Showing posts with label Aztec. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aztec. Show all posts

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Timeless Faces

We see masks often here in Oaxaca. There are many celebrations throughout the year when masks are worn along with a traditional costume.

Mexican masks have a rich history deeply intertwined with cultural and religious practices. These masks have been used since ancient times, dating back to 3000 B.C., initially by priests for summoning gods and during sacrifices. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced the devil to Mexico. Soon after, horns were added to the masks of native gods, transforming them into "devils" to promote Christianity. Devils often appeared alongside death at festive occasions. Yet, the Aztec underworld was not a place of punishment, thus, people were less fearful of death. The devil became a benign figure. 

Recently a new friend we made on the coast insisted we simply must see an exhibit of masks in Oaxaca. Called Timeless Faces, at a museum founded by artist/philanthropist Fernando Toledo in the village of San Agustin Etla the exhibition of 700 pieces is from the anthropologist René Bustamante's collection.

Amy and I made the 50 minute drive from our village to see the exhibit. For a Saturday, it was remarkably quiet. The building is grand and the grounds too. Climbing the grand, broad stairway in front, we entered the cavernous space full of masks. What a delight for two artists that love culture. Immediately we became engrossed, wandering off separately then recombining to marvel and discuss.

Most traditional masks are made of wood, while some are made from leather, wax, cardboard, papier-mâché, or other materials. They commonly depict old men and women, animals, the fantastic or supernatural.  

Masks, including devil masks, have been an integral part of Mexican cultural and religious life, with mask makers being revered members of society. Today, devil masks in Mexico retain features of ancient gods, showcasing a blend of pre-Hispanic history and Spanish influence. These masks are used in various dances and rituals, symbolizing a fusion of the two cultures and serving as a link between Mexico's past and present traditions.

Wearing masks during mystical, religious or communal celebrations is practiced across the globe.

Personally, I have always enjoyed masks and own a small collection of African, Asian and Venetian masks. 

My brother from Santa Barbara, California is coming in a couple weeks to visit us. His wife is originally from Mexico. Amy and I will return with them and see the exhibit again.

Sunday, October 23, 2022


After we moved to Mexico Amy wanted a dog. Not me. I had not owned a dog for over twenty years because I traveled frequently for extended periods. 

When I met Amy in 2017 she had an old chihuahua named Unica. It died within a year. We married in 2018 and moved to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2019. Here, especially outside the city, many destitute animals wander around neglected. Three adopted us. It was because we pitied them and fed them. After the first two I told Amy not to show compassion any more. But a starving brown dog was too much for her to look at⏤and then there were three. One was murdered by a roaming alpha male that asserts himself over the vicinity. One we care for cannot be touched. Each has his own set of fears.

These dogs came to us. But in her heart, Amy wanted the dog that is considered an emblem of Mexico, called Xoloitzcuintle. I had never seen one before moving to Mexico. At first sight I found them rather repulsive. Hairless, wrinkled, with often a tuft of colored hair (moica ) shooting up between their eyes onto the forehead. Amy had an attraction to the Xoloitzcuintle. Maybe because she is a person who deeply feels cultural roots. The name is from the Nahuatl language. Nahua people primarily live in central Mexico and comprise the largest indigenous group. The Aztecs and Toltecs are descendants.

Famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had several  Xoloitzcuintles. Frida's favorite was “Mr. Xolotl,” after the Aztec canine deity and guardian of the underworld.

Amy began following online posts about Oaxaca Xoloitzcuintle. We almost bought one, but it was just before a two month trip to the east coast and Europe. While we were gone, our house sitters took care of feeding the “adopted” dogs that showed up at the backdoor each day.

It happened quickly. Amy saw on Facebook that the breeder here in Oaxaca had a puppy for sale. It was available because the people who had asked for it had not responded to phone calls. We went to have a look, meeting at a nearby coffee shop. The breeder, Enrique, arrived late. Opening the front of his jacket, two big ears popped out, then a little face with inquisitive eyes. With a half hour it was done. We drove home with our Xoloitzcuintle. It will be a medium sized female. 

So far so good. Her name is Malinalli, a day in the Aztec calendar associated with the god Patecatl. Patecatl is associated with medicine, healing, and fertility. She is the most intelligent animal I have ever had. Curious, attentive, playful and sometimes obstreperous. She trains quickly.

Amy is her favorite. 

I call her Molly.