Talking about the state of Guerrero is talking about roots, traditions, art, culture, crafts, music, dance, stories, ballads and poetry. Guerrero is one of the richest states in traditions; our roots come from our ancestors. After “the conquest,” the population changed significantly as it integrated the cultures of Spain, the Philippines, China, Japan and Africa, which is particularly less recognized and which is still being observed today in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero. It makes us a people with an impressive past and a present filled with pride that we want to show to the world.
From October 31st to November 2nd, México celebrates “The Day of the Dead,” also called “for the faithful departed” (fieles difuntos). This is a very special celebration throughout the country; however, in the Municipality of Cuajinicuilapa in the Costa Chica region where the black population is settled, this celebration has a particular meaning.
“The Dance of the Devils” (La Danza de Los Diablos), which is a part of the “Day of the Dead” ceremony, has several cultural influences, including the African rituals in honor of black god “Ruja,” who slaves called upon to ask for freedom. Over time, these African rituals were combined with the ancient Native traditions and the Catholic observances and replaced by the celebration of the “Day of the Dead.”
In the “Day of the Dead” celebration, Afro-Mexicans or Afromestizos who live in the villages of Costa Chica, perform the “Dance of the Devils,” representing the spirits of the dead. The celebration begins the last day of October, which according to tradition is a celebration for the “Dead Children,” those who died before age 16. On November 1st and 2nd, there is a celebration for the “Dead Adults,” aged 17 and older.
The highlight of the “Dance of the Devils” celebration in Costa Chica is the “Devil Mask,” which has a long mustache and a beard made of horse mane and tail. The mask is undoubtedly the most symbolic and the most important to the population of this area. They perform the “Dance of the Devils,” as it was originally danced by African slaves, and they remember the oral tradition of the African god “Riuja.” It is a dance where you have to be very strong, both physically and spiritually. Dancers must obtain permission from the cemetery (Panteon) that organizes the ritual to participate. Moreover, it is important to mention that historically, the “Dance of the Devils” was performed only by men, but today, women have been integrated into the performance to preserve the tradition.
The music of this dance is very happy, not sad. The instruments used are the jawbone of a donkey or horse, harmonica and the big can made of aluminum known as Tigrera (Bote). Together, they emit a peculiar sound and lead the pace of the dance.
Finally, the “Day of the Dead” in Cuajinicuilapa (Cuaji) is a celebration full of color, dance, food and the reunion with loved ones who have passed. It connects us to the black African presence in México and it can be watched and enjoyed by all.
We invite you to visit the Costa Chica region of Guerrero, about 8 hours by bus from Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, where the Afro-Mexican culture still lives even with the technological advances of today.
By: Candelaria Donají Mendez Tello and Carlos Irra*
Editor’s Note: Professor Candelaria Donají Mendez Tello is an instructor of tourism at the Universidad Autonoma de Guerrero in Zihuatanejo and is an expert in Afro Mexican studies. Mr. Carlos Irra, a graduate of that university, is Manager of the Villas at Club Intrawest, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero.