An Easter Parade

The saints are beautifully attired in handwoven traditional dress for Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the Chiapas Highlands.
The saints are beautifully attired in handwoven traditional dress for Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the Chiapas Highlands. Photo by Joe Coca.

Coincidentally, I’ve spent parts of the past three Easter seasons in either Mexico or Guatemala. Compared to the sedate Easters of my childhood or the flurries of Peeps and candy eggs I see now at every turn, what I’ve experienced in Latin America is dramatic, moving, sometimes startling. Let me share.

Candles and attentive reverence accompany the vigil on Good Friday, waiting for the cock to crow.
Candles and attentive reverence accompany the vigil on Good Friday, waiting for the cock to crow. Photo by Joe Coca.

A church in a small town in the Chiapas highlands, painted like a vast pastel confection. Inside, expanses of flickering candles are stuck to the floor, bare of everything except a scattering of fresh pine needles. The altar is a mass of flowers. Off to one side, a Maya shaman conducts a healing ceremony for a family. In the opposite corner, a chicken is sacrificed. The saints, wearing layers of handwoven huipils, look on. Here’s another poultry story. We’re in Cobán, Guatemala. The cathedral is bustling with activity: candles being lit, prayers offered, saint effigies prepared for processions. In one corner, in a protected area, a rooster is tethered. Worshipers gather around, waiting for the rooster to crow three times, praying. The biblical reference is clear, the local dramatization visceral.

The striking Maya huipils, cortes, and shawls of Nebaj are softened by Catholic veils.
The striking Maya huipils, cortes, and shawls of Nebaj are softened by Catholic veils. Photo by Joe Coca.

On the opposite side of the country, in Nebaj on Palm Sunday, women stream down the street from the church at dawn. The rising sun catches the lace veils they wear under the headcloths woven in traditional Nebaj style. The sense of community is strong, expressed in their clothing, their reverence, and the palm fronds they carry.

Flower carpets, called alfombras, mark the path of processions that last late into the night.
Flower carpets, called alfombras, mark the path of processions that last late into the night. Photo by Joe Coca.

A week later, in Rabinal, the streets are blanketed with vivid carpets of flowers, grass, pine needles, and colored sawdust, laid out in intricate patterns to mimic traditional carpets. They will be trodden on throughout the day and night on Good Friday by brass bands and endless processions carrying religious figures. These vignettes aren’t related to the books we were shooting photographs for, books about traditional textiles and the people who make them. And yet they are. In Latin America, as in so many traditional cultures, textiles are inseparable from other aspects of culture. I guess that’s true here as well (as I sit here in my jeans). —Linda Ligon

2 thoughts on “An Easter Parade

  1. Kate says:

    ¡Oh but don’t I want to ride along in your suitcase!!
    Such gorgeous photos bring back so many wonderful memories of being in Mayan lands.
    Thank you.

  2. M Hawkins says:

    Linda: You and Joe Coca are a wonderful pair to spread the word and the images. Always thoughtful insights, always images with depth. Thanks for sharing – it add some breadth and depth to my everyday life.

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