Following is a guest post by Morbid Anatomy Library scholar in residence--and guide of the Morbid Anatomy annual Mexican Day of the Dead trip--Salvador Olguín. This year's trip will be take us to Mexico City and Oaxaca where we will visit Day of the Dead celebrations, epic churches, museums, markets, and much more. Oaxaca is famous for hosting some of the most lavish and unusual Day of the Dead altars, so this is sure to be a very special trip. We very much hope you'll consider joining us!
The 2014 Morbid Anatomy Day of the Dead trip runs from October 31 through November 4th, and the deadline for registering is July 15. You can find out more about it the trip--and secure yourself a spot!--by clicking here. You can see photos from last year's trip by clicking here.
Oaxaca: A Decapitated Native American Princess
Oaxaca de Juárez, located in Mexico’s southern State of Oaxaca, is, in fact, a very ancient city. Humans have been present in the area since at least 7,500 BC, and some of its most prominent megalithic structures date from ca. 500 BC. The city’s official coat of arms features the image of the head of a decapitated woman, and is based on a legend from the Colonial era. Donají was a Zapotec princess who, according to legend, fell in love with Nucano, a prince from the rival Mixtec people. Mixtecs and Zapotecs had been fighting over the territory that is now Oaxaca way before it was conquered by the Aztecs and, subsequently, the Spaniards, and fighting continued well into the first decades of the Viceroyalty of the New Spain –i.e. Colonial Mexico, created in 1519 after the fall of the Aztec Empire. During one of these numerous confrontations, Donají was taken captive, converted to Christianity by recently baptized Mixtecs, and was finally decapitated. Her legend is still reenacted today during the festival of La Guelaguetza in Oaxaca.
A place of legend, Oaxaca has also played a key role in Mexico’s modern history. It was the birthplace of Benito Juarez, a Zapotec lawyer and liberal politician who went on to become one of the first Native American presidents in the American continent. He also famously overthrew an Imperial government, dubbed the Second Mexican Empire, imposed by Mexico’s Conservative Party on the back of a full-scale French invasion of the country. Juarez succeeded in his task after seeking weapons and support from Mexican Americans living in California, nicknamed Californios, and after being backed by a US government that had just come out of the American Civil War, and which imposed an 1866 naval blockade preventing further French troops to arrive in Mexico.
Today, the traces of Oaxaca’s violent history can still be felt, as well as the heritage of the many indigenous peoples that have lived, and still live in the city. This heritage can be specially felt during the celebration of the Days of the Dead, which take a prominent role in the lives of its citizens during the month of November. If you want to experience Oaxaca personally, this year I will be organizing a Special Tour to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico, together with the Morbid Anatomy Museum. You can find more information about the tour here.
Image: Day of the Dead in Oaxaca by Boris Spider; found here.