The MIchoacán hillside near Pátzcuaro cradles Cuanajo, an entirely Purhépecha town of about 12,000 souls. The Purhépecha are the largest group of indigenous people in Michoacán. Nearly 500 years ago, when the Spaniards first traveled through this part of Mexico, the settlement lay some two kilometers south of its current location. The Purhépecha covered their yácatas (pyramids) with earth to prevent their takeover by the conquistadores and the town moved north.
Just before this article was originally published in November 2008, Mexico Cooks! had the opportunity to talk with Emilio García Zirangua, the then-head of government in Cuanajo. Sr. García expressed deep concern about the future of centuries-old wood crafting in his town. "The Purhépecha of Cuanajo began carving wood when Don Vasco de Quiroga, the first bishop of Michoacán, brought Spanish artisans to teach us their methods in the 15th century. Now, we don't know what our future holds. So much wood has been taken from our mountains, legally and illegally, and even though the government makes promises about reforestation, we don't see the results of those promises."
"Cuanajo is part of the municipio (similar to a county in the United States) of Pátzcuaro. Actually, next to Pátzcuaro, we're the largest town in the municipio. We're working on gaining standing as a separate municipio because our needs here are so different from Pátzcuaro's needs. Our town is very rural, not so modern as that town."
Colorful Mexican themes decorate this queen-size hand-carved and hand-painted headboard. You'll find this one or others that are similar at Fábrica de Muebles Buenos Aires, at the corner of Guadalupe Victoria and Lázaro Cárdenas in Cuanajo.
Sr. García continued, "Not too many years ago, everyone in Cuanajo spoke Purhépecha. Today, few of the young people bother to learn the language. It's a huge loss. In that way, it seems as if our heritage is disappearing. What will be the next to go?"
"At least we still take pride in our heritage of working with wood. Nearly everyone here knows wood carving and painting, and most of us earn our living from those things. We have an international reputation for making beautiful furniture and decorative items for the home."
Cuanajo is substantially off the beaten tourist track but well worth the time and effort to get there. If you're looking for highly detailed painted furniture or other home decoration, it's the best place in Michoacán to find what you want. Please contact Mexico Cooks! if you'd like a guided tour.
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