A brief discussion of some of our experiences while living and traveling in Michoacán, Mexico.
Monday, March 15, 2010
LOS NEGRITOS, OR THE BLACK DANCERS
I have already talked a little about the dance of the negritos and the importance of the negrito in the Purépecha culture. Now I am going to describe the negritos of San Lorenzo. This dance is described in some depth by Essler (1988) and you might want to read that as well. The dance occurs on January 1 and is primarily about the transfer of care of the image of baby Jesus to a new carguero. The cargueros not only care for the image but they must organize the dance and transfer responsibility in the next year. For this reason it is perhaps the biggest event in the community and being associated with the image and the black dancers appears to bring status to community members. The dance itself is substantial with perhaps 50 male dancers with masks and costumes and a few women without masks but in fine clothing and hats of rancheras. The smallest contingent of dancers were the maranguillas ( who I believe represent Mary) wearing pink masks that were very feminine and included earrings and a few short ribbons hanging part way down their backs. They also wore bright skirts and wide brimmed hats with four artificial tulips standing on top. The next group of dancers continue to confuse me. Essler claims these dancers were viejitos but the masks were pink and very feminine, some had earrings and had finely embroidered aprons that looked a little like skirts and all if not most wore blond wigs. All wore cowboy boots and jeans and carried something which looked like a short whip. All had a few colourful ribbons attached to their heads which came a short ways down their back. Perhaps all of these dancers were maranguillas. There was one dancer who wore a mask that may have represented a viejito with a mustache but the mask gave no indication of old age. These two groups were the first to appear and performed a very typical two step and on occasion danced with members of the audience. This was clearly the preliminary act.
The negritos arrived to great fanfare. They wore beautiful black masks with flowers on top of their head and colorful ribbons hanging from the head almost to the ground. They wore traditional white pants and shirts. There were only five or six of these dancers and it was obvious that they were important from the crowd, almost entirely mature men, that pushed around them. These dancers made only a brief appearance in the courtyard before everyone took to the street to begin the procession through town. Although the negritos lead the procession they were not at first visible perhaps having withdrawn to a house until the procession arrived there. The other dancers were second in the procession followed by young women in beautiful traditional clothing carrying nine alters (four women to each alter) with images of the Virgin surrounded by flowers. These were followed by community members.
When the negritos appeared at the head of the procession it was clear they were honored, not only because one of them carried the baby Jesus but because they were in direct contact with the cargueros. The negritos carried a bottle of tequilla and a basket of sweets as gifts for the carguero. The negritos had linked arms with what I took to be the chief carguero as he carried a wand representing his authority (perhaps this was this the new carguero). Another carguero was always in front giving instructions on how to make the procession and the day the best possible (was this the old carguero?). To increase the number of negritos in the procession perhaps, two or three of the other dancers put on black masks in order to be close the cargueros.
Once the procession returned to the courtyard the negritos again were absent, arriving sometime later to great fanfare. As they had through out the procession the negritos clapped their hands rhythmically as if imitating a version of African rhythm. Upon entering , continuing to be surrounds by mature men, the negritos gathered in the centre of the yard where they appeared to have a contest of rapid dancing, usually in sets of two. On occasion the carguero would invite another dancer into the group but they donned a black mask before taking on the challenge of dancing with the negritos.
A wonderful introduction to the negritos in Purépecha culture but leaving a lot mystery as to what was really happening.