Man dressed as a woman for annual Chiapas festival. Man dressed as a woman for annual festival in Chiapa de Corzo.

Men dress as women for this annual festival

It is believed to date back to men hiding from the Spanish conquerors

The party began on Monday in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, a fortnight of celebrations in which the dance of the chuntaes, where men dress in traditional women’s clothing, is a highlight.

Every evening until January 23 the men of Chiapa de Corzo meet at the house of a group leader, where local women apply makeup to the men’s faces, add braids to their hair and dress them up in traditional and colorful blouses and skirts.

To complete the attire is a woven basket decorated with small flags that the men carry on their heads.

Men of all ages become chuntaes for a night, and dance through the streets of the city in a ritual that originated with the Spanish conquest.

Local historian Gerardo Madrigal Nigenda told the news agency EFE that the lore of the chuntaes dates to colonial times when men dressed up as women to avoid being detained by the Spanish.

The leader of the oldest chuntá group of Chiapa de Corzo, Madrigal explained that wearing female attire allowed the men to go out and work, or provided a disguise to guerrillas fighting against the Spanish occupation.

“That’s what we believe the chuntá was about,” Madrigal observed.

It was through his effort that the dance of the chuntaes was rescued and recovered from historical obscurity 39 years ago. Today, over 1,500 men from Chiapa de Corzo and neighboring towns gather for the celebration.

One of those was Reinaldo Gómez, who after a day at work prepared for a night of revelry. “It is something really gratifying for the people of Chiapa de Corzo, and it’s very exciting,” said Gómez, who’s been participating in the event for 18 years in a row.

Obdulio Zebadua was equally excited even after being part of the dance for two decades, and remarked that the event helps “raise high the name of Chiapa de Corzo and the state of Chiapas.”

The dance is part of the January Festival, one of the oldest festivals in the state and one whose origins are believed to be a fusion of pre-Hispanic and Christian beliefs. It began Monday and wraps up on the 23rd with the recreation of a naval battle on the Grijalva river.

Source: Debate (sp), Milenio (sp)

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