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Carnaval Around the World

© Carnival Dance Group Wearing El Español Masquerade Yauhquemacan,
Tlaxcala, Mexico 2002 Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

The Tlaxcala area of south-central Mexico has long been inhabited by Nahuatl-speaking people who came under Spanish rule in the early 16th century. Spanish and French landlords forced the Indians to labor on their plantations and Catholic priests worked to convert them to Christianity. European colonists in the city of Tlaxcala were celebrating carnaval by the mid-18th century wearing satirical costumes and masks and running through the streets late at night banging on doors and throwing
seeds and confetti. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, the number of wealthy Mexicans and Europeans living in this region increased. By the mid-19th century Carnival took the form of elaborate parties and masked balls where guests performed French quadrilles, or square dances, popular among upper-class society at that time.

Under the Mexican government, Tlaxcalan Indians regained much of their freedom and by the late 19th century communities were organizing their own pre-Lent Carnival festivities. These featured men wearing satirical masquerades of the wealthy Europeans and performing square dances they learned from watching the upper-class Mexicans. This springtime celebration gained popularity in the Indian villages and today it is the most important festival of the year, coinciding with
traditional ritual practices related to the coming agricultural season. Groups go through the streets of their neighborhoods, performing in front of the homes of their families and sponsors. The Carnival play still focuses on satirical masquerades and square dancing, but now young women are allowed to join in as dance partners.

© Charro Dance Group Papalotla,
Tlaxcala, Mexico 1999
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

One type of Carnival group found in Indian towns in the southern part of Tlaxcala is known as charros, referring to upper-class Mexicans or Spaniards who oversaw cattle ranches in this region during the mid to late 19th century. In keeping with this role, the Indian dancers cover their faces with realistic pink-skinned masks portraying young Caucasian men. They also wear a fancy version of ranchero clothing and carry a coiled rope in one hand. In an exaggeration of 19th -century charro hats, the dancers' headdresses are ornamented with draped fabric and an enormous framework of colored ostrich feathers.

© Chivarrudo
Tlaxcala, Mexico 1999
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

Other Carnival groups found in a few Tlaxcalan villages in the southern part of the state are known as chivarrudos. Their name comes from their chaps which are made from the hides of goats (chivos). These masqueraders represent lower-class Mexicans who ran cattle through Tlaxcala in the late 19th and early 20th century. The cattle drive often followed the main road that passed from north to south and the cowboys stopped in towns along the way to buy food and other supplies. Local Indian residents viewed the cattlemen with great humor and developed the chivarrudo Carnival masquerade to imitate and make fun of them.

© Catrine Dance Group Amaxac,
Tlaxcala, Mexico 1999
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

El catrine
is the dominant type of masquerade worn by groups of men in Nahuatl towns around the central part of Tlaxcala. It is an impersonation of French dandies who were seen on the streets of large cities in this region, such as Puebla and Tlaxcala, in the latter part of the 19th century. Along with beautiful Caucasian masks, the catrines wear tuxedos, top hats, and embroidered scarves and carry umbrellas. Their female dance partners wear matching dresses, ranging from short skirts to full-length evening gowns.

© Carnival Musicians Tepeyanco,
Tlaxcala, Mexico 2002
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

Small groups of amateur musicians play polkas, mazurkas, and schottische-style music for the Carnival square dance performances. The bands usually follow the dancers on foot as they move through the streets of their neighborhoods, setting up at each new location where the troupe stops to perform.

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