Accepted Paper:

The Day of the Dead: one ritual, new folk costumes, and old identities  


Rosa Isela Aguilar Montes de Oca (LMU Munich, Germany)

Paper short abstract:

In 1989 a new folk costume for a beauty contest was created to reinforce the Day of the Dead ritual in la Huasteca, Mexico. This well-established tradition serves to reconstruct identity, community and a sense of belonging as well as the (western) ideal of young womanhood in the Huasteco region.

Paper long abstract:

In the 1980s the parish priest of the church of San José in Tehuetlán proposed holding a young girls´ beauty contest with the goal of teaching the people the meaning of Xantolo Symbols in order to counter the increasing presence of Halloween which had been made popular by international migration and media.

The Miss Cempoalxóchitl Beauty Pageant started in 1989 following the Miss Universe and Miss World format, which in 1962 and 1971 had introduced national costume as a cultural marker. The young ladies in Tehuetlán wear dresses inspired by and adorned with natural and cultural components used in altars and dances dedicated to the dead: Cempoalxóchitl flowers (Mexican marigold flower), cocoa seeds, sugar cane, maize leaves, chilis, palm leaves, oranges, lemons, masks, incense burners, copal, candles, flower vases, guitars, clay candle holders representing animals, and paintings of agricultural labour and handicraft activities. In this manner, both natural and cultural elements are used to construct and reinforce Huasteco identity, while rebuilding community and fostering a sense of belonging.

Huastecos perform the traditional ritual Xantolo every year as cultural heritage passed on to younger generations within a limited geographical space, the Hidalgo Huasteco region. They combine culture and nature, thereby creating a unique form of celebrating life while honoring their dead. Miss Cempoalxóchitl, while embodying the (western) ideal of womanhood - beautiful, white, tall, thin - as well as the attributes of a good woman - feminine and graceful, may be seen as a guardian of culture.

Panel Heri013
Folk costume in the ritual year and beyond: heritage, identity marker & symbolic object (Ritual Year SIEF Working Group panel)