Mexico Cooks! is turning back the clock this week, but only a little: let's imagine that it's February 2, 2008, just before Lent begins, and we're in Morelia, Michoacán for the afternoon festival of the Torito de Petate.
The idea of this celebration is that everyone, young and old alike, have a great time celebrating and learning the significance of this age-old tradition. Year after year, the creativity that characterizes the making of these so-called 'little bulls' surprises us with huge and exceptionally colorful figures.
The figure is made of a bamboo frame, covered with colorful tissue paper. Near the bottom of the torito, the head of a bull peeks out, adorned with banderillas. The upper part of the torito shows off huge cut-paper shapes: swans, lyres, stars, mermaids, and every other fantasy that can be created in cut tissue paper.
Mexico Cooks! talked with Gregorio Hernández, head of the torito team representing El Clavelito in Morelia's Colonia Eduardo Ruíz. Sr. Hernández gave us some history. "Before the Spanish conquest, the Purhépecha (local indigenous people) danced with the head of a bull, a real bull, to welcome the spring planting season and to insure a good crop. It's said that the little bull is the symbol of fertility.
"After the Spanish came and the indigenous people were converted to Catholicism, Tata Vasco (Don Vasco de Quiroga, the first Roman Catholic bishop in Michoacán) encouraged the people to include the bull dance in pre-Lenten celebrations. At first the same bull head was used, and then the people added a sombrero de listones (a beribboned hat) to make a bigger show. After that, the torito just got bigger and bigger and became what it is today: a joyful dance and artistic competition."
The young man standing next to this fantasy-figure torito is about 1.60 meters (5'6") tall. Just below the yin-yang symbol you can see the horned black bull head in its red cap. Be sure to click on all of the pictures on Mexico Cooks! to enlarge them for a better view.
In another version of the story of the torito de petate, it's said that the dance had its beginning in the 1830s, when hacienda owners allowed their slaves to celebrate planting or a good harvest with the Dance of the Bull. The dance troupe was made up of la maringuía (a female figure said to represent the Virgin Mary), the caporal (soldier, representing St. Joseph), a caballito (little horse), representing the Niño Jesús (Child Jesus), and the bull, representing worldly activities. At the end of the 20th Century dancers added another figure, known as el apache, a fearsome creature whose sole role is to strike fear into the hearts of children in the audience!
Cascarones (dyed eggshells filled with confetti), ready to break on the heads of your best pals or your girlfriend. You can always tell who's the grade school heartthrob of the moment by the amount of confetti in his or her hair.
We stayed at the festival till the last dance was done. What fun we had watching the dancers fill Morelia's Plaza Valladolid with color, music, and joy. Maybe we'll see you there next year.
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