(Zarco Guerrero) Continuing down the wall, our next characters are the Viejitos, a satirical portrayal of elderly men who tell the story of their lives through dance and movement. In addition to the masks on the wall, notice the dolls portraying this dance below. For me as a mask maker, the Viejito is one of my favorite subjects because of the great range of emotional expressions, especially humor.
Gayle Castañeda explains more about the stories of the Viejitos.
(Gayle Castañeda) The dance of the Viejitos probably originated in pre-Hispanic times. Dances to the fire god, Wewe Te'oto. And he was represented as a bent and smiling old man. A fire god. There are other names for him, too, several different classifications. But, I think old Fire God is probably the most known. And, in the dances, the mask shows the face of a old man, often toothless, but always with a smile, very genial faces. But, of course, the performers are young men, or boys, doing the dances.
So, in the dance, they imitate the movements with a cane, of a stooped, slouched old man, barely able to walk. And then minutes later—and it's just so charming because it's done with several performers. And when you see several of them doing the staggering and holding their backs in pain as they walk with the cane. And then several minutes later, all of a sudden, these old men become the most agile dancers you've ever seen, dancing, jumping, doing all kinds of gyrations.
And then somebody stumbles, coughs, and falls. And then we go back into the old man routine trying to help our comrade that's fallen get up. And there's a whole, you know, staged drama trying to help the other dancer up. So, we go again from this type of old man posturing to, as I said, the most agile, leaping dancers you can imagine. And it's just very charming. It really is.
The dances used to be done on particular days of the year: Christmas, New Year's and saints' days to fulfill vows to the Virgin Mary or the Christ child. But, of course, now these Viejito dances have become a major tourist attraction in the area.
In the Sierra of Michoacan, near Uruapan, there's kind of another version of the story. When the Christ child was born, the old men of the town had nothing to bring to the Christ child. They were very poor, very humble. So, the only thing they could offer the Christ child was a dance performance celebrating or representing their whole life spans, what had taken place in their lives. That's all they could offer.
So, they did this dance dramatizing their lives. And the Christ child, when the dancing was through, gave the old men doing the dance a big smile, meaning he had blessed their performance and accepted that performance as a sacred gift from them.
Special Thanks to Gateway for their support of this project.
Many thanks also to the University of Arizona Disability Resources Center for transcribing the tour episodes.