While Chapala is barely getting into the swing of Carnaval, Ajijic started letting the good times roll last Sunday with its own brand of festivities that weave together high testosterone confrontations between man and beast at the local bullring and the madcap antics of masked marauders known collectively as La Sayaca.
Historical records show that the seasonal custom of letting loose at los toros dates back more than 150 years. In earlier time, a makeshift bullring located adjacent to the plaza was the venue where villagers gathered to watch fearless guys show their mettle at riding bucking bulls and charro horsemen demonstrate rounding and ropes skills.
Nowdays these hair-raising cowpoke happenings - ginned up with high decibel banda music - take place at the Lienzo Charro, located on Calle Revolución a block south of the highway turn-off to Salvador’s Restaurant.
The 2018 series continues Sunday, February 4 and daily, February 10 through 13, starting at 4:30 p.m. Admission is set at 100 pesos for Sunday, February 11 and the final day, and a voluntary donation on other dates.
The build-up for each jaripeo (rodeo) is the Toro de Once parade led by La Sayaca. The outlandishly costumed characters fuel a festive mood as they dance through the streets, chase down bands of kids who taunt them along and pelt everyone in sight with fistfuls of flour and confetti extracted from their purses and shoulder bags.
The rowdy cavalcade makes a loop through the main streets, ending at the bullring for an short interlude of hilarious hell-raising. Afterward, revelers wend their way to the Malecón for the recibimiento, a courtesy reception for ranchers who haul in the day’s livestock. Crowds of ordinary folks turn up to get in on the live music for dancing and free-flowing booze.
La Sayaca will also head up the Ajijic’s quirky Carnaval parade coming up Tuesday, February 13.
According to local lore, the Sayaca emerged from Ajijic’s pre-Hispanic roots. Oral histories handed down generation to generation point to a link with the legendary Xicantzy, a female village elder descended from thearea’s ancestral tribal ruler who had a penchant for extravagant clothing, glittery jewelry and facial makeup.
Some accounts identify her as a curandera (healer) who applied natural remedies to treat the mentally deranged. An alternate version suggests that Xicantzy herself was prone to occasional fits of libidinous madness that drove her to chase down male inhabitants and douse them with her powdery cosmetics if they refused her amorous advances.
Female Sayacas and their male partners (both customarily portrayed by men) arose as impersonators of her bizarre behavior. Their peculiar outfits, frenzied dances and confetti and flour pitching practices are said to represent scare tactics to put off Spanish conqusitadores and a form to ridicule the rich and powerful who ruled society in later eras.
The orthodox Sayaca character wears a papier maché mask painted with rosy cheeks, full red lips and heavily arched eyebrows, a garish skirt and blouse combo or outdated party frock filled out front and rear with balloons, gaudy costume jewelry, outmoded high heel shoes and an unkempt wig held down by a kerchief or fancy hat. The male Sayaco counterpart dons a dark wooden mask sprouting bushy eyebrows and abundant facial hair, an oversized suit jacket worn over a work shirt and baggy pants, short riding boots and a tattered hat.