fire endless!
Thus lies within at ignition,
amongst us the keepers
of the warm flame of creation;
undying and restless,
it kindles to beacon realization.
If you’re interested in poetry, you may enjoy my novel Till Stars Shut Their Eyes, where I wrote many poems of love and hatred as part of the story.
I shot the photograph in downtown Mexico City of calpulli indigenous dance group Tezomolline Naukuauhtli. Keeping the flame of our ancestors, people are once again organizing into calpullis (correct plural would be calpultin) just as in times of old.
In Southeast Mexico City’s huge valley there is a place cluttered with volcanoes, hills, forests, but also with strange stories since times of old.
Summit of the Sacromonte hill, with view of the snowy volcanoes and the town of Amecameca, Mexico. Copyright 2011 Miguel Omaña.
The Sacromonte, a magnet to stories of magic.
Although many towns are sprinkled below the active Popocatepetl volcano, one stands as the to-go town, Amecameca. Not only roads intersect there, but it seems to be in the middle of the area, with hotels, restaurants, and farmers’ market. To the west of the small town of Amecameca there’s a hill. Now crowned with a church and a cemetery from Colonial times, it used to be a magnet for stories involving the magical — the Sacromonte.
Geographical names in Mexico give you a hint of what happened there.
Sacromonte means in Spanish Sacred Hill, and the name gives us clues of its importance. In Mexico, the names of geographical places carry a clue of the place. Many hills are named for whatever was there, for example the Peñon De Los Baños — The Boulder of the Baths — refers to the hill where the Mexica Aztec rulers used to have their spa and baths installations (nowadays Mexico City’s airport radar can be seen there). In this case, the purpose of this hill was its sacredeness. In ancient times the hill was called Chalchiuhmomoztli.
View of the Sacromonte hill, and what lies below, still surrounded by crops. Copyright 2011 Miguel Omaña.
A mysterious temple that guarded magical waters.
In the Sacromonte Chalchiumomoztli Hill a temple standing probably where the European church now stands. The mysterious temple guarded magical waters that gave powers to the Olmeca Xicallanca people, original inhabitants of the area, before they were pushed to the other side of the volcanoes. Those powers involved transforming themselves into animals or rain.
Iztaccihuatl Volcano as seen from the Sacromonte hill. Below the town of Amecameca, Mexico. Copyright 2011 Miguel Omaña.
A magical arrow that burned magical waters.
There is another story where Atonaltzin, a Totolimpaneca warrior and chieftain shot an arrow to the spring of this magical water and the water burned and only to disappear. This seems to have been the end of those magical waters that, if stories are accurate, once flowed from this hill.
Shapeshifters in Mexico are known as Nahuales.
In other places stories exist of people transforming into animals, wind, rain, and other weather elements. Some of these stories are recounted as being literal, while other stories may be metaphorical. Nowadays, in modern Mexico, these shapeshifters are called Nahual (plural Nahuales). While some contend this are metaphorical stories that invite us to an inner understand of ourselves, others claim they have seen or hear Nahuales still to our days.
Once the capital of Tlatoani (ruler) Netzahualcoyotl, a member of the Triple Alliance (popularly known as the Aztec Empire), and home of master artisans.
I will be visiting the most important ancient Mexican cities during the time of the Chichimec Domain (way before the Mexica Aztecs, and immediate predecesor to the Tepanec rule). These places appear in my novel Till Stars Shut Their Eyes. You can locate them in the map I did on amatl paper.
Texcoco was one of the three capitals of the Triple Alliance, popularly known as Aztec Empire.
This is Texcoco, previously known as Tetzcoco – or perhaps Tetzcuco, since their people were known to accentuate the “u” instead of the “o” in Nahuatl language. One of the three major capitals (or heads) that governed the Triple Alliance (popularly known as Aztec Empire in Academia and the media) along Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan.
Visiting Texcoco, Mexico, one of the places that appear in my novel. Copyright 2015 Miguel Omaña.
Don’t be fooled by the green, there’s a Burger King nearby.
Don’t be fooled by the green and the ruined promontory that perhaps was a temple in other times this is Texcoco’s downtown. The site is called Los Melones and is surrounded by schools, a Burger King and other Mexican restaurants and retail stores. Since Texcoco was an important city after the arrival of the Hispanics, everything that was once Texcoco was destroyed except this rather small (very small) area. Or perhaps much remains underneath just like in Mexico City’s downtown, were every month city workers keep uncovering the ancient Mexica capital underneath modern-day streets, churches, and buildings.
As a Chichimec capital Texcoco rose with prestige.
After Quinatzin Tlaltecatzin moved the Chichimec capital from Tenayuca to Texcoco, the city gained prominence in the Eastern Lands of the Valley of Mexico. At one time, Texcoco was the capital of all the Chichimec Domain, but later diminished to become capital of a country loosely named Acolhuacan. As an Acolhua capital, its territory went from Southern Hidalgo state to the northern towns of Morelos state.
There were universities, libraries, and courts in ancient Texcoco.
After the Tepanec Wars, Netzahualcoyotl of Texcoco not only gained independence for his nation from Azcapotzalco, but also to the Mexica. Being his home, Tlatoani (ruler) Netzahualcoyotl established universities, libraries, schools, and courts – but he never forgot his cousins the Mexica. He also did a great deal for Tenochtitlan especially concerning engineering works.
The Hispanics fought a naval battle against the natives.
After the Toxcatl massacre in Tenochtitlan, the Hispanics went to war against the Mexica, and they used Texcoco as their base. The city was close to the lake, so they used it to their advantage and built small ships called bergantines. With their small fleet, the Europeans in coalition with Cholulteca, Huexotzinca, Tlaxcalteca, and Otomí engaged the Mexica fleet and sieged the city with cannons.
Texcoco’s role became diminished, and was even witness to one of the worst police abuse in Western history.
After the fall, Texcoco was still an important city, so much that at some point it was the capital of the State of Mexico (a state that surrounds Mexico City). But the mexiquense capital was changed, and Texcoco importance was suddenly halted. The destruction of Lake Texcoco did not help either. Without its lake and prestige, Texcoco suddenly found itself in the middle of nowhere. At the beginning of the 21st century Texcoco and its vicinity suffered police abuse, riots broke, and then governor Peña Nieto’s state police raped, abused, and dissappeared people in the area, especially in Atenco, a few miles to the northwest. Today, the Mexiquense highway (sort of a loop of gargantuan proportions that surrounds Mexico City) has brought new life to the area, although the local people is wary since it has already attracted the gigantic new Mexico City airport to be built nearby.