Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas under the Volcano in Michoacán

The volcano of Paricutín, center, emerged from a cornfield in 1943 and rose to a height of about 1,500 feet above the surrounding area.

We went to see the volcano and passed through the nearby Indian village of Angahuan, where they were putting up Christmas decorations at the church. Kids here grow up speaking the native language, called Tarasco, and learn Spanish in school. About 100,000 people speak Tarasco, also called Purépecha.

According to the Mexican census, 6 million Mexicans speak one of some 62 indigenous languages as their first language. Nahautl, the language of the Aztecs, and Maya are the most common. Here are the statistics, by language, from the Mexican government´s own website. Some 720,000 speak only their indigenous language.

The main industry in the town is hosting tourists who want to ride a horse or hike a couple miles to the site of a church that was buried, along with a town of 7,000, by a lava flow, and to the nearby volcano, Paricutín.

All that remains of the town is the church, which dates to 1620. The lava completely filled the nave and reached to the choir level of the church.

No one was killed by the lava flow because it was the blocky, slow-moving type -- faster than a glacier, but slower than a river. It took about a year for the lava to reach the church, several miles from the cone. I remember reading about Paricutín in a comic book when I was a kid. The image of this volcano popping up out of a cornfield stuck with me. Here is a geologist´s description of a visit to the site.

The villagers have about 200 horses that they use to take tourists over the rough ground to the volcano. Kids as young as 6 or 7 lead the horses.

In the national park in Uruapan, we took in the waterfalls, a group of strolling musicians and snapped a few photos of family groups snapping photos. More photos of the park here.

Not far from Uruapan, in Tingambato, we saw the ruins of a ball court, pyramid and other ceremonial buildings built about 1500 years ago and then abandoned.

The Museum of the Dead in Aguascalientes celebrates the figure of Death in Mexican mythology. Death is part of life, a continuation of the cycle. Death makes life possible. This is Death in the garb of a bishop.
The Pope probably wouldn´t approve of the Mexican worship of Death, but it is part of the Catholic culture here, a syncretic mixture of faiths. The Mayans and Aztecs both practiced human sacrifice as a way to ensure that life would continue -- that the sun would stay in the sky, that the rains would come, that the harvest would be bountiful. The deaths of the victims were meant to thank the gods for life.
I liked this museum more than Cindy did. She liked this cemetery in Angahuan. Somehow it seems more festive than the cemeteries we´re used to.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:03 AM

    muy bonitas fotos o a lo mejor sera porque soy de angahuan,