Evolving traditions, evolving handcrafts

In other parts of Mexico, the word “mojiganga” refers to giant puppet-like figures worn by dancers, such as those made by Hermes Arroyo in San Miguel Allende.

The word actually can both a  puppet and a kind of festival, which most often is a secular street festival or parade, with the purpose of providing levity after a religious observation.

Montage by the Diario de Morelos newspaper

These often have a burlesque atmosphere, making fun of notable figures and others. In Zacualpan de Amilpas, this idea was reinvented over 50 years ago in relation to celebrations of the Virgin of the Rosary on 29 September. While the religous tradition extends much, much further back, the mojigangas began in 1965, very simply with a float and men dressed as women.

Helmut masks in progress at the workshop of Comparsa Zacualpan Mágico

DSC_0275Since then, the annual event has become far larger and more expressive with groups of partcipants called “comparsas” competing (in a friendly way) to outdo each other on costumes, floats and more. The comparsas choose a theme for themselves each year (much the way that Carnival krews do), with members dressing in similar or thematically-related get-ups. These range from biblical scenes, to Egyptian gods, to Samurai warriors and more. Comparsas design and finance their own paraphanelia. Most is made by the comparsa members, but if they cannot make something, the work with local craftspeople, in particular those who can sew.




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One very interesting development has been the use of cartoneria (paper mache). It is common, along with other materials, for floats, but one use that really stands out is the making of large helmut-like masks, and sometimes even other parts of costumes. The making and use of these helmut/masks can be traced to artisan Flavio Daniel Gutierrez Falfan. Although he gives an uncle credit for inventing them, maestro Flavio has been responsible for popularizing them, teaching many of the young people of the town who participate in comparsas such as Comparsa Zacualpan Mágico.



In the case of this group, the members themselves learn to make the masks and other hard aspects of their costumes, such as swords, shields and one year, samurai armor. These are not thrown together at the last minute. Members work the entire year (finding time among work and other responsibilities) to plan, craft and in the case of clothing, work with local seamstresses.

Comparsa Zacualpan Mágico at the 2015 event

Comparsa Zacualpan Mágico at the 2010 event

The results are impressive, smooth, hard and sturdy pieces with innovative design and painting. Although they will sell pieces after a mojiganga, none are professional “cartoneros.” Nonetheless, their work got them invited to participate in the annual National Cartonería Encounter, where I was lucky enough to pick up one of their animal helmut-masks for only 400 pesos (less than $20USD). I sincerely doubt that they still sell their pieces now for so little.

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There is one other interesting recent development in the mojiganga, the appearance of large “alebrijes,” also of paper mache only in the past few years. This is again tracable to maestro Flavio Daniel, who participates regularly in the monumental alebrije parade in Mexico City. Zacualpan’s colorful monsters don´t reach the size (yet) of the ones in Mexico City, but they are still an eye-catching addition.

Alebrije by Comparsa Falfán

The mojiganga has become famous enough to attract about 30,000 people, including international visitors from the United States and Europe, so planning ahead is important. It is a tiny town with limited hotels and parking; however it is close to the small city of Cuautla, Morelos and reasonably close to Cuernavaca. This year’s will be held on Sunday 25 September.

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