Friday, September 30, 2011

Feast Day in San Miguel Huautla, OAXACA, Mexico

We arrived in San Miguel Huautla, Oaxaca three rugged, rutted hours after leaving Oaxaca City. Patron saint (Saint Michael the Archangel) festivities had been going on for several days, and we arrived on the last day, the 29th, in time for some traditional country festival cooking and the mass and procession of the patrol saint. A busload of local families living in Mexico City hire a bus each year to come for the week as it is a time of reunion, celebration and general merriment . This is a small town, located in the deep valley of lush surrounding countryside, very picture perfect at first glance. About 500 households ring the valley, with the historic colonial church nestled at the bottom of the hills.
The primary source of income in the village is the weaving hats and baskets, using both natural straw and the newly popular metalicised plastic look-alikes. The weavers earn THREE PESOS for each hat, the next person in line irons and shapes them, and the vendor gets $30 pesos for the hat. The creators are able to produce 3-4 a day. That translates into less than a dollar a day, which is the universally accepted definition of "the poorest of the poor." (Microcredit Summit, Washington DC) That, and agriculture, form the economic base of the community. They are taking making inroads into reverting back to the old agricultural ways of their forefathers, returning to sustainability and organics.
We had an early mid-day meal,or maybe a late breakfast at the home of Anastasia, the majordomo's sister. It is very similar to feast days on pueblos in New Mexico, each family opens its doors to friends and family for sharing of food and here, much drink. I had to refuse mescal and beer for breakfast several times, with "I don't drink" and "I am allergic" falling on deaf ears. Later, Anastasia kindly presented us to the Municipal President, which eased our acceptance into the festivities and made interviewing and picture taking much easier for our current book project about CEDICAM (Centro de Desarrollo Integral Campesino de la Mixteca). The women of the village cook for days and actually stay up all night long prior to the final feast day. Several managed to nod off occasionally in-between serving times …..They create a kitchen on the dirt floor of the community building using bricks (to hold both the heat and the pots) and firewood, and assemble their huge vats of mole, beans, rice, blood sausage and breakfast masa. The beef was cooked for hours in a brick lined pit which was filled with embers and then covered. Each family contributes 100 tortillas to the event.
The important men are served first(no comment)and then after mass, the entire village lines up for a huge plate of wonderful food. The downside is that everything is served on styrofoam, using plastic cutlery, using probably thousands of pieces of plates and glasses, which they then burn thereafter. When burned, polystyrene (styrofoam is expanded polystyrene) produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (which causes cancer) carbon soot (also can cause cancer) and carbon monoxide, which is poisonous and must certainly offset the rewards of returning to an organic diet.
The very organized woman in blue who was seemingly in charge of the food operation very kindly shared the mole recipe with Susana Trilling ( , which had been passed down through generations of women, and is always used during festivals. This day they used 25 kilos/55 pounds of just chiles; there are about 20 other ingredients…. they used beef for their mole, rather than the traditional turkey, and a local cow was sacrificed for the communal event. I was a bit taken aback to be told proudly that their cows were 'natural,' i.e. NOT inoculated. Oops. Glad I passed on the blood sausage. Other events included a series of basketball playoffs, a bullring, small carnival rides for kids, and the ever-present pop and junk food vendors. The kitchen was by far and most certainly the most interesting place to be! (I apologize for the lack of control of photo placement...I have tried an tried to no avail....)


  1. Does anyone have any tips on controlling photo placement? This is very frustrating!

  2. Wow Judith, besides there being some very beautiful photos here, I thought you really presented a very whole picture , styrofoam plates and all, of this celebration.
    Really enjoyed meeting you however briefly at the Casa.
    Jewel Murphy - Eugene Oregon