Martes de Carnaval, the local interpretation of Fat Tuesday, is just around the corner.
Be advised that if you’re out in the streets of Ajijic any time after 11 a.m. when the annual parade gets rolling you’ll be in target range of the masked marauders known collectively as La Sayaca and hundreds of rowdy revelers armed with industrial supplies of baking flour. If you’re not game for all that the unbridled festivities entail, it’s best to hole up indoors until the party is over.
I hear through the grapevine that logistics for this year’s desfile have been modified. The route will be the same, running east to west the full length of Constitución-Ocampo and doubling back to the plaza via Hidalgo. The madcap cavalcade will be led by local charro horsemen whose ancestors are credited with originating the village’s Carnaval celebration. They will be followed by fancifully decorated floats bearing beauty queens and celebrants costumed according to themes ranging from the extravagant, to droll and all-out raunchy.
But it’s the Sayacos and Sayacas who drive the lively Carnaval spirit as they romp through the town, stopping at corners to dance to lively traditional tunes like the Jarabe Tapatio (Mexican hat dance) or La Jota. They generate laughter and mayhem as they charge down the streets pelting onlookers with fistfuls of flour or confetti stashed in woven shoulder bags and over-sized purses.
According to local lore, the roots of La Sayaca may trace back to the pre-Hispanic era when colorfully outfitted masked dancers played an important role in rituals practiced to curry favor of the deities ruling over the four elements: earth, air, water and fire.
La Sayaca are also linked to the legendary Xicantzi, a female village elder and direct descendant of the area’s ancestral tribal ruler. Some oral histories handed down through generations identify her as a great healer who applied her expertise in natural remedies to treat the mentally deranged. She is said to have cut an imposing figure with her use of extravagant clothing and lots of glittery jewelry.
As one story goes, Xicantzi and a Sayaca pair stood at the village gateway when the first Spaniards arrived around 1531 as conquerors and Christian missionaries. Over time replication of their outlandish costumes, lively dances and practice of pitching confetti and flour at fiesta crowds came to represent popular rejection of the Spanish overthrow of the native culture and ridicule of society’s rich and powerful.
An alternate version paints Xicantzi as someone prone to occasional fits of madness that drove her to chase down men, dousing them with her powdery cosmetics if they refused her amorous advances. Sayacos and Sayacas subsequently arose as impersonators of her bizarre behavior.
Whatever the case, Martes de Carnaval is an occasion to put aside everyday cares and spend the day cutting loose for one last day before the somber season of Lent takes hold.