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The San Pedro Mestizo Festival

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century from 1900 to about 1940, the San Pedro people celebrated a grand Mestizo Festival known as “La Gran Mestizada”. It was celebrated for the Dia de San Pedro on June 29, just prior to the departure of the men who went to work in the chicle or logwood camps.

Preparations for La Mestizada took about one month. Four Batabs were selected. They were influential village leaders who organized the event, collected the fees and donations in cash or lumber, nails and building materials. Among the Maya, a Batab was like a city councilor, tax collector and even judge.

The Batabs collected the donations and with the help of everyone built “La Enramada”, sort of a huge Belikin tent that served as the dance hall, and also built the tamazucas, which were food stalls with seating spaces. They also appointed an “Amo de Hacienda” (owner of the property), who was a rich person because he was the main sponsor, who contributed much of the food and refreshments for the festival.

The Mestizada lasted for one week. On the first day of the festival, the Batabs stood at the entrance to welcome everyone and preside over the dance and keep order. No drinking was allowed and anyone who came to the door intoxicated was turned away.

The band played a selection called Los Aires, which was sort of the San Pedro National Anthem. One of the Batabs selected twelve men and lined them up in the dance hall. Then he took out his handkerchief and touched 12 ladies who were to be the featured dancers of the evening. The girls were proud to be selected the featured dancers for that year and were determined to be the most beautiful dancers of the fiesta.

The men were dressed in full white cotton pants and shirts with cowhide sandals. They also wore hats which they could place on a lady’s head if they liked her. Sometimes ladies got to collect many hats and kept them; some got none. At the end of the night the men had to pay to get their hats and the ladies kept the money. The ladies were elegantly dressed and each wore a colored sash, gold earrings, bracelets and chains as they danced jaranas and zapateados. Then the Batabs selected other groups until everyone had danced this show.

Just before midnight, the band played a Waltz. This signaled that the show was over and everyone could join under the dance hall for the dance to continue. The men could dance with anyone but were not allowed to touch a woman, not even their own wives. A man placed a handkerchief in their left hand to hold the lady’s hand and one on the right hand to hold her waist or shoulder. During the dance the ladies were served local fruit drinks and later on with special red Chavannes Strawberry Lemonade.

During the night there were two “chics” (Maya word for comedian), also selected by the Batabs, who provided entertainment. These were men who acted as comedians by disguising themselves as women, Indian chiefs, warriors, or some drunk or person to be ridiculed. This act was repeated every night for one week when the entire village was tired and the men had to leave the island to their place of work.

And so ended the San Pedro Mestizo Festival certainly much more than 25 years ago. So is Gach Guerrero and his Batabs ready for next year’s Festival?

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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