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Los Voladores de Papantla

Today, we will talk about the Voladores de Papantla.

We have all seen them at one time or another. We have all been surprised to see how, from the top of a pole, just holding their feet, they begin to descend rhythmically. But why do they do it?

Many years ago, a group of old wise men commissioned some chaste young men to locate and cut down the tallest, strongest and straightest tree in the mountain, to use it in a ritual...

Within the immense mysticism that surrounds the traditions of Mexico, the dances, are perhaps, one of the demonstrations that cause more admiration, due to great part to the mystery, the beauty, the clothes and the colorfulness that frames them.

Unfortunately, as time goes by, customs are gradually disappearing, and although there are ethnic groups that refuse to succumb to "modernity", the fundamental principles of their ancestral rites have suffered modifications that endanger their future practice.

In such a case is the Dance of the Flyers, cheered by many, but understood by few, and sometimes considered as a simple game or show of courage, due to the ignorance of its origin and meaning.

The origins of the voladores ceremony date back to pre-Hispanic times. Although there is no exact date, it is known that upon the arrival of the Spaniards, their main chroniclers considered this dance as a "game", perhaps because originally the attire used consisted of costumes made with authentic bird feathers that represented eagles, owls, crows, macaws, quetzals, calandrias, etcetera.

Although the antecedents of the dance are not fully identified, there is a legend, which describes the possible reason for the ceremony:

"Many years ago, a severe drought, in the area of the Totonacapan lordship [which includes the limits of the current state of Veracruz and Puebla] caused havoc among the peoples of the region, and decimated a large part of its inhabitants.

A group of old wise men, entrusted some chaste young men, to locate and count the tallest, strongest and straightest tree of the mountain, to use them in a ritual complemented with music and dance, in order to ask the gods for their benevolence, to grant them generous rains, which returned their fertility to the land.

This cult was to be performed on the upper part of the trunk, so that the prayers expressed with fervor would be heard in the heights by their protectors".

Apparently, the good result that this celebration gave, was welcomed as a tribute, which should be performed periodically, becoming a permanent practice, which at first was carried out at the beginning of spring, to hope for good fertility. Currently, the dates vary according to the region.

It is one of the few indigenous rituals that has survived the Spanish conquest. It was done to attract water in times of drought, it is a dance for the fertility of the land. It begins with the ascent of 5 men to the top of a pole. There are always 5 flyers; each of the 4 flyers, who launches himself into the void from the top of the pole, represents one of the 4 cardinal points, and the fifth flyer, who remains at the top, playing the drum and the flute, represents the center of the earth. The colorful clothing they wear refers to the plumage of birds.

The colored ribbons that hang represent the rainbow, which will appear after the rain. In addition, they must make a total of 13 turns during their descent, 13, which multiplied by the four flying ones is 52, just the number of years of the Xiuhmolpili calendar, that is, the years that according to the Mexica (Aztecs) have to pass for the world to be destroyed and a new world to begin.

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