Adventures In Mexico #21 – Ritual Dances

Adventures In Mexico #22 - Ritual Dances


By Malcolm Callister
It was March, the end of the dry season. Time for the Mayo to hunt and gain honor. The deer attacked unexpectedly, its face straight into Linda's, she toppled backward. The shaman continued his ritual dance. Our tour guide had made an unplanned stop for lunch at a Mayo Indian settlement to experience a Mayo Indian ritual dance

Traveling to El Fuerte

Our tour group was going to El Fuerte to meet the Copper Canyon train. The stop at a Mayo indigenous community to observe a shaman perform traditional ritual dances of his people was unexpected. After the dances, we were to be fed deer meat and fish tacos, prepared over an outside oven.
On the drive to the town of El Fuerte, our driver left the main highway and drove along dirt roads. The dry ground to the side of the road supported low scrub trees and hash grasses. These grasses became greener as we approached a bend in the El Fuerte river and a small settlement of Mayo indigenous people. The village, on the coastal plans between the Pacific Ocean and the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental Range still relies on hunting, fishing, and some agriculture.

A Mayo Shaman Perform their Ritual Dances

Arrangements had been made for us to watch a Mayo shaman perform their ritual dances of war and the deer hunt. The shaman danced in the community’s sacred shelter. The shelter was a roof of brushwood supported on narrow upright and cross poles. Wood is scarce in this area. The floor was bare earth.
The shaman, a grandfather, dressed in traditional white clothing, around his lower legs he wore butterfly cocoons with small pebbles inside. The butterfly cocoons rattle as the shaman dances. The costume and the duties of the shaman are explained to us by the shaman’s grandson (David). It is the Mayo tradition that knowledge is passed on, Grandfather to Grandson. David was learning the role of shaman. Over time the “war dance” and the “deer hunt dance” blended the Christian Religion with traditional values and the dances no longer resulted in actual death.

The “War Dance”

The Mayo are an indigenous people who for two-thousand years have inhabited the Mayo and Fuerte Rivers of the northern Sinaloa and southern Sonora states of Mexico. They waged war between themselves not for land and property but for the honor of taking another warriors life. The dance portrays the combining of two spirits with the facemask initially worn on the side of the dancer's head. The mask is moved slowly over the face as the warrior spirits combine.

The “Deer Hunt Dance”

The shaman danced to the mesmerizing sounds of simulated rain, a heartbeat sound from the gourd floating in a bowl of water. The overriding rhythmic sound was that of the small drum, its skin stretched tight by the warmth of the fire. We watched the shaman copy the actions of a deer as it runs from the hunters, stopped to drink water, listened scared and frightened, exhausted the deer is ultimately killed. This was a moving experience, one that for me anyway did not lead to an enjoyable deer meat taco lunch.

M&L Tip of the Week.

There are times when an RVer can get more out of their travel experience by parking their rig and taking an organized tour.