Home Patronal festivals The Maroma of Mexico, yesterday and today

The Maroma of Mexico, yesterday and today

My first approach to the Maroma was in 2008. I was a member of Otro Circo and Circo Atayde Hnos guest us at a rally with a group ofmaromeros who participated in the news Laboratorio de Acrobacia IndIgena (an indigenous acrobatics laboratory inTaj CumbreIm). Strong relations were built from there between the Zapotecs maromeros de Santa Teresa, Veracruz and both Otro Circo and Circo Atayde Hnos. Before the end of the year, we were playing together at their patronal feast. In 2011, I was briefly a member of Transatlantic, an intercultural project led by Charlotte Pescayre[2], which combines European and indigenous school circus Maroma.

A circus-type show with a strong ritual component, Maromas Métis origin has its roots in pre-Columbian Mexico.[1]

During the patronal feasts[3]some rural villages,maromeros companies present their shows. Native and Métis tightrope walkers[4], aerorealists and clowns make up these companies, including artists of different degrees of professionalization who are generally also farmers. The style and elements of the show vary from region to region but a tightrope (the maroma) and the oscillating rope (or trapeze) are characteristic. Leap of the Maromeros tightrope while the marching band plays the typical music of the occasion. Normally there is also a clown reciting verses, making children and adults laugh even if the true meaning of the words is only perceived by adults.

This type of clown is reminiscent of the versifying clowns that were popular in Mexico in the 19th century and are certainly their predecessors. We can also follow an older antecedent. Federico Serrano-DIaz, a Mexican researcher mentions the so-calledcuecuechcuicatl (naughty songs), a humorous style of Mexican culture before the Spanish conquest:

The illustration is from the collection of the 16th century America by Théodore de Bry

“Big boss, I’m coming: I’m coming to laugh.

Imy naughty face, the flower is my song

Different flowers iI spread out,

I come to offer songs, intoxicating flowers;

II am ugly face and I come from where the water arises,

I come to offer songs, uplifting flowers

There are some, these are my songs.

Iam the naughty face, iI am red-throated lily of the valley and my song cries out:

Hohohon hohohon… “[5]

But it’s not just the clowns of Maroma who have distant predecessors. The oscillating rope and the tightrope are described in texts and images of the sixteenth century as indigenous activities of the native population. There are several documents that testify to the diversity of ritual-spectacular-acrobatic practices in pre-Columbian Mexico. These practices, like everything related topaganreligions have been censored by Christian conquerors. But they reappeared in different forms, turned intoharmlessgames and shows, with a new bi-cultural identity: Mestizos.

Photo courtesy of La Marmota Azul

We givet know the exact date when the first traveling artists arrived from Europe to Nueva Espanota. The timing of the creation of the first biracial acrobatic company is also unknown. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church´The archives tell us an interesting fact, the first miracle of Cihualpilli (Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos) took place in the year 1623. With a modest height that barely exceeds 30 cm,La Sanjuanita It is the second most visited religious image in Mexico (after The Virgin of Guadalupe). In 1633, the Catholic Church was ordered to investigate a widely spread rumor of a miracle performed by this virgin. The report, with eyewitness accounts, was presented in 1634 and recounts what was to be known as’The first miracle [of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos]’:

“It was the year 1623 when a family of acrobats who had trained goats who also participated in the show, arrived in the town of San Juan Bautista Mezquititlanm Once the show begins, the quick pirouettes performed by the skillful volatineros[6]makes the amazed audience shout and applaud. When the cadet’s turn came, the audience wondered if she would be able to pull off her feat on a long row of sharp knives. Everyone waited in silence. But the little girl lost her balance and fell, trapped by the sharp blades that awaited her, she lay in a pool of blood. With the resignation of someone who believes everything lost, hearing the begging of the neighbors, the fathers of the dead child agreed to wrap her up and take her to the chapel to watch over it. Once there, the lady in charge of the chapel, native Ana LucIa, asked the fathers of the deceased for permission to put the image of the Blessed Virgin on the corpse of the dead girl. They accepted in tears. After four hours of prayer and tears, the young girl suddenly opened her eyes. Color returned to her cheeks as if she was waking up from a pleasant dream. Once they took off her shroud the only thing she wanted to do was hold the Virgencita [little virgin]in his hands.Whileeveryone was shouting: Miracle! Miracle!”[7]

Photo courtesy of La Marmota Azul

With this first miracle, the Sanjuanita does not have only become the patron saint of the volatineros (and later circus people), but she also left left a trace of presence of traveling companies of performers in colonial Mexico from the beginning of the 17th century. To the fabulosa historia del circo en Mexico (a monumental book by Dr Revolledo Cardenas, co-edited in Mexico in 2004 by Conaculta-EscenologIa AC) there are several references of Maroma companies who toured our territory at the time of the viceroyalty. These companies developed along the colony, taking a clear and prolific form in the latter third of the period. There is extensive documentation of activities during this period:the maromeros used to perform in public squares, arenas and especially in the patio of maroma (these patios were the courtyards of the neighborhood buildings known as the vecindades).

A show in a ‘patio of maroma ‘ would generally include verse recitation, presentation of an exotic or trained animal, clowning, acrobatics, and rope walking (where the name maroma just).

The arrival of the modern circus in Mexico, by the Englishman Philip Lailson in 1808 with his Real Circo de Equitacióm, marked the beginning of a new era for show business. Unable to satisfy the new preferences of the urban public (whose interest had turned to the newly arrived European spectacle and its glamorous acts),the maromeros were pushed to the suburbs and from there to the small towns.

In 1841, Joséé Soledad Aycardo founded the first Mexican circus, the Circo OlImpico. By the end of the 19th century, the circus was everywhere in the country. Some of the circus families that still exist today were born around this time (as Suarez or Atayde). Mexico City had the incredible Circo Orrin Theater, a circus-building with a capacity of more than 2000 people (and electric light!). The circus was completely integrated into Mexican culture.

But Maromadoes not havet disappear, it has remained rooted in the peasant and it has persisted in some villages – being taught from generation to generation until today. Today we find maromeros in parts of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Puebla and Veracruz. Even though, until a few years ago, groups from different regions had no connection, initiatives like Correspondence Maromeraswere useful in creating bridges and allowing exchanges, enriching their work and helping to disseminate it.

Besides Maroma, there are other spectacular acrobatic expressions of ritual and festive origin in our country, such as the Zancudos de Zaachila or the famous Voladores de Papantla.But that will be the subject of another occasion. For now, I invite you to watch the video of the 3rd Correspondencia Maromera. Enjoy!

[1]The author and a circus performer,Rodrigo Hernandez specializes in Perch balancing (www.duocardio.com) and is a collaborator at the Mexican Centre of Circus Documentation Dokucirco(www.dokucirco.org) 

[2]Pescayre defines herserlf as ethnofunambulist, and her anthropological research is essential to understand the phenomenon of Maroma, of which shes not only the main researcher in Mexico, but she has fueled its development through the creation of Correspondencias Maromeras (national gathering of maromeros).

[3]Maroma shows are not exclusive of the patronal feasts, though these celebrations are their most frequent stage.

[4]The word maroma comes from arab-hispanic mabruma and it means rope. To walk on the maroma means literally to walk on the rope: funambulism. Like it happened with many other speciatilies, the word maroma was quickly used to refer not only to funambulism but any circus-kind activity. Nowadays, in Mexico we say maroma when we talk about floor acrobacy.

[5][Translated from Spanish] Cantares Mexicanos 1532-1597, foja 67. This fragment was taken from Serranos article Antecedentes del Payaso en el México Antiguo that is published inwww.dokucirco.org

[6]Volatineros, titiriteros, maromeros, are actually different specialities, but the names were used indistinctly for any traveling performer.

[7][translated from Spanish] From theBreve historia de la Virgen de San Juanpublished in the website www.visitasanjuandeloslagos.com
Feature photo courtesy of La Marmota Azul
Rodrigo Hernandez

Rodrigo Hernandez is a professional circus performer specializing in pole balancing and clinch. Since 2010, he has been working with Solène Albores as half of DUO CARDIO. He was born in Mexico City and raised in Montevideo. Rodrigo is a founding member of the “Circodromo” cultural center in Buenos Aires and of the Mexican circus documentation center (Dokucirco).

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