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.

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This App Can Tell You The Indigenous History Of The Land You Live On

Things That Matter

This App Can Tell You The Indigenous History Of The Land You Live On

Erika Reid / Getty Images

Wondering about the Indigenous heritage of your city, your neighborhood or even your street? Well, there’s an app for that. Native Land, a Canadian nonprofit, has mapped Indigenous territories across North America, South America, and parts of Europe and Asia. 

For all the selfish and banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place.

This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. This app is digitizing Indigenous history, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Native Land is the app to better understand the extent of Indigenous communities around the world.

Whose land are you on? Start with a visit to native-land.ca. Native Land is both a website and an app that seeks to map Indigenous languages, treaties, and territories across Turtle Island. You might type in New York, New York, for example, and find that the five boroughs are actually traditional Lenape and Haudenosaunee territory.

On the website and in the app, you can enter the ZIP code or Canadian or American name for any town. The interactive map will zoom in on your inquiry, color-code it, and pull up data on the area’s Indigenous history, original language, and tribal ties.

The project is run by Victor Temprano out of British Columbia, Canada. A self-described “settler,” he said that the idea came to him while driving near his home—traditional Squamish territory. He saw many signs in the English language with the Squamish original place names indicated in parentheses underneath. He thought to himself, “Why isn’t the English in brackets?”

As a ongoing project, the app clearly states that: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”.

Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set in stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken.

Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify only three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set in stone, and that unless you have Indigenous heritage, we are all guests.

California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been Indigenous.

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Many Native Languages Are Dying Off But Here’s How Indigenous Millennials Are Using Tech To Save Them

Culture

Many Native Languages Are Dying Off But Here’s How Indigenous Millennials Are Using Tech To Save Them

Education Images / Getty Images

The Americas are one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world. In fact, in Mexico alone there are 68 different Native languages spoken. But many of those Native speakers point out that this diversity and cultural richness is under threat.

At a recent speech in Mexico’s House of Deputies, Doraly Velasco León, speaking in her native Pápago, spoke about the difficulties of preserving the language of her ancestral land, which has been divided by the border between Mexico and the United States.

“Only eight speakers [of pápago] remain, including the one addressing you today . . . Our language is in its death throes, but not our world view or our historical memory, because we have left perennial footprints in our path along those lands that sustain our lives, in our songs and traditions.”

She denounced the extinction of her native tongue, charging that it was not a natural occurrence, but rather the result of borders and walls that divide the lands she and her people call home. Her and other tech-savvy Millennials – from Canada to Brazil – are working hard to preserve their heritage and traditions through apps and technology partnerships.

Tech-savvy Millennials are fighting to preserve their culture and language.

Across the Americas, Indigenous languages are disappearing at alarming rates. For example, in Canada’s British Columbia, the majority of Native languages are already at risk of total extinction.

Many experts and human rights activists agree that Indigenous communities are facing a cultural epidemic, one that is leaving Millennials scrambling to save their endangered heritage.

Across several Canadian First Nations, tech-savvy Millennials have helped to set up organizations that aim to increase access to technology for Indigenous communities. Many point out that technology and the Internet are colonized spaces that have more information created about Native tribes than content that’s actually created by Indigenous communities.

Denise Williams, the First Nations Technology Council executive director, believes that Indigenous people have already used the limited tech tools available to embrace progress and independence—on their own terms. “It’s really important that Indigenous people lead our technological progress, and that it’s never the current dominant paradigm shaping how we will use the technological tools available,” she told VICE News.

Goozih as well as other technological initiatives driven by Indigenous millennials aren’t just practical solutions. In fact, they’re catalysts for cultural empowerment.

The app’s co-founder admits that they’re not exactly knowledgeable on how to formally teach their languages but that the mere existence of the app will be a huge catalyst to get people to connect with their elders.

Thanks to colonialism, there are many roadblocks stopping some Indigenous people from embracing technology.

For many Indigenous people, technology is viewed as a symbol of colonialism and forced oppression – so it carries with it a very negative connotation.

Williams points out to VICE News that Indigenous memories of colonialism may bar them from embracing modern technology. “One of the original ways contemporary technology was introduced to First Nations communities across Canada was by the federal government,” she explains.

Even today, she says, the First Nations Technology Council faces resistance from some community members who view tech as a symbol of colonial oppression. 

For many, the process is a very emotional one as they rush to save traditions.

Credit: INAH / Gobierno de Mexico

One of fewer than 500 speakers of Kumeeyaay, Norma Alicia Meza Calles said that a lack of attention from the government has played a role in the death of her language.

“We aren’t folklore. We are a form of life that needs to be treated with respect. We are those who take care of our environment . . . at times confronting the same government that grants permits without taking us into account,” she said in an interview.

“Public services are not part of our lives, but we still defend our lands . . . from people who have no love for their heritage. The hills, the trees, the animals are our brothers and we take care of them.”

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