Pátzcuaro, Michoacán – Happy skeletons and dancing old men

Tzacapuansucutinpátzcuaro. Despite greatest efforts I’m not able to pronounce the name correctly, to read it, let alone to remember. But why shall I succeed in what the Spaniards didn’t manage? They shortened the word, which means in Purépecha language “place of the stones” without further ado to Pátzcuaro. And that was that. The Purépecha is the resident tribe whose language can still be heard in the area.

The Aztecs had never been able to conquer the empire to which Pátzcuaro belonged. As the Spanish invaded the area in 1529 they created carnage and subjugated the people. Only two years later Franciscan monk and future bishop Vasco de Quiroga arrived with completely different ideas. He strived for a society with equal rights, founded new Indigene communities and encouraged them to practise each their own trade. This habit is still maintained, including Tata Vasco’s worship to whose remembrance a plaza with fountain and memorial was erected.

In this not too big town are quite a few plazas, and a lot of old buildings like churches, palaces, beautiful hotels with inner courtyard, a former convent, a museum, a library… Private buildings and shops have a common appearance with whitewashed adobe and red tiled roofs. There is a cute market with fruits, shoes, and craftwork. Pátzcuaro is famous for its souvenirs, pictures or figurines of elegantly slim skeletons in expensive robes. The Indigenes celebrate the All Saint’s Day intensely, but they don’t mourn, instead they have a party for their ancestors where they show the incredibly decorated skeletons.

There is another tradition Pátzcuaro is famous for: la danza de los viejitos, the “dance of the eldest”. Dancers equipped with face masks and canes limp around satirically and pull older age’s problems’ and slight pains’ leg. There are rumours that more probably the Spanish conquerors should be mocked.

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