The president has branded a commercial featuring the Papantla Flyers as racist, after it was also criticized by the Ministry of Culture.
An advertisement for Mexican cash loans provider Moneyman shows the Dance of the Flyers ceremony in full motion and asks: “Do you know what the number of flyers’ spins and your first Moneyman loan have in common? Both will generate zero interest.”
A block of text displaying “$4,000” — the maximum zero interest payment — then falls from the top of the screen to extinguish a flute player.
The pre-Hispanic ritual, which is principally practiced in Veracruz and Puebla, was named an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2009. In the ceremony, participants climb a 30-meter pole tied by ropes, before they jump towards the ground and spin around the pole 13 times. One participant remains at the top, dancing and playing a flute and drum.
The president stated his disapproval at Monday morning’s press conference, the mañanera: “A few days ago there was a questioning of the dance of the Voladores de Papantla: racist,” he said.
Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero had already condemned the commercial in similar terms: “An advertisement where the ceremony is offended, discriminated against, devalued and ridiculed; which is considered sacred by the preservers of this ancestral practice … This is one more example of the racism of certain social groups in Mexico toward indigenous peoples,” she said.
Frausto also offered her support for cultural organizations which promote the tradition. “We energetically join the pronouncements that have been made against this commercial and offer our full support to the Council for the Protection and Preservation of the Ritual Ceremony of the Flyers,” said added.
The actor in the commercial, Arath de la Torre, apologized on social media after thousands of complaints. “I feel a deep admiration for the Papantla Flyers and pride for all the traditions that are part of our culture, so under no circumstances do I want to collaborate in any campaign where my participation could be interpreted as offensive to any person,” he said.
The tradition is believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec and Otomí peoples in pre-Hispanic central Mexico.
The 13 rotations completed by each Papantla Flyer are a symbolic representation of falling through the 13 heavens of the Sun God, and together equal 52 spins: the number of years in an Aztec “century,” or calendar round.