In Mexico, the traditions have no borders, as the nightly show by the Voladores de Papantla in Puerto Vallarta reminds us. Every evening near the street of Leona Vicario, on the Malecón, you can see those who have dedicated their lives to keeping this traditional ritual alive, inherited from their parents and grandparents.
The Dance of the Papantla Flyers is a Totonaca ritual dance related to fertility. It is executed by four fliers and a musician called “caporal”.
There is no exact knowledge of the origins of this ceremony, but it is known by the costumes worn, it is from the Totonac Indians. The costumes and made with authentic bird feathers such as macaws, eagles, owls, quetzals, ravens, etc., the Spanish conquistadors considered this dance as a game.
Legend says that many years ago, a strong drought caused considerable damage among the towns of the Señorío de Totonacapan region (which today includes the limits of the states of Puebla and Veracruz). To remedy this calamity, a group of old wise men entrusted young chaste men to locate and cut the tree, taller, sturdier and straight from the mountain in order to require the indulgence of the gods to give them rain.
The ceremony should be performed in the upper part of the trunk, so that the fervent prayers are heard by the deities. After the successful outcome, the celebration was welcomed as a tribute that should be held periodically, becoming a permanent practice.
The costume: it is worn by the indigenous Totonacas over their traditional white blanket garments.
Conical cap: placed on top of a wide scarf or bandana, is adorned with multicolored flowers, which represent the fertility of the earth, and crowned by a small multicolored tuft in the shape of a fan that simulates the crest of a bird and also symbolizes the sun’s rays that start from a small round mirror that represents the star.
Strips: long, slide down the back of the dancer simulating the rainbow that forms after the rain.
Two half circles of cloth or red velvet, held from the right shoulder in a diagonal direction, hang on chest and back; they represent the wings of the birds. Above them are figures of flowers, plants, and birds of different colors and sizes, embroidered with sequins, which allude to spring; from the lower part, there are golden fringes that reproduce the sun’s rays.
At the waist of the flyer, in front and behind, again the two semicircles with motives similar to those mentioned above are appreciated. The trousers of red tone shows, at the height of the calves, adornments of chaquira and spikelet; in the lower part, golden fringes are seen, topped by leather boots with high heels. The use of the color red is considered representative of the blood of the dead dancers and the warmth of the sun king.
Throughout the ceremony, this character swings in the “tecomate” and rises in the top heights, without a safety net or rope, to face the four cardinal directions, bends and opens his arms, keeping the balance on a foot, at the same time that he plays all the melodies with a tamborcillo and a flute of reed.
They rotate 13 times, which multiplied by the four fliers gives the result of 52, a number that symbolizes the 52-year cycle of the Mayan Calendar (every 52 years a solar cycle is formed and each year it is composed of 52 weeks, after from which a new sun is born).