Culture

This Indigenous Group From Michoacán Is Getting Ready To Celebrate A Pre-Hispanic New Year: The ‘New Fire’

With all the Chinese New Year celebrations we saw this week, we wanted to highlight another Spring New Year party. Based on a very different calendar and with very different traditions; the Purépecha people of Mexico are also celebrating a New Year’s celebration soon. And their traditions hail from a distant past.

Each year, the Purépechas light a fire to celebrate the new year, according to the ancient mesoamerican calendar.

Every year, since 1983, the Purépechas of Michoacán celebrate the new year on the nights of the 1st and the 2nd of February. The lighting ceremony of the New Fire, goes back to the pre-Hispanic period.

The Purépechas are descendants of a pre-columbian empire.

Purépechas today, are concentrated in the northwestern part of the state of Michoacán in Mexico. Their calendar is similar to the Mesoamerican calendar —a system that emerged with the Olmecs, and was passed down to Mayans, Zapotecs and Aztecs.

The most widely known version of the calendar is the Aztec version.

The ‘piedra del sol’ is one of the most photographed pieces in the Museum of Anthropology of Mexico City. The use of this calendar was halted in 1521, when the Christian calendar and rituals were implemented by the Spanish.

Like its variants, the Purépecha calendar also consisted of 18 months.

Each month was made up by 20 days, for a total of 360 days in a year. To keep the calendar in alignments with the cycle of the sun, Purépechas would add 5 days periodically —and since they didn’t align with any month, those days were considered ominous.

In 1983, a group of Purépecha intellectuals and community activists reintroduced the use of the old calendar by celebrating its new year.

This date is marked by the night when the constellation of Orion reaches its highest point in the sky. In the past, this meant it was time to make offerings to Kurhíkuaeri, the god of the Sun and of fire. It usually happens on the night of February 1-2.

The Purépecha new year is now celebrated with what is called the New Fire ceremony.

The New Fire ceremony is a Mesoamerican ritual, but originally it was performed once every 52 years, corresponding to the cycle of Pleiades; it was also the day when the civil and ritual calendars coincided.

Today, the New Fire ceremony has been repurposed so that the celebration of the new year can move from town to town in the territory once defined by the Purépecha Empire.

The ritual is carried out in a different town each year. The new village receives the Old Fire from the community that guarded it during the previous year, and lights the New Fire that remains under its protection until it is delivered to the next guardian.

The first time this festivity took place after being reinstated, it was held in Tzintzuntzan.

Since then it has been taking place every year, being an important element for the strengthening and cohesion of the Purépecha people.

The purpose of the festivity, is to keep traditions alive and to rescue cultural elements of the past.

“Even though the New Fire ceremony is the most representative aspect of this indigenous people, it is one of reflection rather than religious or political in nature,” says Patricia Terán Escobar, a researcher at the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH). “Some of the objectives are to rescue the collective memory and all the cultural elements of the past, such as the ancient Purépecha tradition of verbally transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next.”

The Purépecha council, Consejo de Cargueros del Fuego Nuevo Purépecha, approved the request for this year’s host.

This year’s Fuego Nuevo celebration was disputed between the villages of Ario de Rosales, Zacapu, Comanja, Erongarícuaro and Capacuaro. The latter was the winner and will be the bearer of the new fire for 2020. The village of Capacuaro was chosen to honor its over 500 years of history.

Capacuaro is one of the most ancient Purépecha communities.

“It was a necessary stop for tradespeople and travelers who were making the journey between Paracho and Uruapan —a trek that took travelers through the mountains, across the ‘sierra P’urhépecha’, a road that Don Vasco de Quiroga, a famous evangelist, often trekked.

This year, the New Fire —aka. New Year ceremony— will take place on February 1 in Capácuaro, which will receive the Old Fire from Cuanajo. Capácuaro is located north of the city of Uruapan, near Paracho.

These Mayan Women Are Reclaiming Their Heritage And Designing The Coolest Products Ever

Things That Matter

These Mayan Women Are Reclaiming Their Heritage And Designing The Coolest Products Ever

Amir Rodrigues / Unsplash

Much has been said about the vulnerable position that indigenous populations in general, and indigenous women in particular, are in when it comes to protecting the intellectual property derived from their traditional designs.

The Mexican Congress recently passed a law through which companies that steal designs from indigenous communities will be subject to hefty fines. The culprits are generally big international brands such as Zara and Carolina Herrera, which should know better when it comes to presenting designs as their own when they are clearly very “heavily inspired” by the work of craftspeople who earn a small fraction of what they should, only to see their designs being sold in hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

So it comes as a welcome surprise to find out some indigenous Mayan women have gotten together to profit from their millenary wisdom and dexterous hands to launch a startup that promises to become a way of living for many of them. 

An entrepreneur, una jefa de jefas, named Nancy Zavala launched a small company, Zavy, that employs Mayan women.

The company’s mission is to help women achieve financial independence through their work. Zavala knows that the key in a small company is specialization and they have focused on a particular product: camera straps. So far 20 women have joined Zavy. As Zavala told El Universal, these women feel a sense of accomplishment as their children see them work and their husbands, who previously “did not allow them” to do so, now also want to help. Women from other Mayan communities have approached Zavala, wanting to join in.

This is a great step for many Mayan women who not only live in an environment with very clearly and strictly demarcated gender roles, but are also part of an indigenous group in Mexico that has historically been discriminated against. Zavala put her heart, soul and money in this enterprise: the first straps were produced entirely with her savings.

Their camera straps are garnering attention among semi professional and professional circles.

The craftswomen receive 50% of the profits and the rest is reinvested in the company to buy materials and strengthen their web presence. They have been able to sell to Mexico. the United States and some Latin American countries. These camera straps are seriously cool and we can see any professional photojournalist use them…. Pero por supuesto.

We did a search on Etsy and found that plenty of pages not run my Mayans are selling “Mayan camera straps.” They either copy the design or “repurpose” other artefacts such as belts or clothing with traditional Mayan embroidery. This is like adding insult to injury: they are reselling objects that took hours for someone to make and sell for a fraction of what these repurposed straps sell on Etsy. This is why initiatives such as Zavala’s are so important. 

Nancy founded Zavy to honor her Mayan heritage.

Nancy was born in the small community of Saye and she grew up watching her grandmother make blouses, shirts and other products in the traditional Mayan style. But she knew that in order to achieve financial independence she had to study. And so she went to university and became one of the members of the 1% of indigenous Mexicans who finish a graduate degree. She got a Bachelors in Project Development, a huge achievement in and of itself. But her journey did not end there and she wanted to inspire other women and get them to be independent as well. And so Zavy was born.

Nancy is 28 years old now and she is doing her Master’s degree in Merida, the capital of her home state of Yucatan. We are sure she will keep using her knowledge to empower indigenous women. 

And Zany is just one among other initiatives that aim to help Mayan communities.

With some classmates, Nancy established a foundation that helps communities develop through applying their traditional knowledge into businesses. In addition to Zany, Nancy and her friends helped Mayan communities establish Biozano, a company that produces natural, organic makeup. 

Some of the women had to drastically change their careers due to unfortunate accidents.

Such is the case of Cecilia Dzul Tuyb, who used to be a police officer before a car crash prevented her from walking for several months. She was risking depression but found solace in traditional knitting. She was contacted by Nancy Zavala and the rest, as they say, is history: Cecilia has found a community of fellow women who do not want to depend economically on anyone else and who value their independence.

See The Stunning Portraits This Photographer Took Of People From The Most Endangered Indigenous Tribes In The World

Culture

See The Stunning Portraits This Photographer Took Of People From The Most Endangered Indigenous Tribes In The World

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

We’ve come to a moment in our culture where we’re reckoning with the mistakes our ancestors made in the past. The fallout from widely-accepted historical practices of misogyny, racism, and colonialism is persistent. It’s up to people in positions of power to use their privilege to better society. Colonialism, in particular, has an especially negative lingering global impact–largely because it has been so insidious. Only recently have colonists like Christopher Columbus been widely condemned for the violent and inhumane methods they employed to conquer and oppress indigenous peoples.

English photographer Jimmy Nelson has spent his entire career travelling the world and documenting the unique lifestyles of various indigenous tribes across the globe. In his book “Homage to Humanity”, he compiles his photographs in a vibrant and informative tome that shows its reader the commonalities among all of us.

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

Throughout his 30-year career, Nelson traveled to countless countries, including Peru, Ecuador, Thailand, Mexico, Sudan, China and Papua New Guinea.

While travelling, Nelson had the opportunity to take portrait photographs of people from indigenous ethnic tribes throughout Latinidad, like the Oaxaca, the Zapotecs, and the Chichimeca. The portraits are stunning for their detailed and tender depictions of various cultures in full ceremonial garb, the beauty of their unique traditions on proud display for the camera.

One photograph shows a woman from the Zapotec tribe in Mexico, her face painted as the “Lady of the Dead”. Another shows a young girl from the the last Inca community in Peru, the Q’eros tribe, wrapped in K’eperina blanket, staring defiantly at the camera. “[My job] is about being open to the world,” says Nelson. “With no judgement, no basis and nothing but love for other places and other human beings”.

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

Nelson’s life goal is to document the lives of indigenous tribes throughout the world before their ways are permanently eradicated through modernization.

Indigenous peoples are defined as “ethnic groups who are the original or earliest known inhabitants of an area,” before the land has been “settled, occupied or colonized” by other inhabitants. Indigenous tribes are rare because of how pervasive and all-consuming colonialism has been in recent history–particularly in North and South America. Philosophies like “manifest destiny” convinced (largely white) populations that it was their duty and right to settle lands that native populations had been living on for centuries.

According to worldbank.org, there are 370 million indigenous peoples living in over 90 countries throughout the world. And although they only make up 5 percent of the global population, their numbers account for 15 percent of those living in extreme poverty. Not only that, but due to the wealth of generational knowledge they have about how to tend to their lands, indigenous peoples are estimated to safeguard 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

Luckily, in 2007, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, a guide for its members on the collective rights of indigenous peoples

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

According to the United Nations, the UNDRIP “emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations”. The declaration was a necessary step in righting the wrongs of the colonizing forces of the past who believed that Western and European ideals were superior to the ways of native populations.

In an interview with The New York Post, Nelson describes how spending time with people who are not as deeply exposed to the hustle and bustle of modernization has changed his outlook on life. “We’re always thinking about the future.” he said. “But [these tribes] very much live in the present and in the moment, it’s wonderful.”

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

Nelson hopes that his book of photographs will humanize the people of indigenous tribes so that his readers recognize that they are no different from the rest of the world.

Nelson’s photos are not only featured in a book, but also digitally in the form of his “Jimmy Nelson” app. Readers can use the app to scan over every image in his “Homage to Humanity” book, which will give the reader access to exclusive behind-the-scenes content that includes interviews and short videos. He hopes this feature will give viewers an insight into his process behind creating his artwork. You can see more of his artwork here.

As for the rest of the world it would be wise for everyone to take a page out of Nelson’s book when it comes to his views on humanity. The photographer is passionate about connecting with humans from all colors, creeds, and walks of life. “I think it’s amazing how close you can get to people without talking to them,” he says. “We speak different languages but that doesn’t seem to matter. We are all the same.” Never have there been truer words to live by.