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Mexico's Red-Hot Mamas

 

In macho Mexico, the extraordinary Zapotec Indian women of Juchitan dominate their men, celebrating fatness and fertility. British journalist and Journeywoman, Jocasta Shakespeare sent us this story after she travelled to Juchitan for their spring festival. She writes...


Rosa raises her skirt, embroidered with yellow sunflowers, to expose lace underskirts and fat ankles. Swaying to the oapaca music, her face is flushed and distracted like a somnambulist in an erotic dream.

Fiesta of fertility rites...

For seven days and nights during the spring Velas (Candles) fiesta in Juchitan, southern Mexico, Zapotec Indian women dance in a celebration of ancient fertility rites and to confirm their matriarchal power. The women of Juchitan are very different from their Mexican sisters. Here, it is the women and not the men who rule. They are the head of the household, they control the finances, and they dominate the men physically, too. Huge and sensual, their size is a status symbol and not a reason to feel ashamed.

Rosa weighs 14 stone and is considered to be a local beauty. "We like plenty of woman here," says Jose, her lover, who is half her size. "Fatness is a sign of a woman's sexual energy and lack of inhibition in bed"

"We are not like all the whimpering little housewives of Mexico," says Carmela, Rosa's sister. A string of medieval gold coins, symbolizing her erotic merit, cascades between her enormous breasts. "Our men do what we say," she declares, passing me a piece of iguana meat, rolled in its shriveled green skin and roasted in red chillied tomatoes. This delicacy is also said to be an aphrodisiac.


Women take the best seats...

Around the dance floor (a tarpaulin on swept earth) wooden chairs are arranged in rows. Families from the surrounding villages have travelled here to show off, gossip and dance. The first four rows are occupied by the women of the Morales family, who sit solid as a female Mafia. Abrisa, 63, is head of the family and sits in the center.

Behind the women sit the Morales men, wearing sombreros, dull, black trousers and white shirts. Two dance to the oapaca music: a hopping step with hands held behind their backs, while the women sway and turn, their skirts fanning and nickel-capped teeth glittering.


Outsiders not welcome...

"We are the frame of the picture," Miguel says, when asked if the men felt overshadowed by such flamboyance. Around the edges of the arena they sit, some gazing from stools at the back, not daring to penetrate the multicolored female ghetto to ask for a dance.

Marina is a single mother which, she says, is "not a problem". Religious restrictions controlling the sexuality and the lives of so many Mexicans have been repulsed here by a traditionally rebellious spirit. This rebelliousness, that has also kept the spirit of the Velas alive, has not diminished. Outsiders are not welcomed here and can provoke rare outbursts of aggression in these normally quiet and henpecked men.


Women run the markets...

In the Juchitan marketplace it is the women who run the show, buying and selling as only they are allowed to. While men work in the fields, hunt iguana, fish or weave hammocks, it is wives and daughters who sell the produce, watchful of every half-peso that changes hands.

Barter and repartee are the hallmarks of a good marketeer. Girls inherit a stall from their aunt or mother when they have learnt to trade. Marita sells coconuts pierced with a straw to suck the juice "like mother's milk". She sorts through sheaves of wilting coriander and says, "This is a woman's world. Men can't buy or sell - they don't have the mentality. They are soft and need the guardianship of women. I give my husband Luis pocket money every week to buy beer, get a shave or a shoeshine. Only women know how to look after money. Men have a different kind of brain. They are good for nothing but making babies."


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