A Ceremonial Dance

Women regally dressed in embroidered, lace-trimmed dresses and men in their best guayabera shirts carry festooned trays on their heads during the Baile de las Cabezas de Cochino (Dance of the Pig’s Head) at the Fería del Cedral, held in El Cedral. The trays are festooned with trailing ribbons, papeles picados (paper cutouts), piles of bread and, in some cases, the head of a barbecued you-know-what.

The pig is a sacrificial offering to God, who is said to have saved the founders of this tiny Cozumel settlement during the 19th-century Caste War, when Yucatán’s Maya rose up against their oppressors. The enslaved Maya killed most of the mestizos (those of mixed European and indigenous heritage) in the mainland village of Sabán. Casimiro Cárdenas, a wealthy young mestizo, survived while clutching a small wooden cross, and later promised he would establish an annual religious festival once he found a new home.

Today the original religious vigils and novenas blend into the more secular fair, which usually runs through the last weekend in April. Festivities include horse races, bullfights, and carnival rides, and food stands sell hot dogs, corn on the cob, and cold beer. Celebrations peak with the ritual dance, usually held on the final day.

The music begins with a solemn cadence as families enter the stage, surrounding one member bearing a multitiered tray. The circular procession proceeds, with participants showing off their costumes and offerings. Gradually the beat quickens and the dancing begins. Grabbing the ends of ribbons trailing from the trays, children, parents, and grandparents twirl in ever-faster circles until the scene becomes a whirl of laughing faces and bright colors.

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