MOJIGANGAS, A true art form in the tradition of CARTONERIA
San Miguel de Allende, GTO

The giant dancing puppet figures known as MOJIGANGAS exude sheer delight, joy, and are an essential part of the San Miguel de Allende fiestas. But the hard work, rituals, and devotion behind the revelry must also be appreciated. To be a Mojiganga entails much more than dressing up and wiggling about in the street.

On the evening of August 14, 2004, all Mojiganga dancers solemnly went to the old cemetery with lighted candles for the "velalacción". Their mission? To ask the spirits, Las Animas, to bless their upcoming efforts for the fiestas of San Miguel. On the following day, August 15, they donned their fantastic costumes and danced in The Jardín. This was a preparation for both dancers and on-lookers signaling that the fiestas are almost upon us. As tradition dictates, this first public dance fell exactly one month before the eve of Independencia in Mexico.

According to history, figures of cardboard, paper and cloth were brought to Mexico by Spaniards around 1600. During this early period, the Mojigangas were used to evoke joy during important religious pilgrimages. They also were fashioned as effigies of saints and kings, but figures were also satirically fashioned to ridicule public figures. Such was the fate of an unpopular count or prince (and were any popular among the common people?). The tradition of the dances disseminated throughout Mexico and took on different manifestations according to the style of the local artisans and the materials available to them.

Circa 1928 in San Miguel de Allende, the names of the very maestros working in that era are remembered to this day; Sr. Estanislao Hernández, Don Donato Almanza, José Rodríguez, Nicolás Vidargas, Antonio Domíguez, Francisco López and Clemente Araiza. No doubt the spirits of the maestros themselves were invoked during the "velalacción" 2004. Due to their genius with paper, paste, and "cariso" (a local bamboo-like reed), their repertoire included the making of Mojiganga puppets, Judas figures, masks, firework castillos, and the ephemeral globos (miniature hot air balloons of tissue paper sent aloft in the night with a candle urging its ascension).

During this same period of thriving paper arts in San Miguel, Don Evodio Garcia moved here from Salvatiera and fully dedicated himself to making Mojigangas, masks and a special type of dragon called "The Tarasca" for which he will always be remembered. Don Lupe Rodriguez was the last living artisan who personally saw the making and use of Don Evodio's creations, and this great era of cartonería with time came to an end.

With a renewed appreciation of their artisan heritage, the Estrada Family with Polo Estrada at the helm, revived the interest in Mojiganga making and dancing in barrio Valle del Maíz in San Miguel de Allende. Other families joined the movement and continue the traditions to this day, including the Arroyo family's children, Hermés and Carmela, who have participated in the dances since 1995.

LEFT: As in real life, support which gives shape is hidden beneath the petticoat.
CENTER: The giant hands even sport giant jewels.
RIGHT: The "peep hole" allows the dancer to see during the frenzy of a fiesta.

The making of the giant puppet is part firework "castillo" for the body frame, part piñata for the head, part paper maché for the hands and other body parts, part sewing of costumes, and 100% creativity to give the Mojiganga a personality and features that will delight the masses. No easy feat! Realizing that figures can tower up to 10 feet tall, there is a great deal of time and work involved, and the dancing is yet to begin.

As someone who wants at least one of EVERYTHING pertaining to folk art, Rick (my husband) began inquiries with Hermés Arroyo regarding the acquisition of a Mojiganga. We quickly learned that Mojigangas cannot simply be purchased, at least not in San Miguel.

First, a Mojiganga puppet must be retired, no longer reparable and past his or her prime. Then, it is the responsibility of the purchaser to finance the building of an entire replacement puppet, start to finish. Hermés stopped by our store this week, and informed Rick that he would also be learning how to actually construct a Mojiganga and participating in the building of the new piece.

Then, Rick must practice with the dancers and eventually dance in the fiestas?

By then we were all laughing and had "gotten it". Hermés was not only financing the replacement Mojiganga, but was actively recruiting to increase the Mojiganga ranks!

Time will only tell if Rick Hall becomes a gringo Mojiganga dancer in the streets of San Miguel. But, for a great piece of history and folk art, knowing Rick, this very well could happen! Photos and an update are promised.

August 27, 2004
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

Many thanks to Hermés Arroyo for providing a detailed history of the Mojiganga tradition in Mexico and San Miguel de Allende, GTO.