Guelaguetza is a cultural festival that celebrates the unique folkloric dance, dress and music of distinct indigenous groups of Oaxaca. It takes place in Oaxaca de Juarez over the last two Mondays in July, when the city fills up with participants from all over the state, and visitors from all over the world, who have come to take part in the revelry.
The word Guelaguetza means “offering” in Zapotec, and its meaning runs much deeper than the modern day event. In traditional Oaxacan villages, when there is an occasion for celebration, such as a baptism or wedding, the people attending the party will bring an offering known as guelaguetza, in the form of food, beverages, flowers, or other goods. These contributions allow the party to take place, since one family would be hard-pressed to provide everything necessary for a large-scale celebration. The guelaguezta offering becomes part of a reciprocal exchange that is still very much practiced today, and is one of the ways social ties are reinforced and maintained through time.
The modern Guelaguetza festival is a blend of the pre-hispanic celebration of the corn goddess Centeotl, and the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was offered/enforced by the Spanish in the colonial era as a counter celebration to the indigenous tradition. It is not uncommon to see this mix of Catholic and pre-hispanic traditions practiced in Oaxaca.
There are seven distinct regions of Oaxaca and the indigenous group from each area exerts their sense of belonging through their dress, song, music and dance, not to mention cuisine! While there is crossover and clearly a common ancestor among these groups, the mountainous geography of Oaxaca allowed for isolation among the different tribes, and throughout time unique language and cultural traditions emerged.
Visitors and locals alike can enjoy Lunes en el Cerro, or “Mondays on the Hill,” where a special auditorium overlooking Oaxaca City has been built for the occasion. They can enjoy the swirl of dancers, music and colors, with the gorgeous backdrop of Oaxaca behind it. Leading up to the first Monday and throughout the week, there are lots of parades and other events throughout the city, making this a great time to visit Oaxaca. One of the things that makes Oaxaca so special is the rich indegenous culture still practiced today, and the Guelguetza festival is one of the best ways to learn about and enjoy the unique traditions.