Saturday, November 8, 2008

Todos Santos

November 3, 2008

This weekend I made the trip out to Todos Santos, Huehuetenango for the celebration of All Saints Day.

Todos Santos is one of the few places in Guatemala where the men as well as the women still wear the traditional dress, at least in theory. Men wear red and white striped pants along with colorful collared shirts, and while the younger generation has kept this tradition, it has altered it to modern styles. Young boys and teenagers wear pants in a style copied straight from the states, wearing them low and baggy. They could pass for a pair of jeans if it weren’t for the stripes. And while they still wear the collared shirts, they leave them open and wear shirts bearing the insignia of heavy metal rock bands, WWF wrestlers or rap artists. I was struck by the fusion of tradition with modernity in this small isolated town.

On another note, Todos Santos is also famous for its celebration of All Saints Day. First, because the town’s feria also falls on this date (todos santos means all saints in Spanish). All towns in Guatemala have a patron saint (or saints in this case) for which they throw a celebration every year on that saint’s day. Secondly, Todos Santos has gained notoriety for the horse races they stage on this date. The races are not so much races, as drunk men riding their horses up and down a road at full speed. Upon reaching the end, they wait until one man decides to turn around and race back to the other end and the others follow. There is no winner and not much of a point. Predictably, several men fall off their horses in their drunken stupor and more than one are usually trampled. It is said if a man dies, his team will have good crops the following year. I watched the races the morning of the first, and saw several men fall and one get trampled.

Unsurprisingly, Alcoholism is an even bigger problem in Todos Santos than in most places in Guatemala. Last year the town voted to outlaw the sale of alcohol. While this prohibits the sale it does not prohibit the consumption, and the bolos were out in full force for feria. Men were passed out like flies all along the roads. I wonder if there is much hope for this problem, in a town were the act of drunkenness is a traditional celebration.

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