This is the last post in my Todos Santos series. The graves in this remote highland village in Guatemala were vibrantly painted and adorned with flowers and gaudy wreaths for All Saints’ Day or El Día de Todos Los Santos on November 1.
“The merry dance, beer in hand, in the grave choked hillside cemetery alongside marimba playing musicians.”
While visiting Todos Santos in the remote highlands of Guatemala during the festivities of El Día de Todos Los Santos or All Saints’ Day on November 1, I found these locals celebrating in the village cemetery.
Men clad in the unique village uniform danced unsteadily, beer in hand, among the tightly packed, painted graves to the typical Guatemalan soundtrack of marimba.
Aquatic mayhem infects the kingdom during the Thai New Year Water Festival or Songkran when Thailand plunges into a frenetic nationwide water fight on the grandest scale. Not just child’s play, crowds hit the streets armed with hosepipes, water guns and cannons, pails and tubs to spray, splash and douse.
Pickup trucks stocked with barrels of icy water cruise along overflowing with drenched merrymakers showering anyone they pass, in turn receiving a deluge. Barefoot water warriors stand at the roadside targeting all who pass by, hurling bucketfuls of chilly water over motorcyclists, pedestrians and truck troopers.
Older Songkran traditions still thrive, a time to visit family, pay respect to elders, pray at Buddhist temples and leave offerings for monks. People cleanse Buddha images in homes and temples using fragrant water containing flower petals. The “blessed” water is then collected and gently poured over the hands and shoulders of elders to pay respect and bring good fortune. Throwing water in the streets originated from this custom as relief from the heat.
Shared with neighboring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, Songkran runs from 13 to 15 April each year in the hottest month at the end of the dry season. It has been a national holiday since 1940 when Thailand’s official start to the calendar year changed from the Thai New Year to 1 January to coincide with the Western business world. The Buddhist calendar however, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar, is still in use. The year 2013 is 2556 in Thailand!
Different parts of Thailand play with water for a varying number of days at Songkran. When I lived in Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand, it dragged on for about ten days but here in Phuket the law now allows it only on the 13th as they try to cut down on accidents. This was the first Thai New Year I dared get my camera out (from the relative safety of a doorway) and take some photos. Afterwards, I joined in the mayhem, splashing and soaking to my heart’s delight!
In Antigua, Guatemala, Easter Sunday’s (Domingo de Resurrección) modest procession celebrating the resurrection of Christ (Procesión de Resurrección) contrasts starkly with the solemnity of the Lent (Cuaresma) and Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions.
Suddenly the blanket of sadness lifts and there is a festive air. Smiling folk in colorful costumes play lively music and dance over candy-strewn alfombras that children pounce on like booty from a battered piñata. Shreds of colored paper scattered from rooftops float in the breeze like confetti and firecrackers echo throughout the city.
Finally, the last of my Chinese New Year in Nakon Sawan, Thailand series!
Following on from the night parade of February 12 was the day parade the entire next day in sweltering heat and humidity.
Every Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan city a giant, glowing dragon tears gracefully through the streets parting the crowds, twisting and writhing its way up a towering, swaying bamboo pole before finally sinking into the murky waters of the Chao Phraya River.
Extravagant parades of florid floats and martial art displays, angels and goddesses, dancers and musicians fill the streets while Chinese lions perform ritual dances on the ground or leap dramatically from one vertical rod to another.
Here are some of my photos from the evening parade of February 12 that ran from 6 p.m. to midnight.
A belated Happy Chinese New Year!
Youths clad in garish Chinese lion masks and costumes prance nimbly, leaping in the air, twisting and rolling over on the ground in the ritualistic Chinese lion dance of Chinese New Year.
Bowing, they enter stores and homes bestowing good luck and receiving red envelopes of cash in their mouths from proprietors. The clash and beat of symbols and drums, the eardrum shattering crackle and acrid smoke of firecrackers deafen and choke in the stifling heat.
I followed different groups of Chinese lion dancers around the streets of Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand, photographing their colorful and energetic displays.
Daily evening performances of Chinese opera are a popular part of the Chinese New Year entertainment in Nakhon Sawan. Heavily made-up, elaborately clad performers strut and rant in lilting tones on gaudy, makeshift stages erected along the riverside.
Following are some Chinese opera photos taken during my visit to Nakhon Sawan this year during Chinese New Year.
Check out part 1 of Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan for a taster of the atmosphere and other events.
Back in Thailand after ten years away, I decided to revisit Nakhon Sawan (my home for three years before moving to Phuket) during Chinese New Year.
Famous for its large Thai-Chinese population and flamboyant Chinese New Year celebrations Nakhon Sawan attracts tens of thousands of national and international visitors every year during the festival.
The largest city in the central plains, governing the identically named province, Nakhon Sawan (meaning Heavenly City) is known locally as Pak Nam Pho. Here the Ping and Nan rivers merge forming the Chao Phraya that runs through the country’s capital Bangkok.
Spanning over 12 days, this year from 3-14 February, Chinese New Year banners, crimson decorations and glowing Chinese lanterns adorn streets, shopping malls, businesses and homes. Chinese opera, food stalls, temple fairs and open-air concerts and shows saturate the senses.
Here’s a taster of the atmosphere and some of the events running up to the parades on the 12-13 February.
Golden winged angels and masked bulls and demons performing traditional folkloric dances, their colonial roots touched by a Guatemalan twist, is one of the various festivities that ignite the main tourist drag in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, on 31st of December.
A pruned version of the dances held in Ciudad Vieja the day after the Día de la Virgen de La Concepción, but enough to shed some light on a tiny part of local culture.
At a typical convite police divert traffic while costumed participants – mainly men and some heavily made up and dressed as women – dance in a tight cluster in the street to the sound of merengue and Mexican banda music booming from the back of a truck and encircled by a mass of onlookers.
After about three songs (from ten to fifteen minutes) the music stops, the truck moves on a bit further, everyone follows on foot then waits while a guy shins up a ladder to hook up the speakers to an electricity pylon along the roadside. Once connected, the music blares out and the dancing resumes. This continues all afternoon until early evening.
In the province of Sacatepequez in Guatemala, the season for convites starts with an impressive show on the 7th of December in Ciudad Vieja, the day before the Día de la Virgen de La Concepción. It then continues through until the end of January or beginning of February, each Saturday in a different town.
Participants pay a small fee to enter and at the end judges award the best costumes with cash prizes for first, second and third places. It is a colorful and noisy family outing where the whole town turns up to watch or take part in the spectacle.
I took the following photos on the 8th of January in the small town of Pastores a few kilometers outside Antigua.
Miguel, a willing model, borrowed a belly dancing outfit for the day and a friend applied his makeup for him. His partner was Rafa his nephew.
Every 12th of December in Guatemala on the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe children throughout the country dress up in colorful, traditional indigenous costumes and carry an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in local processions. Usually marimba and hordes of traditional food stalls go with the festivities.
Originating in Mexico after the Spanish conquest, when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to an indigenous peasant, the custom continues throughout the Americas.
In Antigua the celebrations take place in front of the beautiful baroque church of La Merced. Rustic mini-scenes backed by painted images of the Virgin are set up in front of the church and parents pose their children for photographers. Tiny replicas of adults, the boys have mustaches painted on their faces and the girls little baskets tied to their heads. Each scene has a variety of typical Guatemalan everyday items for the children to use as props including miniature marimba, tortillas on a comal, model horses and a strange collection of live chickens and toy tigers.
Colorful images of the Virgin.
Children dressed up in traditional indigenous costumes.
Smoke and deafening explosions filled the air for maybe an hour as men ran through a minefield of granadas (translated to grenades) lighting the fireworks and firecrackers tied to them and bombas blasted noisily into the air from inside a heavy, metal tube placed vertically on the ground. Spectators clamped their hands to their ears, flinched, cowered and emitted screams and cheers as rogue fireworks shot off in random directions.
Every 7th of December a parade or convite slowly makes its way through the streets of the former capital Ciudad Vieja just outside Antigua in Guatemala. The following day they celebrate the town’s virgin patron’s day, Día de la Virgen de La Concepción, and after mass in the cathedral everyone crowds into the plaza outside for the noisy display of granadas.
Nowadays, Guatemalans celebrate all Catholic festivals with fireworks, firecrackers and bombas and due to a myriad of religious festivals throughout the year, it’s a rare day when there’s silence in the streets.
On this day, when the sounds subside and the smoke clears but with ringing ears and the sharp scent of gunpowder still in the nostrils, colorful folkloric dances begin. These mainly originated in the Iberian Peninsula and were probably brought over to Guatemala during colonial times picking up their own flavor in local towns and are a mix of theatrical dances and presentations.
The Dance of the 24 Devils, the Dance of the Seven Vices and Seven Virtues and the Dance of the Moors and Christians are three of the most popular.
Every year on the 7th of December a parade of floats makes its way through the streets of the former capital of Guatemala, Ciudad Vieja just outside Antigua. It’s customary to hold a convite the day before a procession and this one ushers in el Día de la Virgen de La Concepción.
There was a strange and colorful mix of religious and cultural themes including angels, indians, Spaniards, cowboys, devils, men dressed up as women and cartoon characters. It was a truly Guatemalan experience.
No festival in Guatemala is complete without the sound of marimba.
Another band member.
A float waiting for the parade to begin.
A hungry dwarf.
Little angels sitting on the float.
And another angel.
The pirates are coming.
And here they are.
A cowboy handing out flyers for the next days folk dance schedule.
A Spaniard’s horse.
A Spaniard and his horse.
A cowboy on horseback.
An indian wearing a feathered headdress.
A friendly indian going the right way.
A bunch of cowboys.
The bull in action.
Mary and some angels.
A peasant with his bottle of Guatemalan rum.
Who is this?
Reindeer and a Christmas theme.
Not sure who this is.
All together handing out flyers.
And another beauty with her drunken beau and his bottle of Gallo beer.
What a happy face.
Really going for it.
The first of the Abuelitas Parranderas or Partying Grandmothers.
Two more beauties.
Waiting in line.
They go in two by two.
The partying begins.
Really going for it. These women were awesome dancers.
Showing the footwork.
That was hard work. So elegant.
And who are these?
Perched on his bicycle with rum bottle for fuel, the devil glared down on those leaving Antigua for Guatemala City, several weeks before being set ablaze.
La Quema del Diablo, or the Burning of the Devil, is an annual tradition on the 7th of December in many Guatemalan towns, its origins dating back to colonial times.
A “will”, full of wit and innuendo at local politicians, is read out to hundreds of spectators followed by the torching of the devil at 6 p.m. He goes up in flames and smoke along with all the negativity of the year, lighting the way for the Christmas celebrations and a positive start to the New Year.
A crescendo of firecrackers deafen and threaten the crowds before the bomberos put out the glowing embers around the bicycle skeleton and everyone wanders away in festive spirit.
Devil with empty rum bottle.
Preparing for the torching.
Going up in Flames
Horse racing was the Three Manly Games event of the Nadaam competition that I had most looked forward to since arriving in Mongolia and it proved to be the most raw and authentic.
It took place on the steppe a few kilometers out of the capital Ulaanbaatar and to get there two uncles of my newly wed sister-in-law Anna drove us in 4WDs. The roads were so congested, as this was a national holiday and such a popular event, that we cut across country which was an adventure in itself.
A muddle of unmarked dirt tracks crisscross this barren, open landscape, splitting off in various directions and enough to confuse the most skilled orienteer. We weren’t the only ones out there. Lines of cars streamed along behind each other but everyone seemed to know where they were headed.
We were tossed around in the back seat over ruts and potholes until we almost reached a traffic choked, paved road where police forced us to turn back. Then it was mayhem for a while as all the cars tried to maneuver out of a tight dead-end while still more arrived.
We cut back across the steppe partly on dirt tracks and the rest of the time off-road. Finally we reached our journey’s end, the race finish line, which was a flurry of activity with droves of people walking or riding around on horseback, many in traditional Mongolian costumes. There was an excited buzz in the air as they waited for the race finale.
In Mongolia, horses far outnumber the human population and, despite their small size, are horses not ponies. Mongolians are so deeply proud of them that a traditional gift to a three-year old male child is a horse. They are extremely tough, surviving out on the steppe during the harsh winters and are an essential part of daily life. Nomads use them to herd their huge flocks, sometimes they eat the meat and they use the mare’s milk to drink or ferment it to make airag, the national alcoholic beverage. The best they train to race and winners are highly prized.
Everyone lounging around on horseback waiting for the race to come in.
This kind man let me sit on his Russian horse which is bigger than the Mongolian. It was the first time I sat on a horse in Mongolia but not the last.
Exquisite saddle on the Russian horse.
Nadaam horse races are long distance, cross-country events held on the open steppe with no set track or course, ranging usually from an exhausting 15-30 kilometers long depending on the age class of the horse. Up to 1000 horses compete from all over Mongolia.
Jockeys are from 5-13 years old as the main purpose of the race is to test the speed and endurance of the horse and not the rider’s skill.
Before the race starts spectators sing traditional songs and jockeys sing a special song called a gingo. As the winning horse crosses the finish line, everyone dashes to touch its lucky sweat and they sing to the last horse in the two-year old class wishing him luck. Prizes are awarded to both horses and jockeys.
The race coming in fast across the steppe.
Everyone cheering and standing up on their horses to get a good view.
Standing up on their horses to get a view of the race.
Unusual attire for riding but here there was a mix of everything.
Closing in fast almost at the end of the race.
A view of the race trailing across the vast steppe.
Horseman wearing a brightly colored deel, the national costume. This robe-like garment is daily wear for many Mongolians. Here there was a real mix of traditional Mongolian and western style clothing.
Selling Mongolian flags.
Climbing for a better view.
Everyone gets around on horseback.
Selling drinks out of a shopping cart.
Taking a break.
Watching the screen on horseback.
Gers in the background.
The two uncles waiting for lunch.
Mongolian flag. The yellow symbol on the left is the national emblem or the Soyombo seen everywhere. It has representations of fire, sun, moon, earth, water and the Taijitu or Yin-Yang symbol.
Nadaam poster showing the Three Manly Games of archery, wrestling and horse racing.
Stopping by at the store.
Billiards on the steppe.
Also check out my blog post Nadaam Festival: Mongolian Wrestling.
When in Mongolia someone told me an old tale about a woman who disguised as a man, competed in the wrestling competitions, thrashed all the male competitors and became the champion, disgracing them all. Since then the tight vest or Zodog purposefully exposes the chest avoiding another impostor repeating this shameful event.
Traditional Mongolian wrestling competitions are all male and are full of ancient rituals. There are no separate weight classes and no time limits and the wrestler whose knee or elbow touches the ground loses the match.
After the opening ceremony for Nadaam the wrestling contests began.
National Sports Stadium, Ulaanbaatar
Wrestlers psyching themselves up while waiting to compete.
Before and after each match the wrestlers perform the Eagle Dance or Devekh, a ritual symbolizing power and invincibility.
Several fights occur at the same time.
Judges and assistants watch the competitors.
Also check out my blog post on Nadaam horse racing on the steppe.
Nadaam or the “Three Manly Games” is the most important festival of the year in Mongolia and is held throughout the country during the national holiday from 11-13 July. Its roots lie in Mongolian warrior traditions and includes competitions in wrestling, horse racing and archery.
The National Sports Stadium in the capital Ulaanbaatar holds the biggest celebrations and opens with an extravagant ceremony of horsemen, athletes, musicians, dancers and the military. Then the contests begin.
My brother Mike planned his wedding in Mongolia to coincide with Nadaam, giving guests visiting from other countries the chance to see this unique festival too.
National Sports Stadium, Ulaanbaatar
Officials in the stadium dressed in the national costume. This robe-like garment called a deel is daily wear for many people in the city and out on the steppe.
Old woman in national costume arrived before the crowds.
Beautiful costumes everywhere.
The President of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, gave a speech during the ceremony which broadcasted to everyone on the big screen.
Spectators sheltering from the harsh sun under umbrellas.
Archers gallop on horseback.
Archery display. Both men and women compete in Mongolian archery and wear traditional costumes.
A multitude of film crew and photographers record the event.
Horsemen show their skill galloping into the stadium in a cloud of dust.
Synchronized military display.
Parachutists landed in the stadium closely missing dancers. It was mayhem.
A full stadium.
Horseman carrying the Mongolian flag. The yellow symbol on the left is the national emblem or the Soyombo seen everywhere. It has representations of fire, sun, moon, earth, water and the Taijitu or Yin-Yang symbol.
Bags of labor, love and elbow grease went into the creation of the giant barriletes in Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala during the months leading up to and on All Saints Day or El Dia de Todos Los Santos on the first of November. Here are a few photos of the workers on the day.
Santiago Sacatepequez Cemetery
Carrying a folded barrilete to the cemetery.
Waiting for flight.
Boys with a barrilete line.
Man and machete.
Holding the lines and waiting.
Raising a giant barrilete.
Checking out the work.
Holding the lines. Close-up.
On a tomb top preparing to fly a barrilete.
More elbow grease.
Working together to raise a giant barrilete.
In Guatemala, All Saints Day or El Dia de Todos Los Santos on the first of November, is a festive day to visit, celebrate and honor the dead. People arrive early at cemeteries to clean family tombs then repaint and decorate them with flowers. They picnic by the graves, fly their handmade barriletes and in Santiago Sacatepequez, watch and cheer or join in the raising of the giants.
Also, check out my posts Giant Kite Festival – Soaring with the Spirits and Giant Kite Festival – Labor, Love and Elbow Grease.
Santiago Sacatepequez Cemetery
People climb to the top of family tombs for a view of the cemetery and to fly their barriletes. This is the one day of the year when clambering over, sitting and standing on the graves and tombstones doesn’t offend.
Perched on a grave flying a barrilete.
A huge ball of string to fly a barrilete.
Families sitting on tombs eating ice cream with rows of newly dug graves behind them.
Flying barriletes from the tomb tops.
Trash amidst the trampled graves.
Ice cream seller.
Raising a giant barrilete among the graves.
Heavily armed police patrol the cemetery.
The first of November in Guatemala is El Dia de Todos Los Santos or All Saints Day and is the official festival of kites. They believe that the barriletes soar up to the spirits of deceased relatives and deliver messages from the living and that the sound of the wind blowing against the airborne kites keeps the evil spirits away allowing the deceased to rest in peace.
Also, check out my posts Giant Kite Festival – Labor, Love and Elbow Grease and Giant Kite Festival – Life Amidst the Graves.
Santiago Sacatepequez is one of the places where it’s celebrated on a truly grand scale and thousands flood into the cemetery on this day to watch the exhibition unfold.
Giant barrilete bearing the name Santiago Sacatepequez.
Here, the barriletes are a super race of kites, like something from a fantasy land. They are brightly colored, oversized, circular giants of elaborate tissue paper mosaics on a bamboo framework, bound together with rope and wire and up to 20 meters across.
Rear view of the barriletes showing bamboo framework.
Groups compete to produce the most incredible works of art and judges assess them on size, color, creativity and originality. These jumbo kites usually depict religious, cultural, social, political or ecological themes.
Another with ecological theme.
Close-up of a barrilete with a folkloric theme based on Guatemalan legends. El Cadejo is a mythical dog that is said to protect drunkards and wanderers at night.
Barriletes are expensive to produce and the workmanship is painstaking and time-consuming, taking months to dream up and create.
A smaller barrilete.
Trying to resurrect a fallen giant using ropes and bamboo poles.
This one didn’t make it.
Raising another giant.
Close-up of bamboo framework.
Team working together to raise a jumbo barrilete using ropes.
Everyone running to avoid the falling barrilete. One crashed down on stone graves trapping people under it but everyone rushed to frantically raise it and help those beneath. Miraculously no-one was hurt.
Crashed and destroyed, dashing the hopes of the team.
Another being raised.
The top of a barrilete before it’s raised.
A team takes a break on the bamboo framework. Thousands of people swamp the cemetery, perching on family tombs to fly kites or get a good view of the spectacle. This is the one day of the year when people climb, sit or stand on graves without causing offense.