Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guadalupe in Paradise

Beachfront, Akumal MX

For most people this is paradise- one of the beautiful beaches that line the Caribbean coast, the "Riviera Maya", of Mexico. This coastal strip of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo  is famous for its pristine beaches, resorts, bars, nightclubs and all varieties of water sports. But there's much more to it than just that and if you look a little further afield, you find a fascinating life that few visitors suspect. That's because the towns of the Riviera Maya, in addition to being watering holes for visiting sybarites, are also home to the people who work there, largely of Mayan origins and devout Catholics with a lively religious life.

Guadalupe decoration on restaurant, Akumal MX

All of Mexico loves the Virgin of Guadalupe, its Patron Saint.  Her feast day, December 12 , is a holiday throughout Mexico and is as important in the smallest pueblo in the state of Quintana Roo as it is in Guadalupe's Basilica in Mexico City,  As with most major saints, her holiday is celebrated for the nine days preceding the actual day, as well. 

Historically, Guadalupe has been a very controversial figure as described previously in this blog.    But for Guadalupano's, Catholics devotees of Guadalupe, such issues are irrelevant; she is an absolute reality and a guiding light.  She is a healer and giver of miracles and the pilgrimages made in return for her miracles area are of utmost importance throughout Mexico. 

Preceding December 12:

The celebration of Guadalupe's feast is not only on December 12, but also the preceding nine days.  On these days there are novenas (devotional services) each night. Akumal, where these photos were taken, is one of the resort towns on the Caribbean coast of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, and here the novenas were held in a private house that had been set up to be a chapel. The novenas included music, singing as well as spoken prayer.

House used for nightly novenas preceding feast of Guadalupe, Akumal MX
Novena for Guadalupe's feast, Akumal, MX
On saints days in Mexico and stemming from Colonial times, there are typically indigenous celebrations of the Catholic saint who is being honored.   The ritual photographed in Akumal, MX was not performed by local people, but by workers living in  Akumal pueblo 
(the workers' quarter) who are from central Mexico. 

Dancer, Guadalupe celebration, Akumal MX
 The dancers and musicians in the ritual/performance invoked the four cardinal directions, as is customary in Mesoamerican traditions and asked Guadalupe permission to offer dances and music to her. The ritual was very intense and dramatic.

Ritual dedicated to Guadalupe, Akumal MX

The ritual space was demarcated with candles and the copal incense burners which are a  feature of indigenous celebrations throughout Mexico.
Candles and copal incense burner, Akumal MX

An beautiful altar had been set up with many images of Guadalupe, as well as food offerings to her.                                                                             

Altar to Guadalupe, Akumal MX
Altar to Guadalupe, Akumal MX
Promesa and Pilgrimmage:

In the days just before December 12, along highways throughout Mexico, you will see vehicles bearing images and altars to Guadalupe.  These include cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles.                                                                                                   

Auto with Guadalupe image,near Tulum, Quintana Roo MX
Guadalupano pilgrims, Tulum Quintana Roo, MX
Guadalupano pilgrim, Yucatán, MX

The people in or on these vehicles ,are those who have made promesas to the Virgin of Guadalupe in the previous year.  A promesa is a request made to a saint for some kind of miracle in exchange for which a person makes the promise of a personal sacrifice  when the prayer is answered.  In the case of Guadalupe, the sacrifice is often a pilgrimage.  Some travel to a regional shrine of Guadalupe, such as her Basilica in Mexico City, but in Quintana Roo and Yucatan, the tradition is to travel from the place where you are living and working to the place of your origins and back again.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Sign detailing the origins and destination of one family's Promesa, near Tulum, Quintana Roo

The pilgrims walk and the vehicles are, theoretically, only for resting, although it did not appear that all of the pilgrims walked all of the distances.  

Group of Pilgrims, outside of Tulum, Quintana Roo MX
Barefoot Pilgrim, outside of Tulum, Quintana Roo MX

The tradition is that  pilgrims reach their destination by 11 pm on the night of December 12.    There is intense movement along the highways this night as pilgrims rush to reach their destinations.  In various towns, there are rest stops set up for the support of the pilgrims, offering them food and drink such as horchata.  The one below was located on the road about a half-hour outside of Tulum, Quintana Roo.  In this place, there was a tremendous sense of purpose and both the hosts and pilgrims were very open to questions and friendly.

Pilgrims stopping in Macario Gómez, Quintana Roo MX
Pilgrims in Macario Gómez, Quintana Roo MX
Guadalupe Altar set up in Macario Gómez, Quintana Roo MX
Pigrims' car showing origin and destination outside of Tulum, MX
Pilgrims' car showing origin and destination outside of Tulum, MX

Below, in Akumal, Quintana Roo, cars had pulled off the highway onto the beach road to wait for 11:30 when they would form a procession and cross the bridge that leads to the pueblo and its church.

Pilgrim and cars awaiting start of procession into Akumal Pueblo, Akumal MX
Some of the men in the photo below had bicycled from as far away as central Mexico to return to Akumal.

Pilgrims-cyclists awaiting beginning of procession, Akumal MX

This car was decorated for the very dramatic night procession across a bridge into the pueblo, where the church is located. 

Car decorated for Guadalupe procession, Akumal MX

A crowd had already gathered at Akumal pueblo's church for the Mañanitas service that is the religious service for the feast of Guadalupe and begins very early on the morning of December 12.  It is not a formal mass with clergy present, but a popular service led by  music from a mariachi band, and takes its name from the Mexican birthday song, Las Mañanitas, that is sung to Guadalupe on her day.  On December 12, at some point in the day, there is a formal Catholic mass.

Crowd gathered in front of church for Las Mañanitas, Akumal MX
Church awaiting arrival of pilgrims, Akumal MX

 Pilgrims arrive bearing figures of Guadalupe on their backs; some have ridden on bicycles long distances through Mexico carrying these figures as a part of their promesa.                                     

Pilgrims arriving in front of church, Akumal, MX
These pilgrims enter the church and proceed to the altar where they offer flowers to Guadalupe.                                         

Pilgrims processing into church, Akumal MX

The entire front of the church is filled by the flowers that have been offered to Guadalupe.

Guadalupe Altar, Guadalupe Church, Akumal MX

A Child's Point of View:

Guadalupe observance, Akumal MX
These local boys had a custom that seemed to be part observance of Guadalupe and part early-Christmas.  Each evening they would come to the tourist part of town carrying cardboard boxes each containing an image of Guadalupe decorated with tinsel.  They would sing a lengthy song  about Guadalupe, the idea being that listeners would give them some small amount of money in exchange for the song.  When asked, they said that they were saving up for some X-Box games.  It is unclear whether this is a pan-Mexican custom or simply a local custom.  


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