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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mopan Maya Deer Dance, San Antonio, Belize

While scheduling our week of collecting Mopan and Q'eqchi' Mayan bird names and folklore, we heard that one of the local communities was doing their annual Deer Dance, a traditional Mayan celebration tied to hunting and the local village saint. So Monday morning, bright and early, we hired a driver to take us out to San Antonio, the largest Mopan Mayan town in southern Belize.

When we got there, we were welcomed and invited to head over to the house of the local patron who was putting on the dance, giving us a nice behind-the-scenes look at the dance preparations. The participants had finished a big dance and party the night before, and had spent all night watching over the village saint and the ceremonial "greasy pole" that would be erected at the end of the dance.

After a few hours of marimba music, practicing some dance steps, and being ceremonially incensed with copal smoke, the dancers went down to the soccer field in town to start the all day dancing.

At the end of the dancing, the men put up the "greasy pole", a sixty foot pole covered with lard and soap with a prize on top. Teams of men who had helped bring in the pole took turns trying to climb the pole to get the prize in order to share the money and rum with their teammates.

It was quite a sight to see modern Maya erecting a sacred ceiba tree in the ceremonial ground next to the church--as Maya have been doing for perhaps thousands of years.

We learned a lot about the dance, and the difficulties in staging it each year. Basically, the local patron who sponsors the dance for three years (shown here with his wife and the village saint), has to foot most of the bill, and its quite a chore. Hopefully they can get some sponsorship to keep the dance going in future years.

The villagers were quite inviting in sharing this celebration with us. If you're thinking of somewhere to go next August, you couldn't do better than to spend a couple days at the Deer Dance in San Antonio! Check out the Toledo Ecotourism Association for more info on visiting San Antonio. See here for notes from someone who attended the dance in 1989.

On the bird front, not a whole lot of birds in the village--Common Tody Flycatcher welcomed us as we arrived in town, and Red-lored Amazons and Olive-throated Parakeets flew over during the dance.

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