Chinelos

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Today is August 28 and the colonia next to us with the same name has been taking things calmly. At 5.45 am the first banger exploded close by and then shortly afterwards the Chinelos started up. Of course I am at work so don’t know how the day has been going but I can imagine my poor dogs totally freaked out, poor things.

I am commenting this because it brings up the subject of the Chinelos, and that is something rather interesting for anyone who doesn’t know about them. They are very much a tradition here in Morelos and no party is complete without them. They are a kind of traditional costumed dancer. Their clothes are very distinctive, as you can see from the photos here. According to Wikipedia the tradition arose from the blending of indigenous and Catholic traditions roundabout the mid 19th century. They are people who disguise themselves and the story goes that the origins of the Chinelos has to do with mocking the Europeans, i.e. the Spanish conquistadors, and their mannerisms, fair skin and European clothes. The idea of wearing a mask, which is a strong tradition in Mexico, is interesting as it gives anonymity to the wearer and permits a form of mockery that hurts no one. Groups of people dressed as Chinelos dance at festivals, saints celebrations, private parties, everywhere. They always have a band with them and they basically dance in circles and everyone joins in and follows them. I have done this on occasion and it’s really great fun. You pick up the step, which involves a bit of jumping (in Spanish, brincar), and twirl around and follow the Chinelos and their band. It’s really  quite tiring in the hot sun. How the Chinelos manage to do it for such a long time under the disguise I don’t know, they must boil.
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The costume consists of a long dress-like robe, which is usually made out of velvet, or mock velvet with fur trims as well as beads, sequins, images of the Virgin de Guadalupe, etc. The hats are amazing and also heavily decorated, with pre Hispanic images as well as more modern interpretations. There is a feather out of the top of the hat, in the style of the Spanish colonialists. The mask is made of mesh and brightly painted with a face, it also has a pointy chin/beard. There are lots of other details but you can get the idea from these photos that I have found online.

Apparently there are more in Morelos than anywhere else as here there were the huge sugar cane haciendas that made a lot of money for their rich European owners and left the workers extremely poor. This was their way of getting back at the owners, at least until the Revolution broke out.

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The Chinelos are an amazing sight, brightly coloured, noisy, and you never know who is behind the mask. Whole families participate, even the children, but they say that it is mostly men who do this, especially as the heat and the weight of the costume makes it difficult to carry out the dance for very long.






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