Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Totonac Flying Dance at the Cherokee Indian Reservation



In my last post of April 4th I referred to four other posts I had previously published on our stay at the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Being located adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the scenery in and around the Cherokee Indian Reservation is stunning. A river runs through it called the Oconaluftee River.


Click on picture to enlarge it

We walked along the river then admired a sculpture in the center of town. The town called Cherokee is picturesque. There are many borders full of vibrant flowers, including lavender.




Nearing the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds we could see a crowd waiting near a very tall pole. We came closer to look. A little Cherokee girl was also looking, but at me. Her parents let me take her photograph.




The Totonac Pole Flyers from Mexico were getting ready for their dance. They were scheduled to perform the dance twice, once in the evening and once in the afternoon of the following day. We watched it both times and I took photographs – some in the sun, and some at sundown.




I did not know much about this dance of the “voladores” - which means “those who fly” in Spanish – and researched it a bit. The tradition of this ceremonial flight was almost lost when the invading Spanish conquerors in the 16th century destroyed many records and the Church tried to silence native rituals. Fortunately historians and archaeologists reconstructed this ancient religious dance from oral history and early writings left by visitors to New Spain. Over time this ritual almost died out and survived only among the Totonac people of the Papantla area (eastern state of Vera Cruz) of Mexico. In pre-Hispanic times the participants were impersonating birds and some might be dressed as parrots, macaws, quetzals and eagles to represent the gods of earth, air, fire and water.


Quetzal

Now, this dance reflects the Totonacs’ tradition to dance to please the gods so that rain will nurture the soil and crops will flourish. The ceremony begins with a team of 5 flyers, each representing the five elements of the indigenous world, wearing heavily embroidered and decorated red pants, white shirts and hats. They dance around a 100 ft (about 30m) tall pole to the tune of a drum and flute played by the chief or “caporal.” The caporal followed by each flyer slowly ascends the pole then takes his place on a small platform perched atop the pole.








The caporal then plays the flute and drum to invoke the ancient spiritual offering. He turns to face each of the four cardinal directions and four winds, bending his head back to his feet, balancing on one foot. Each of the other four flyers, or voladores, neatly winds a rope thirteen times around the pole. This represents the number 52 (13x4) which is the numbers of years in a Mesoamerican solar cycle.






To acknowledge the sun, the caporal bends backward as he continues to play.




The four voladores represent the four elements: earth, air, fire, water as well as the four cardinal directions. The caporal represents the sun.




After the invocation the four voladores fell backwards, as we gasped, flinging themselves off “into the void.” Tied to the platform with long ropes, they hung from it and spin as the ropes unwind.



This creates a moving pyramid shape and mimics the motions of flight. The flyers, their feet looped around the rope, fly upside down while spinning around the pole gracefully descending toward the ground.



We kept looking up as they soared through the air with their streaming ribbons as if in a supernatural flight. We only heard the haunting sounds of the pounding drum and shrill flute.


Click to enlarge pictures

We watched silently as they lowered themselves to the ground, their circle widening as they kept descending.




When they were finally back on solid ground they held the rope so the caporal could descend.






The caporal finished his song of good-by and lowered himself down the rope to the ground.



The Totonacs people perform their ritualistic “Danza de los Voladores” to keep a part of their traditional culture alive and to provide additional income to their families. In the festival we attended they were invited by the Cherokee Indians in a spirit of friendship and to celebrate their heritage. The whole atmosphere was respectful and joyful and we enjoyed it very much.

In October 2009 UNESCO inscribed the Ritual ceremony of the Voladores on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to UNESCO "Intangible cultural heritage is the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Also called living cultural heritage, it is usually expressed in one of the following forms: oral traditions; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship."

Here is a clip of the Totonac Flying Dance as it took place at the Texcoco Fair

41 comments:

Kay Dennison said...

This is sooooooooo beautiful!!! How blessed you were to experience it!!!! Thank you for sharing it with us!

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

WOW!! What a fantastic post again Vagabonde. The pictures and information is stunning and I am sure it must have been exciting being able to be there and see it.

What a pity so much of their tradition has been lost throught the years for various reasons. I would love to go and see this town for myself.

Thank you so much for sharing. LOVED it!!

Vicki Lane said...

Amazing post, Vagabonde! Thank you!

Leesa said...

That is just ABSOLUTELY incredible!! I had never heard of that before!! How fun that you got to see that event in person.
Love you pics!!

Kenza said...

Impressionnant, vraiment très impressionnant et surtout émouvant de voir ce peuple perpétuer la tradition!! Merci pour ce très beau reportage! Grâce à toi je voyage dans des régions magnifiques, sans bouger de chez moi...
Je te souhaite une très belle journée Vagabonde

Pondside said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing this interesting story and the great photos. There are so many fantastic human stories - one thing I enjoy about reading blogs is the chance to learn about some of them.

Angela said...

I`m glad you took the video! Your descriptions were stunning, but along with the music and seeing the motion, it came all to life! Merci beaucoup, chère amie, ton blog est merveilleux. J`aimerais vagabonder à coté de cette rivière!

claude said...

Cette danse est assez impressionnante. C'est beau. La petite Indienne est super choutte et l'oiseau est très beau.
Je trouve que c'est bien de garder certaines traditions.
Enfant j'ai fait une danse provençale à une kermesse de l'école. Nous tenions un long ruban attaché à un mât et nous dansions en nous croisant, mais moi j'étais au sol. Ce devait un genre de sardanne.

claude said...

Je viens de laisser un com assez long et je pense qu'il n'est pas passé. Flûte, alors !

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

Hello Vagabonde!

These photos and the video, are so so so amazing!! Really :)

Friko said...

A fascinating spectacle and a wonderful description of the celebration and its history.
Your photographs as well as research are, as always, totally admirable.

Deborah said...

Vagabonde, this was extremely interesting. I had never heard of this (not really surprising, I guess) and once again have learned something from you in a way that is vivid and personal. Your research is very much appreciated, and after your photos and the description of the dance, being able to see and hear it was just perfect!
Now when I read your excellent and comprehensive posts, I will always have a little part of your story in the back of my mind - that you also write these for your husband.

But really, I think you should be contributing to National Geographic magazine.

DJan said...

I saw something like this performed many years ago at one of the ancient Mayan ruins in the Yucatan of Mexico. It was, as you said, an incredible thing to see, and until I read this post I didn't remember it. Very well done, as usual! Thank you for bringing this to life for so many of us!

Dedene said...

What a very special ceremony to have shared with us. I'd never heard of this but it's amazing.

dot said...

Wow, each post gets better! I've really enjoyed your visit to Cherokee. Thanks for sharing.
I've been there twice but my husband was a spoil sport so we didn't see anything.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

This is great! It is wonderful to see something so beautiful being preserved for the next generations.

Darlene said...

This was extremely impressive. I had never heard of this custom before and was fascinated by the photos.

I would hate to trust my life to that pole. It is so tall without stabilizers that it looks like it could topple.

Elaine said...

Fascinating post. I really enjoyed this. It must have been breathtaking to see this.

Ruth said...

This is absolutely extraordinary. I had not heard of the “Danza de los Voladores” until today. The symbolism and ritual of it is beautiful, and the visual, once I watched the video, was mesmerizing with the music you added. Such a height! The original bungee jumping, I guess. Thank you so very much for sharing this unusual part of human experience. I'm glad it's being preserved.

Ginnie said...

This is amazing, Vagabonde. I had never heard of it, either, in spite of all my time in Mexico over the years. The video clip is a great accompaniament to your text. WOW!

BTW, now that we are back from our England trip, I'm getting ready to fly out on Saturday to Atlanta. I will stay in touch with you about our meet-up the following weekend, which I am really looking forward to!

Marguerite said...

Wow, this post is amazing! You have done such a wonderful job of sharing this adventure with us! Your photos and narration were fabulous and I was on the edge of my seat, during the video! (I'm afraid of heights) lol Cheers, cher amie!

JM said...

The sequence is fantastic! I enjoyed so much looking at other photos than mine! :-) They are simply great!

Baino said...

The Church has a lot to answer for in trying to quash such things, shameful. What an amazing cultural legacy. I've never seen anything like it before in my life! Fabulous information and photos and the video was just lovely. You're so fortunate to be able to see this sort of thing.

Abraham said...

This is a nice post and very informative. I have seen people in other cultures do this and one where they come jump off and the ropes around their ankles snap them up just short of their heads exploding on the dirt like a dropped watermelon. It is spooky. One miscalculation and they explode their heads.

I posted the answer on my blog under your asking about how to add names to your pictures with the copyright symbol. © It is long or I could drop it here.

Lynda said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting event with us - your photos are great, too !

maría cecilia said...

Hello dear Vagabonde, how nice to know about this spiritual ritual and to know they keep alive their inheritage and are being recognized.
I want to thank you for all your uplifting words to my country when the earthquake and tsunamitook so many down.. there still soooo much to do.
Muchos cariños,
Maria Cecilia

alaine@éclectique said...

Thank you, Vagabonde, I knew nothing about them; interesting people and it's wonderful that they are passing on these traditions. Loved the panpipes playing in the clip.

lorilaire said...

Impressionnant !
Mais aussi très ingénieux comme système.
J'aime beaucoup le portrait de la petite fille ainsi que le plumage de ce magnifique oiseau.
Bises Laurence

Zuzana said...

Absolutely stunning photography. I am amazed by the clip as well, these men have no fear. And they have incredible acrobatic skills.;)
xo

Shammickite said...

What an interesting ritual. But I have to admit, I'm glad that I don't have to take part!!!

Virginia said...

As I watched each photo unfold I found I was holding my breath for them. I have never seen or heard of this ritual .Thank you for sharing with us. Your photographs are amazing.
V

Paty said...

hello! it´s so nice to hear those stories about the cherokee, and at the same time it´s so sad to know what happened to them. and the human kind continues to destroy our planet. my last post on my blog talks about that, how a hipyard that is about to be constructed will destroy the nature around the island I live, Florianopolis. I would appreciate if you could divulge it to your blog friends. Thank you!

Titane333 said...

De superbes photos, impressionnantes. Un blog très intéressant où il fait bon se promener. Belle semaine!

sablonneuse said...

I agree with Baino: the Church had no right to attempt to eradicate cultural traditions - especially something as beautiful ast his.

☼ France ☼ said...

Bonjour et merci pour ces photos pour cette joie tout en douceur et en couleurs

RennyBA's Terella said...

What a readable, exciting and interesting post and well documented with great pics too!

I love to learn about a countries natives and don't know that much about yours - so thanks for sharing.

Have been to Australia though and had a glimpse of the Aboriginals and of course I know a bit about the Sami in Norway.

Astrid said...

ONE WORD....impressive, fabulous.
Dear Vagabond I think this was a wonderful experience.
Great pictures....erm....knowing Ginnie you know I will never have enough words to express myself :)
Please have a great meeting with Ginnie in a few hours, maybe next time I am with Ginnie.

octobia said...

Great reporting and photography! I'm glad I stopped by. Next time you're in the Cherokee area, be sure to swing by Asheville too!

L

iracema forte caingang said...

Oi eu li tudo com muita atenção.
Fiquei muito feliz com suas palavras carinhosas com os povos indígenas,e vou seguir este blog, com muito respeito,não falo minha lingua de origem,perdi aos sete anos de idade, não sei falar outras linguas,e tento escrever o melhor que posso o portugues.
Escrever é tudo para mim.
Tudo de bom beijão

iracema forte caingang said...

Grata, voce merece muito mais.
BEIJÃO

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation of the dance ritual. I saw the Totnacs perform several times when I was a kid at the Gallup NM Inter Tribal Indian Ceremonial. They are fascinating. I never knew the meaning of the dance. Thank you for your posting.

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