Thursday, December 10, 2015

Zamora Part 6: Cowboy saints and devils on motorcycles

Indigenous mask from the Purépecha pueblo of Ocumicho. During our visit to Zamora, Carole and I scheduled a day trip to investigate several of the small pueblos in the mountains surrounding the city. These pueblos are the home of the native Purépecha people, the largest indigenous population in Michoacan and one of the largest in all Mexico. The carved wooden masks of Michoacan are very distinctive. They are usually anthropomorphic, in this case a mixture of human and cow. Other very common features of Michoacan masks are snakes, lizards, or insects writhing across the features of a mask, along with intricate and vividly painted designs. We purchased this one from one of the artisans in Ocumicho for approximately $24.00 USD.

San José de Gracia and its old Franciscan mission

The squat steeple and the double choir window over the door are typical of this region. During my research for this blog post, I consulted with Richard Perry, an expert on the colonial religious architecture of Mexico. He edits a website call Arts of Colonial Mexico and has written a wonderful book called Blue Lakes and Silver Cities. Anyone visiting the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato or Querétaro should pick up a copy. Richard believes this is a Franciscan church, part of a small mission complex sited in the pueblo of San José de Gracia. The town, also known as San José Ocumicho, has only 558 inhabitants, living in 112 households. We discovered it on the way to the larger pueblo of Ocumicho, which was one of our intended destinations on this day trip.

Near the altar of the church, we discovered this rather startling figure. The statue is about 3/4 human size and is set up as a special display in front of the altar. The nature of the display led me to believe that it may be for a special saint's day, rather than being part of the church's regular decoration. Richard suggested the figure might be San Isidro, whose feast day is in May. However, June 28 was the date we visited. In any case, the figure (who might well be a woman) is dressed in a Mexican serape and wearing a rather fancy cowboy hat. Wrapped around the statue's waist is an elaborate leather apron with a flower design. I would be happy to hear from anyone who might be able to identify him/her.

A horse grazes peacefully by the ruins of an old Franciscan hospital for the Purépecha. When I spotted this structure on the street leading into town, we immediately decided it was worth investigating. Our interest increased when we saw that it was adjacent to the old Franciscan church. I thought it might have been the original colonial church, since most of the oldest churches were simple adobe structures like this one. When I emailed the photo to Richard Perry, he replied that this may have been a hospital attached to the mission complex. Its structure is very similar to one that Richard has definitely identified as a Franciscan hospital in the nearby pueblo of Patamban. Another very similar hospital in the pueblo of San Lorenzo is pictured in Blue Lakes and Silver Cities. The adobe structure seen above is rectangular and its exterior is covered by plaster. The clay tile roof is supported by wooden rafters. The only entrance is the arched door.

View through the door, showing adobe walls and carved wooden rafters. The interior was overgrown with brush. Apparently the the adobe walls inside the hospital were never plastered, or perhaps the plaster has fallen away. The only brick or stone elements of the structure I found were in the frame of the doorway. The original Spanish "hospitals" were not intended for medical purposes, but to offer shelter, food, and religious services to pilgrims. After all, hospital is the root word for hospitality. As the Spanish Church began establishing missions in the New World, hospitals were seen as a conversion mechanisms. The friars acted as health care providers in order to supplant their main rivals, the native shamans. Thus, the focus of the mission hospitals increasingly became medical care.

I was intrigued by the graceful carving of the wood rafters. The Purépecha were famous as woodcarvers before and after the Spanish arrival. The vast forests blanketing the mountains of Michoacan gave them ample working material. Hospitals such as this were utilised primarily by the indigenous people. The Spanish overlords avoided them both because of a fear of infectious diseases and because institutional care implied poverty. The Spanish preferred to receive their health care delivery at home.

Ocumicho, home of the little devils

Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Ocumicho's plaza. This old colonial church is small but very charming. Ocumicho is built on a hillside so the streets wander a bit rather than conforming to the usual colonial grid pattern. Ocumicho was the name of the original Purépecha village. One translation means "place of the cobs", a reference to the production of maiz (corn). Another is "place of the tanners" referring to the tanning deer hides for leather and shoes, an early village specialty. The Spanish who settled here in the mid-16th century received their town charter in 1568. The Iglesia de San Pedro y San Pablo (seen above) was completed in 1622.

View of the rear of the church. The unusual conical buttresses on the rear corners of the structure caught my eye. This church also has an old hospital attached to it, along with other colonial-era buildings. According to Perry's book, Blue Lakes and Silver Cities, the church/hospital complex was a visita (local branch) of the Franciscan monastery at Tarecuato.

Two girls sit by the entrance of the mission complex. They are giggling over a note in the hands of the girl on the right. I am betting that it was received that day from a boy at their school. Kids are kids, wherever one encounters them.

Incense drifts toward the ceiling at the altar of the church. A Purépecha woman moved about, fumigating the various images and statues of saints with incense. Another couple of women sit near the front, chanting quietly. When I asked her, the woman with the incense confirmed that it was copalCopal incense had been used for centuries by pre-hispanic civilisations in their religious rites. Since incense had long been used in Catholic religious rites, copal was quickly adopted by evangelising friars. Copal comes from the resin of the copal tree (Protium copal) and has an aromatic but slightly acrid scent.

An Ocumicho artisan, dressed in traditional Purépecha style. This woman was one of those we encountered in the church. She spotted us immediately as potential customers and quickly persuaded us to visit her nearby home in order to view her pottery creations. The local artisans, who appeared to be largely women, were friendly and not the least bit shy about button-holing stray tourists who might come their way. Since we had visited Ocumicho in good part because of its reputation for artisanship, we were an easy catch. She led us through a maze of ancient streets to her home. Most of the local artisan's work is not sold in Ocumicho itself, but in Zamora or other Michoacan cities. There are few places where the work is displayed. You must seek out the artisans, or let them find you. In our case, it didn't take long.

A grinning little devil revs up his motorcycle. Carole selected this little guy. On his front mudguard is a chicken and a basket of fresh eggs adorns the rear. Devil figures like this are a speciality of Ocumicho and have made the pueblo famous. Each figure is unique and made by hand by the artisan. Most are portrayed in a humorous manner. According to local legend, one day the devil came to Ocumicho and bothered everyone. He entered the trees and killed them. Locals dogs did nothing but shake and cry. He pursued people and made them sick and mad. Finally, someone had the idea of creating little devil figures so that Ocumicho could become a place where the devil could live without bothering anyone. Who created the first devil figure is a matter of some dispute. Some say it was a young man named Marcelino. Others claim it was a grandmother named Guadalupe Linares Margarita. Whoever it was, the local community has benefited greatly.

This little dragon-dog was my favourite. With his lolling tongue and happy face, I couldn't resist. He comes equipped with a pair of colorful wings, but I have yet to see him fly. This style of creature is called an alebrije. The style originated in Mexico City in the 1930s. when an artist named Pedro Linares created the first examples based on a dream. While sick with a fever, he hallucinated a forest filled with strange, unknown animals. All were crying out "alebrije!", a word which has no meaning in Spanish. He dubbed the creatures alebrijes and began to model them in cardboard and paper maché. His work became popular and the craze for alebrijes spread, eventually reaching the remote village of Ocumicho.

Another artisan displays her carved wooden devil mask. This one is very similar to the one I bought, seen in the first photo of this posting. The woman above is the cousin of the first artisan. She happened to be at her cousin's house when we came to examine the clay devils. As we left, she insisted that we come to see her ware too. That his how I ended up with my beautiful devil mask. The local artisans are nothing if not enterprising.

Reverse side of my Michoacan mask. This view shows how the wood was hollowed out to create a space for the wearer's face. The two small holes, located just above the eyeballs of the mask, allow the wearer to see through it. The ears and horns are inserted with dowels into holes and are removable to allow easy transport.

This completes Part 6 of my Zamora series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, please leave any comments or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you have a question, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Friday, November 27, 2015

Zamora Part 5: The soaring Sanctuary of Guadalupe

Santuario de Guadalupe is located four blocks east of Zamora's Plaza de Armas. After my break to cover Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, we'll now return to my series on Zamora. The church above was built in Gothic Revival style, also referred to as Neo-Gothic. Literature about Zamora de Hidalgo nearly always mentions the Santuario as a major point of interest and it truly is spectacular. At 107.5 m (352.7 ft), the twin steeples hold the record for the tallest in Mexico. The figure of the person walking in the right foreground helps provide a sense of scale. For a Google map showing the location of the Santuario in relation to the main plaza, click here.

Juan Diego spreads his tilma (cloak), showing the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. The church is dedicated as a Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe. According to the legend, she was first encountered in 1531 by an Aztec whose baptismal name was Juan Diego. One day he happened to pass by the ruined temple of the goddess Tonantzin, located on the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Suddenly, a mysterious, dark-skinned, female apparition appeared. Speaking in Nahuatl, his native language, she identified herself as the Virgin Mary and asked that a church be built on the hill in her honor. When Juan Diego went to Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga with the story, he was instructed to ask the apparition for a miracle to confirm that she was, in fact, the Virgin. The Aztec man dutifully returned and related the Archbishop's request. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather the Castillian roses growing on the hill in his tilma and bring them to the Archbishop. Juan Diego assumed the miracle involved the existence of the roses themselves, which were blooming completely out of their normal season and were not native to Mexico. When the Aztec poured the roses out, the Archbishop was duly impressed. What really wowed him, however, was the image of the Virgin that miraculously appeared upon the surface of the tilma. A Basilica was later built on Tepeyac Hill in honor of the Virgin and the cloak is still on display there.

A Zamora resident strides toward the entrance of the Santuario. Because of her dark skin and fluency in Nahuatl, and the fact that she had first appeared to an indigenous person rather than a Spaniard, the Virgin of Guadalupe became a cult figure to the country's poor and downtrodden native people. Over the centuries, she came to be considered their special patron. However, there was bitter resistance, at least in the early years, to the acceptance of this version of the Virgin. The Franciscans denounced the rapidly growing cult as a sham. They viewed the Virgin of Guadalupe as a cover to enable the continued worship of the pagan goddess Tonantzin. Church leaders expended great effort over the centuries to stamp out any vestiges of the old religions, but with only partial success. Even today, some of the old pagan ways survive. In opposition to the Franciscans, the Dominicans and Augustinians pointed to the thousands of new converts pouring into the churches as a result of the Virgin of Guadalupe's popularity. Their attitude boiled down to "why look a gift horse in the mouth?" After all, the church had accepted the Christmas tree as a legitimate Christian symbol, even though it originated with tree-worshiping Germanic pagans. The bitter argument went on for nearly a hundred years before the practical approach finally prevailed. The Virgin of Guadalupe has since become one of the national symbols of Mexico. She even played a political role when her image was chosen as the battle flag of the insurgent army during the War of Independence against Spain.

Twelve niches adorn the facade of the church exterior, one for each of the Apostles. The Bible briefly mentions San Bartolome (St. Bartholomew)  as an Apostle. He may have been a farmer since his name translates as "son of the furrows." Later non-biblical stories allege that San Bartolome  evangelized in India, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (Persia), and finally Armenia, where he was martyred. The evangelist had apparently converted the King of Armenia, displeasing the King's brother. According to some accounts, the Apostle was flayed alive and then crucified upside down.

Interior of the church, looking toward the altar. Carole can be seen in the lower right. The altar area of the church is bathed in ethereal blue light. The dimensions of the Santuario are extraordinary. The total complex of buildings exceeds 5 acres. Within that area, the footprint of the Santuario itself covers 5,415 square meters (17,766 sq ft). The thirty-six columns of the nave soar 34 meters (111.5 ft) above the floor. Not only are the steeples the tallest in Mexico, the church is also the largest Neo-gothic religious building in the nation, with a capacity of more than 4000 people. Further, it is the fourth largest Catholic church in all the Americas, the ninth largest Neo-gothic cathedral in the world, and the fourteenth largest of any religious complex in the world. Needless to say, it is an impressive structure.

The left transept contains this door, set into one of the earliest sections of the church. The ornate, door was carved from mahogany. The rough stone surrounding the door indicates that this section of the wall was probably built between 1898, when the foundation stone was laid, and 1914 when construction was suspended due to the chaos of the Revolution. In that year, the half-built Santuario became the property of the federal government and was not restored to the Catholic Church until 1988. During the intervening 74 years, the structure was used as a military barracks, then impromptu housing for poor people, still later a school, and then a parking area for Zamora's garbage trucks.

Eerie blue light bathes a statue of the crucifixion, located in the altar area. Behind the statue is one of the massive columns that support the ceiling of the nave. More of the original construction of the church wall can be seen in the background.

This stained glass rosette is one of several that decorate the high walls of the main nave. These stained glass creations were installed in 2008, the 110th anniversary of the placement of the foundation stone. The Santuario de Guadalupe now functions as co-Cathedral of Zamora, along with the Templo de la Concepción (see Part 3 of this series). In 1898, the Church authorities intended for the Templo to function as the "temporary" Cathedral until the Santuario could be finished. As it happened, this took a little longer than originally planned. In 2008, the Church officials decided to create co-Cathedrals rather than demote the Templo, which had faithfully served its function all that time..

View from the right side of the altar area back toward the rear of the Santuario. Each column is four-sided, with a niche for the statue of a saint on each of the sides. As you can see, some of the niches are empty. Apparently not all of the statues have yet been created, or perhaps some were taken down for cleaning.

A brass bell hangs from one of the columns with a pull cord ready for use. I am always pleased when I find a bell that is actually intended for manual use, rather than just for decoration. In some churches, the sounds of bells are recordings broadcast from loudspeakers, a practice I find disconcerting and anachronistic..

View of the rear of the main nave showing the church's large pipe organ (top center).  The organ was brought over from the factory of Alexander Schuke in Germany. Like the rosettes, the organ was installed in 2008.

A grim reminder of the violent Cristero War of 1926-1929. A section of the wall to the left of the altar still shows pockmarks from bullets. Prisoners brought to the military barracks were executed while standing against this wall. Some of those executed, at this church and others around Mexico, were priests who had supported the Cristero rebels. The wall was preserved in this condition to commemorate the faithful who lost their lives here.

This stained-glass image fills a window near the bullet-pocked wall. On the left, the artist has created a scene showing a pile of burning bodies at the WWII German concentration camp called "Dachau". On the far right are the bodies of hanged Cristeros. In the center sits a group of heavily armed Cristero fighters. The artist's message, repeated in a nearby sign, is that the Mexican Revolutionary Government's repression against the Cristeros should be viewed as equivalent to the Holocaust. There were, indeed, human rights abuses, including summary executions, committed by the Revolutionary Government. However, the Cristeros were hardly innocent victims like those at Dachau. They were an armed, counter-revolutionary movement actively fighting the regime. The artist and his Church sponsors leave unstated the many abuses and murders committed by the Cristero fighters themselves. Cristero groups were often employed as death squads by hacienda owners against landless peones who were seeking to exercise their rights under the government's land reform laws. A sign near the stained glass window speaks of "the murder of the innocents", and there was much of that during the Cristero War. However, many of those murdered were killed by the Cristeros themselves. There was enough innocent blood shed during that conflict to stain the hands of everyone involved.

The true height of the steeples can only be appreciated from a distance. As we walked away from the Santuario de Guadalupe, I turned to take this parting shot. The human eye and that of the camera can play odd tricks. When standing near the church, as seen in the first photo of this posting, the steeples look tall, but not extraordinarily so. Here, we can appreciate their true dimensions.

This completes Part 5 of my Zamora series. I hope you have enjoyed visiting the Santuario with me and, if so you will leave any comments or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Emiliano Zapata, Hero of the Mexican Revolution

Emiliano Zapata takes time out from the Revolution for a portrait. November 20 is Revolution Day in Mexico, so I thought a posting on one of the most dashing and brilliant of the Revolutionary generals would be appropriate. Zapata was a handsome man and always a snappy dresser. He was very proud of his exuberant handlebar moustache and it became almost a trademark. No doubt many a señorita swooned as he passed on his prancing horse. And, speaking of horses, he was an expert, even in an era when most people still used horses for transportation. Like most foreigners, I initially knew little about this brooding man of principle. Outside Mexico, the name of Pancho Villa is much more famous, although Villa is known more as a caricature than for who he actually was. Among those unfamiliar with Mexican culture, Zapata stands even further back in the shadows of history. Hopefully, this posting will give you some understanding of one of Mexico's most remarkable figures.

The early years

A family portrait. Josefa Espejo (far left) stands next to her husband Emiliano (white sombrero). On the right are his older brother Eufemio (black sombrero) and Eufemio's wife, whose name I have not been able to discover. Emiliano Zapata was born August 8, 1879 to Gabriel Zapata and Clefs Salazar. They lived in the tiny pueblo of Anenecuico, located in the southern Mexico state of Morelos. The Zapata family were mestizos--a mix of Nahua and Spanish. Emiliano grew up speaking both languages fluently. He was the 9th of 10 children and, as you can see above, was shorter and darker than his brother Eufemio. His education was limited, although it was probably superior to that of many of his contemporaries. In addition to reading and writing, he knew the rudiments of accounting. The Zapata family had few resources but, even so, were not among the poorest families because they owned a rancho where they raised horses. Emiliano was forced to grow up quickly. His mother died when he was 16 years old and, only 11 months later, his father followed her to the grave.

The young ranchero grew up witnessing at firsthand abuses committed by hacienda owners, known as hacendados. These big property owners of Morelos wanted additional land and water to expand their sugar cane operations. To obtain these, they encroached upon and sometimes illegally seized the lands and water sources of the indigenous villages as well as those of the mestizo owners of small farms and ranches. In one case, when a village objected to the theft of its land, the hacendado ordered the whole pueblo torched. The youthful Zapata joined his neighbours in protesting to the authorities, but with little success. The hacendados were strongly supported by corrupt officials appointed by Mexico's dictator, Porfirio Diaz, who ruled from 1876 to 1911.

Diaz considered the hacendado class to be one of the pillars of his regime and viewed small land holders as obstacles to progress. The local hacendados saw Emiliano as a trouble maker and pulled strings to get him drafted into the army. He only spent 6 months in uniform before his skill with horses was recognised by a wealthy man named Ignacio de la Torre. He pulled his own strings and Zapata was soon released from the army to work as a horse groomer for de la Torre. However, Zapata soon managed to return to Anenecuilco. Even though he was still a young man of 30, his neighbours respected his leadership and willingness to fight for them. They promptly elected Zapata mayor.

The principled social revolutionary

Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty) became Zapata's battle cry. The phrase was actually invented by Zapata's anarchist friend and advisor Ricardo Flores Magón. However, it has always been associated with Zapata and his single-minded campaign for land reform. His uncompromising stand was "la tierra es de quien la trabaja" (the land is for those who work it). Mexico's millions of small land holders were being increasingly squeezed by hacendados who rarely even visited their own huge properties. Instead, they lived in luxurious mansions in Mexico's great cities and left their properties in the day-to-day care of professional administrators called mayor domos

In fact, their great estates had often been pieced together over the centuries by means that were at least questionable, and often downright illegal. By the early 20th Century, vast acreages were planted with non-food cash crops. The small farmers, ranchers, and indigenous villagers struggled to feed their families from the tiny plots left to them. Even these small plots were under threat as Mexico modernised. Diaz sought foreign investments for railroads and port improvements so that cash crops like sugar and sisal (hemp) could be quickly transported to foreign markets in Europe and the US. With these vast new markets now opened to them, the hacendados' appetite for land was insatiable. They turned their greedy eyes toward lands still possessed by the small holders, even when those lands were only marginally fertile. 

Zapata was a man of deeply held convictions. He is quoted above saying "I would rather die a slave to principles than a slave to men." His beliefs were not theoretical or derived from some imported ideology. They were deeply rooted in his life experiences and particularly in the injustices he saw all about him. As mayor of Anenecuilco, Zapata attempted every legal means to protect his people's lands, but often the law was subverted or ignored by corrupt officials working hand-in-hand with local hacendados. Finally, he began to organize armed re-occupations of the lands illegally seized from his neighbours. These actions pre-dated the beginning of the 1910 Revolution and led to his rapid rise to its leadership in southern Mexico when the revolt against Porfirio Diaz exploded. 

Zapata's past experiences led him to be suspicious of anti-Diaz leaders like Francisco Madero, the scion of a family of extremely wealthy landowners from northern Mexico. Madero had run for President against Porfirio Diaz in 1910 and had been arrested on Diaz's orders during the election. He soon escaped to the US and announced the Plan of San Luis Potosí, which called for an armed revolt, as well as land reform. Madero sought support from whomever he could obtain it, including a Chihuahua bandit named Doroteo Arango, better known as Pancho Villa. In southern Mexico, Emiliano Zapata had already taken up arms and Madero stressed his land reform proposals when asking for his help. Zapata agreed, but kept his eyes wide open. He didn't trust the dreamy, politically inexperienced Madero, especially because of his background as a privileged landowner. But, at least until the ouster of Porfirio Diaz, they would be allies. So began the cataclysm known as the Mexican Revolution.

Zapata goes to war

General Zapata consults with a rifle-toting member of his peasant army. Zapata officially joined Madero's revolt when, on March 10, 1911, he and a group of other leaders in Morelos gathered 70 men to form the first guerrilla band. Francisco Madero had appointed Pablo Torres, another local leader, as head of the rebellion in Morelos. However, Torres was killed leading the assault on Jojutla, a town to the south of Cuernavaca. Zapata stepped forward to take command, a role that fit him like a glove.

Zapata, seated in the center, interrupted a staff meeting to pose with his officers. Zapata's brother Eufemio, a general in the Zapatista Army, is seated to the left of Emiliano, with his arm resting on a battle map. This peasant army was rather informal and few wore uniforms, even among the officers. For them, as well as their men, it was a "come as you are" war. Nevertheless, Zapata's army was very effective, even against regular government troops. After several successful skirmishes against Diaz' federales, Zapata launched an assault on Cuautla, the gateway between southern Mexico and the Mexican highlands. It was a key target on the way to Mexico City. As such, it was defended by Diaz' elite 5th Regiment, known as the Regimento de Oro (Golden Regiment). On May 19, after six days of intense fighting, Cuautla fell. Since Cuernavaca had already been evacuated by the government, the road to the national capital was open. Ten days earlier, on May 9, Pancho Villa had captured the City of Juarez on the US border. Its capture ensured a steady flow of arms and supplies to Madero's forces. With the strategic loss of these two key cities, Porfirio Diaz read the writing on the wall. The erstwhile dictator fled to Vera Cruz and then to European exile. The 35-year-old Porfiriato had come to an end. As Diaz boarded his ship, he remarked that "Francisco Madero has unleashed a tiger. Let us see if he can control it." It was a prescient comment because, in fact, the real Revolution had just begun.

Zapata and his generals

The generals in Zapata's army had a high mortality rate. Aboveleft to right, are Generals Francisco Pacheco, Abraham Martinez, Emiliano Zapata, and Manuel Asunsolo. Next, are Licenciado Gabriel Lopez Dominguez, and General Eufemio Zapata. The two men on the far right are unidentified. General Pacheco was one of Zapata's officers. He was appointed Secretary of War in 1915 but was shot as a traitor by another of Zapata's generals in 1917. Abraham Martinez was Zapata's personal secretary who later became his chief of staff. He was killed by the the forces of General Victoriano Huerta in 1914. Zapata himself would be assassinated in 1919.  General Asúnsolo was a mine owner from Guerrero who had joined the Revolution. In 1911, shortly after Cuernavaca fell to the rebels, Asúnsolo was assassinated by Pablo Escandón, the son of Diaz' former governor of Morelos. Licenciado Gabriel Lopez Dominguez was an envoy from Francisco Madero who negotiated for the disarmament and disbanding of Zapata's army after the victory over Diaz. General Eufemio Zapata was a womanizer and a very heavy drinker, unlike his brother. In 1917, he was killed by one of Emiliano's other generals because Eufemio, in a drunken rage, had beaten and insulted the man's father. Note that every identified man in the photo died violently, except Dominguez. As someone once said, revolutions consume their children. 

The Zapatista Army

Heavily armed, but jovial, a group of Zapatistas raises a toast. The caption at the lower left says "Tuesday, 23 April, 1912." There are several interesting aspects to this old photo. Again, we see an army bereft of uniforms. Standing in the second row, third from the right, is a young man brandishing a violin. Armies on all sides appreciated music, especially the innumerable corridos, or ballads, sometimes created on the spot by a musician at a campfire. La Cucaracha became one of the most famous corridos, along with Adelita, a song about a soldadera or female soldier. And, speaking of soldaderas,  notice the two sitting in the front row. Both wear bandoliers (bullet belts) across their chests. The soldadera on the right wields a sword in her right hand, indicating that she may be an officer. 

Women served in the armies of all sides during the Revolution. However, most commanders accepted their presence with reluctance. Zapata, in contrast, welcomed the participation of women, and gave some the command of significant bodies of troops. One unit in his army was composed entirely of the widows, daughters and sisters of fallen soldiers. According to John Womak in "Zapata and the Mexican Revolution", their aim was to "seek vengeance for the dead." Sometimes dressed in rags, sometimes in finery captured from haciendas they overran, they were ferocious fighters and became the terror of their region. 


Two women carrying baskets of food trudge alongside a troop of mounted soldiers. While some women were fighters, and even officers, most carried out more prosaic duties such as scrounging for food, supplies, and firewood. They also prepared meals, and took care of the wounded. Because he was a talented horseman, Zapata realised the value of mounted troops. In the guerrilla war years of the Revolution, he was able to strike swiftly, then fade away into the mountains of southern Mexico. Rosa King was a British citizen running a hotel in Cuernavaca when Zapata's forces entered after the Battle of Cuautla. She described them as "not an army, but a people in arms...they were half-naked, clad in rags, but they rode their horses like conquerors."

Zapata would stand for no nonsense from his troops. Once, during the occupation of Cuernavaca, Mrs. King was treated insolently by one of Zapata's young soldiers. She promptly went to see the rebel general. Zapata listened quietly and then offered to have the man shot. Horrified, the hotelier declined. The young soldier then became her great admirer and would do anything for her. At a later point in the Revolution, the forces of Zapata and Villa jointly entered Mexico City. During that occupation, many people noticed a distinct difference in the behaviour of the two armies. Villa's men were wild, drunken, and prone to shooting off their weapons. By contrast, Zapata's men amazed the city's well-to-do residents when the soldiers knocked on their doors and politely asked for food.  

The twists and turns of the Revolution 

Francisco Madero stands by the Presidential Chair. Following Diaz' departure, an interim president held office until new elections could be organized. Madero won an overwhelming victory in Mexico's first fair election in 35 years. However, Zapata's suspicions proved correct. Madero failed to follow through with his promises for land reform. "Stability" was his watchword, which meant "don't rock the boat" by angering his fellow hacendados. By this time, Zapata had disbanded his army, but he reformed it and launched a new revolt, based upon the land reform principles embodied in his Plan of Ayala. Madero, he felt, was as a traitor to the goals of the Revolution. There were a number of other revolts by other Revolutionary leaders with similar concerns during this time . Having alienated Zapata and the others, Madero made a second crucial mistake by installing Victoriano Huerta, formerly one of Diaz' generals, as the head of the federal army. 

In 1913, Huerta conspired with US Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to depose Madero, who was viewed as weak both by Mexican conservatives and the US Government under Howard Taft. Huerta was a brutal thug and, in the coup d'etat he launched, Francisco Madero and his Vice President José Piño Suarez were both murdered. These events came to be known as the Ten Tragic Days. Over the next year, an alliance composed of Zapata, Pancho Villa, Venustiano Carranza, and Álvaro Obregón defeated Huerta in the series of battles. In the end, he fled the country like Diaz, his former boss. At a peace convention in Aguascalientes, representatives of the various Revolutionary factions tried to hammer out a settlement. However, Carranza refused to abide by the result. Supported by Obregón,  he declared himself President. Zapata and Villa allied with other "Conventionistas" to fight what they saw as the new usurper. They initially defeated Carranza and Obregón and forced them to flee to Vera Cruz. The stage was set for Zapata and Villa's triumphal entry into the nation's capital at the end of 1914.

Zapata and Pancho Villa

Side by side, Zapata and Villa ride into Mexico City. The two had met for the first time three days previously and decided to jointly occupy the capital. Villa is in the dark uniform in the center of the line of riders. Zapata rides to the left of him, wearing his usual broad sombrero. They were the Mexican Revolution's two foremost social revolutionaries. Most of the other major leaders were opportunists who fought for personal power and cynically used the issues of the people as vehicles for obtaining it. For the most part, the opportunists came from wealthy or at least relatively well-to-do families. Zapata and Villa came from very different backgrounds from the other top leaders. In fact, their personal histories were similar in many ways. Both were born in rural areas and came from relatively poor families. Both had conflicts with hacendados early in their lives. In Villa's case, a hacendado raped his sister. Villa hunted the man down and killed him, afterward escaping to the mountains to become a bandit. Both were renowned horsemen, and Villa's nickname was "the Centaur of the North." Both possessed a natural, unschooled, military genius. When the Revolution began in 1910, both were already being hunted by Diaz' government. Zapata was wanted for his armed seizures of disputed land in Morelos. Villa was pursued as the chieftain of a bandit gang in Chihuahua. 

Villa and Zapata in the Presidential Palace, December 7, 1914. Villa is sitting in the ornate Presidential chair. When they had approached it, Villa joked that they should take turns sitting in it. Zapata declined, saying "I didn't fight for that. We should burn the chair to end all ambitions." This was classic Zapata. The difference in the two men can be seen in the photo. Villa is ebullient and jolly, while Zapata stares at the camera with brooding intensity. Villa is dressed in his natty new uniform, adorned with gold braid. Zapata wears his typical charro outfit with the short, tight-fitting jacket and slender pants adorned with silver buckles down the legs. Neither man wanted to be President of Mexico, even though--at this moment--they shared the power to make it happen. Both men probably knew that they were unqualified for the job, given their limited educations. Both men were pushing programs of social reform, particularly land redistribution. However, Zapata's Plan of Ayala was well-developed and he had already put some of it into practice in Morelos. Villa's proposals were more general and little came of them.   

Defeat, assassination, and the birth of a myth

Weary Zapatistas in retreat. The soldiers trudge past a field of ripe maiz. The soldaderas, non-combatants in this picture, walk beside the men, lugging heavy sacks of provisions. Zapata and Villa failed to dislodge Carranza and Obregón's forces, called the "Constitutionalistas", from the crucial Caribbean port of Vera Cruz. By controlling this major port, the Constitutionalistas could receive weapons and supplies from Europe and the US. Better yet, they could use the funds from the customs duties paid by incoming ships to pay for it all. As Carranza and Orbregón's strength grew, that of Zapata and Villa waned. Mexico City's public resented the depredations committed by Villa's unruly troops. Zapata's troops wanted to return to their farms and families. All of this, along with the growing strength of the Constitutionalistas, meant that continuing the occupation of the capital was untenable. 

The Conventionista army broke up, with Villa retreating to the north and Zapata heading south. 
Their fortunes revived, Carranza and Obregón returned to the capital and Carranza took up the reins of government, with Obregón as his military chief. Álvaro Obregón, formerly a prosperous chick-pea farmer, was another of the war's self-taught military prodigies. World War I had begun in 1914 and he studied its lessons carefully. A war of movement spear-headed by slashing cavalry attacks had characterized the first phase of the Revolution. However, machine guns, barbed wire, and long range artillery were the new methods of industrial warfare and they required new tactics. Both Zapata and Villa were experts in the tactics of a war of movement, but the usefulness of those tactics in the face of the new weapons was coming to an end. In addition, industrial warfare required vast resources they didn't possess, particularly since the US had thrown its support to Carranza. 

Obregón became an expert in the new tactics and, as a result, Villa's and Zapata's forces experienced repeated defeats. In 1915, Pancho Villa was decisively beaten in the Battle of Celaya and his fortunes went downhill from there. In the meantime, Zapata struggled to maintain the Convenionista alliance. However, many of his former allies saw the Constitutionalistas as the winning side and they began to defect. Zapata was forced back into his mountain strongholds in Morelos. He could not be beaten entirely, but he was increasingly contained.

The body of Emiliano Zapata was displayed in Cuautla after his assassination. Although Carranza had contained Zapata, and peeled away much of his support outside Morelos, he was unable to end the insurgency.  Zapata's long history as a champion of the rural poor, and his reputation as a man of principle, provided him with deep and heartfelt support among the people of southern Mexico. Carranza became frustrated and ordered his generals to find a way to rid him of this troublesome rebel. Treachery seemed to provide the best route.

The man in charge of defeating Zapata was General Pablo González. With his subordinate, Colonel Jesús Guajardo, he concocted an astonishingly cynical plot to assassinate the elusive rebel commander. Col. Guajardo pretended a desire to defect to Zapata's side, bringing troops and ammunition. To make the defection seem real, Guajardo staged an attack on some of his own men, killing 57 of them. This convinced Zapata, who rode with a small party to a local hacienda for a meeting. When he arrived on April 10, 1919, he was greeted with a hail of bullets. Zapata was instantly killed, along with a several of his men. So ended the career of this principled social revolutionary. So began the legend of Zapata, one that persists into the 21st century.

"I would rather die on my feet than always live on my knees." So goes one of the most famous of Emiliano Zapata's quotes. The sentiment has inspired generations of activists to fight against tyranny and to win social and economic justice. It is said that you can kill the man, but you can't kill the idea. This proved true in Zapata's case. Zapata's body was publicly displayed and photographed to ensure that everyone knew he was dead. In spite of this, legends grew that he had outwitted his attackers and escaped back into the mountains. His people refused to believe that their hero was gone. People claimed to have seen him riding in the distance. 

Following the assassination, most the Zapatista leaders made peace with Carranza. In return, they were given important posts in Morelos and elsewhere. Some continued to fight for land reform, using legal rather than violent methods. Parts of Zapata's Plan of Ayala reforms had made their way into Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, prior to Zapata's death. In the mid-1930s, a former Revolutionary general named Lázaro Cádenas won the presidency and, using Article 27, finally broke up the hacienda system. He implemented large-scale land redistribution and other reforms that Zapata would have appreciated. The name Emiliano Zapata is still revered throughout Mexico, especially in the poorer indigenous areas of Southern Mexico. On January 1, 1994, a social revolt erupted in Chiapas under the leadership of a group called the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). They opposed the newly implemented North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and promoted a policy of land reform and autonomy for indigenous communities. The EZLN are still active today, 22 years after their uprising and 97 years after Zapata's death.

I hope you enjoyed this window into Mexican history and the life of an extraordinary man. Perhaps it will give you a bit of understanding about the importance of November 20, Revolution Day, in Mexico. If you have a comment or question, you can either leave it in the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Zamora Part 4: Tangancicuaro, a tranquil little jewel

Plaza de Tangancicuaro, with the Templo Virgen de la Asunción in the background. Several fountains ring the perimeter of the Plaza. They surround the quiosco (bandstand), which is partially visible in the upper right of the photo. The area is nicely shaded by palms and carefully-groomed ficus trees. Tangancicuaro de Arista is a small city of about 30,000 people, located 14 km (8.7 mi) southeast of Zamora. In Part 2 of this series, I showed Lago de Camécuaro, the national park located nearby. Carole and I first visited that beautiful lake and, afterward, decided to check out Tangancicuaro. It turned out to be one of those charming little jewels that are so often overlooked or bypassed by foreigners. In pre-hispanic times, the town was called Acuitze, which means "snake." After the Spanish arrived, the local Purépecha renamed it Tangancicuaro, which can be interpreted as "Place Where Three Waters Rise" or, alternatively, as "Place Where the Stakes Are Nailed." There are good arguments for both, so take your pick. In 1881, the name of Mexican general and 19th century President Mariano Arista was added, and the town became Tangancicuaro de Arista.

The Plaza

The quiosco is also surrounded by lush gardens. Another of the fountains is silhouetted against the bandstand. A couple of Mexican women chat while sitting on the natural bench formed by the garden wall. As you can see, it was a lovely morning. Quioscos like this can be found in the vast majority of Mexican plazas. Sometimes they are elaborate, with multiple levels, and occasionally even contain a restaurant or tourist office. However, most are simple and follow the general design seen above. It was not until the 19th century that quioscos began to pop up in many of Mexico's plazas, although a few may have appeared before then. They became popular, along with many other French styles, during the reign of Emperor Maximilian (1862-67). After the dictator Porfirio Diaz took power in 1876, he encouraged the adoption of European customs, including quioscos, as a way to promote modernity.

An elderly Purépecha couple while away the morning. The woman wears a traditional embroidered skirt, a white huipil (blouse) and a rebozo (shawl). The man is dressed in a modern style. This is quite typical of indigenous couples I have encountered all over Mexico. The women seem to be the custodians of traditional ways, at least in terns of clothing. In Chiapas, I saw some Maya men in traditional garb, but they were few and very much the exception.

Three young students enjoy a stroll through the Plaza. From their uniforms, they probably attend one of the local Catholic colegios (prep schools). Many schools in Mexico operate on double shifts, morning and afternoon. It was about mid-day when I took this shot, and given their relaxed appearance, these kids had probably just finished their classes for the day.

Presidencia and Portales 

The national flag waves over the Presidencia (city hall). The peak of an extinct volcano rises in the background. The line of wooden columns along the front of the Presidencia is typical of Michoacan. The state is covered with dense pine forests. Consequently, where such columns in other places might be of stone or plaster-covered brick, here they are often of wood, sometimes intricately carved. The typical plaza in Mexico is surrounded by a government building on one side, a church on another, with the remaining two sides filled by small commercial businesses such as copy centers, internet cafes, and restaurants. Nearly always, there will be an ice cream shop.

Two sides of the plaza are bordered by pedestrian-only walkways. Given the traffic that can clog the narrow streets of even the smallest towns, I always welcome areas where you don't have to dodge hurtling taxis or kids wildly scooting by on motorbikes. The vertical sign by the door of one of the shops reads "Boneteria." That is the word for is a shop that sells clothes and clothing related items like needles and thread. Here, too, the walkway is lined with tall wooden columns. Someone has left a bicycle casually leaning against one column. In a small town like this, with many eyes watching, theft is probably not much of a problem.

Another view of the same walkway. A woman in a fringed rebozo walks away with her purchase as a man prepares to serve a customer from his small blue ice cream cart. Notice the coin-operated children's rides along the wall. From the looks of it, this building may well have once served as the mansion of a wealthy 18th or 19th century local hacienda owner.

Food stalls line the pedestrian walkway along the fourth side of the Plaza. Three satisfied customs walk away from a booth selling carnitas. This tasty dish consists of small pieces of braised or barbecued pork. It is usually served with tortillas along with various relishes such as chopped onions. The purchaser rolls these ingredients into steaming tacos. Mexican "fast food" at its best!

The Tianguis

A tianguis filled several streets adjoining the Plaza. A tianguis is an open market selling every kind of consumer product imaginable. They are usually held on specific days of the week and many booth operators come in from surrounding villages to participate. I always find them fascinating and great for people-watching. The history of the tianguis goes back thousands of years into pre-hispanic times. The word itself comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. When Hernán Cortéz and his Conquistadores arrived at Tenochtitlán (modern Mexico City) they visited a vast tianguis. Its size and the range of its products boggled their minds.

Chicharrones, a tasty treat that contains an unimaginable quantity of cholesterol. Chicharon is pork skin deep-fried in the melted fat of the pig. Usually it is prepared by a butcher in a large vat shaped something like an oriental wok. While cooking chicharon, the butcher stirs the vat periodically with a large wooden implement resembling a canoe paddle. The wonderful smell soon draws a line of customers, most of them no doubt destined to die young from clogged arteries.

A smiling chicken vendor displays his wares. The chicken doesn't come much fresher than this. Most of these guys were probably still strutting and clucking the morning I took this shot. Notice the old-fashioned balance scale on the table. If it ain't broke, and it worked just fine for grandpa, why replace it with digital?

Dolls dressed in the finest quinceañera style were also for sale. As I explained in Part 1, a quinceañera is a special celebration for a girl who reaches her 15th birthday. It is a coming-out party, announcing to the world that she is now a woman. The dolls are Mexico's answer to Barbie, and are probably treasured by dreamy pre-teens.

The Church

The parish church faces onto the north side of the Plaza. The original evangelization of the area was accomplished by the Augustinian Order in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the latter century, the parish was dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. The main body of the church was built in the 18th Century with a red volcanic stone known as tzontle. The two steeples were constructed with a different kind of stone and appear to have been added at a later time.

Vividly colorful artificial flowers were for sale on the church steps. I wasn't clear whether or not the flowers were related to some activity going on in the church. Perhaps this was just a convenient spot to set up shop. Things are done that way in Mexico.

The entrance is through a beautifully carved wooden screen.  Notice the ceiling. In churches elsewhere, a ceiling will usually be covered with plaster, often painted with designs or pictures. In this case, rows of wood rafters were used, again the product of Michoacan's prolific forests.

The interior of the dome is also constructed of wood. This is one of the most unusual domes I have ever encountered in a Mexican church.

Street scenes

A bicyclist pedals up a narrow street leading away from the Plaza. We had parked on a side street a couple of blocks up and were walking back to our car when I snapped this shot. From the look of the door and window frames, a lot of the structures on this street are quite old. Notice the two-toned color scheme on many of the houses. This is typical of many towns one finds in the back country. So are the single story buildings and the narrow sidewalks and streets.

Two farmers wearing cowboy hats stride past a colorful house. I was planning to photograph the house with its wildly contrasting orange walls and blue window shutters when I spotted this pair. I waited until I could frame them between the windows. For some reason, brilliant blue doors and shutters are popular all over this part of Michoacan. Only in Mexico would a color scheme like this work.

This completes Part 4 of my Zamora series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave your thoughts and questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim