Beginning in the early hours this morning, this family began making a Xuchile – an altar made from bamboo like strips, lashed to twenty five foot poles, then covered in flowers which are made from the root ball of the agave plant, decorated with juniper branches, and marigolds. It will be walked up the street to the Parroquia today in a parade of even more Xuchiles, dancers, and spiritual groups.
It is an offering to San Miguel, the town’s patron saint, whose birthday was September 29th, but celebrated this weekend. We spent several hours talking with the family about the history of this craft over the centuries.
As the morning progressed, we were invited by Juan, the head Xuchile maker (pronounced soo-cheel-ay) to go into the house and present ourselves to the altar, eat soup and spend some time with his family.
They are working on Calzada Estacion,
An incredibly busy street.
Because of the new highway to Guanajuato
Which has just opened as a ‘shorter’ route to the city,
We now have semis, dump trucks, buses plus very other kind of car
On this once quiet road to San Miguel Viejo and Cienaguita.
Nevertheless, Juan and his crew are not bothered.
By 9:30 am they are this far along.
There is one young woman,
A young man, and Juan Cordova
Lashing this together, weaving agave stem flowers,
Cutting pieces the size and shape they need,
With a machete.
Another woman is making corner pieces
By stripping the stems
Then adding flowers to the top.
Juan is lashing juniper greens
Guiding the process along, making decisions.
The shiny spoon like pieces
Are from the Dasylirion acrotrichum plant,
Locally known as the cucharilla, or little spoon plant.
The woman in the top photo makes these flowers.
She adds each piece, with the stem,
One at a time, each overlapping the previous one,
Weaving the stems into a basket weave,
Holding itself together.
When we arrived,
These two guys were sitting on the sidewalk
Refusing to play their drum and flute for us.
As the morning went by, they moved to the center divider,
Feet in the street, daring the trucks and cars to run over them,
Sleeping in the shade.
We took a little walk to the saturday market at the train station
Where hundreds of horesemen and women from the ranchos
Came riding into the church patio
For pozole, bolillos, pan dulce and cafe de olla
Before riding up into town for the noon mass at the parroquia.
That’s another post though.
Upon our return, and to watch the progress on the Xuchiles,
We were invited downstairs into the patio
Where Juan’s entire extended family
Was eating soup and tortillas,
Playing musical instruments that were made
From the shell of an armadillo.
But the real surprise,
Tucked away in a small room, was an altar to San Miguel,
Pink and silver ballons and streamers hung at the ceiling,
With two large statues on either side, of Jesus on the cross.
There are hand painted waves adorning the wall behind each cross,
Burning candles and copal incense smoking inside sahumarios.
You could barely see the room through the smoky incense,
The side walls lined with family sitting on benches, eating,
Soaking up the smell of the copal, the flowers, the quiet.
On the floor in front of the altar
There are baskets filled with cempzuchitl (marigolds)
Also called cempasúchil, depending on where you are from.
Along with other flowers, candles and copal.
Periodically, several women pass through the room
With more soup, bottles of soda, tortillas.
Meanwhile, outside, more marigolds are delivered,
Juan and his helpers are moving through the work
Which will be done by 3pm
Then gathered on top of the shoulders of about 10 men
To be walked into town for the parade at five.
Even Juan must eat,
Bowl resting on top of his work,
Smiling as he has been doing all day.
Before the parade began at 10 am
I went over to photograph the Xuchiles at the Parroquia.
They made their way in yesterday’s parade
From below the bridge on Calzada Estacion
To the church, where they were erected, and will remain this week.
Click on the photo below to view the slideshow,
Which includes a video of the process,
The walk to the parade
And various stills of the completed Xuchiles in front of the church.
Copyright, all rights reserved: Suzanne da Rosa 4th Oct. 2009