Birthday Party of the Last Aztec Emperor
According to the oral tradition, 23rd of February is considered to be the day of birth of the last Aztec Emperor – Cuauhtémoc. According to the same tradition, after his execution, the loyal Aztec warriors have smuggled his remains into his birthplace – a small mountain town of Ixcateopan in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico.
Until now, for the Indigenous population of Mexico, Cuauhtémoc is a symbol of resistance against Spaniards and the emblem of ethnical and cultural identity, so no surprise that during the period of five days celebration, the town is invaded by Aztec Dancers from all over the country.
The dances and ceremonies are running almost non-stop day and night, transforming the streets of the sleepy town into the vibrant show of feathers and bones, copal smoke and painted bodies, accompanied by the rhythms of drums and howls of the shells.
The epicenter of the celebration is the church, where the remains of the last king supposedly are displayed. All the catholic stuff (including the guy on the cross at the first place) had been removed a while ago, so the temple transcends purely indigenous spirit – with dozens of camouflaged bodies, sinking in fragrance of burning incense and moving in hypnotic circles.
Even though the festival has a sense of carnival and definitely a show off for the best indigenous costume – the whole ceremony carries a huge spiritual meaning for the participants in a sense of preserving their traditions and representing their roots of identity. Some groups of dancers have traveled a long way from a distant parts of Mexico to honor Cuauhtémoc with their single dance, leaving shortly after.
According to the locals of Ixcateopan – the celebration is going on for about 30 years. Surprisingly, the commercial part of the event still doesn’t extend further then selling crafts and decorations for “atuendos ” (dancing clothes) to the fellas dancers. Even the locals, for whom it’s a one-in-a-year opportunity to raise the economy of the town, don’t take advantage of it, providing their backyards and homes for а free camping.
Although the celebration has it all to became a mecca for ethno tourism – from exotic colors to a vivid market and a cheap mezcal – the aim here is obviously not to sell but to rebel and to remember. For the thousands of years the dance was a crucial element in the spiritual and cultural tradition of the native people of Mexico. Even though it had to adopt Christian symbolism under the policy of the church during the Colonial Period, Spanyards have never succeed in suppressing the dance, which emerged shortly after the conquest of Aztec Empire and became a way to preserve and to pass the knowledge to the next generation.
And thats how the celebration feels – five days of drumming and pounding the sacred grounds in order to reconnect, reunite and to dance away all the imposed bullshit that they were forced to carry for the last 500 years.