I just returned from the wedding of the youngest daughter of my good friend and shaman (healer/herbatero), Don Francisco. It was a 3 day event. I am sure you must be curious as to what this Maya wedding was like. After all, the father is a powerful healer, herb expert, energy worker, curse breaker, magic worker. And not only that, his family has been in the craft for more generations than they can remember! Arely (the bride) is even training to be a healer herself.
Let me preface this story by telling you that I am on a mission to tell the story of the Maya people, the ones who live here on the Yucatan today. That means I try my best not to make assumptions, but to see what is, and to be as true to that as I can.
So, what was this 3 day Maya wedding like? Was incense burned and were Maya gods evoked and sacred chants spoken? Were these the Mayan wedding traditions?
This story began for me about 5 months ago when I was asked to participate in the wedding as the Madrina de Vestido (Godmother of the Dress). My job was to take Arely shopping and help her pick out her dress and then to support her in any way I could on her wedding day. We had a lovely time looking through gorgeous, very modern dresses. I was a bit surprised because I assumed (bad me) that a Maya wedding would be in a traditional huipil (Maya dress with lace and embroidered flowers) That was not the case at all. The dress Arely chose was similar to the one I was married in years ago with a hoop skirt to make it stand out like a princess dress and covered in tule like a ballerina. The ensemble included a long veil and even a silver crown.
Three days before the wedding all the family gathers to for a small pork sandwich, beer and soda, and a chance to see everything that will be used during the wedding (except the dress which was hidden in a small suitcase) The father of the groom and the father of the bride both gave short speeches to say they approved of the wedding and then everyone one….well they enjoyed the party!
The wedding itself was in the evening in a garden nearby since Arely chose not to have a church wedding. I know this will sound disappointing, but the ceremony itself was at 7 pm with only about 15 people attending. The bride and groom sat at a table (They sat together on a very fancy couch) and before them was the town Justice of the Peace who asked them some questions, explained everything to them, and then had them sign and finger print official papers. Not the Mayan wedding traditions one might imagine! There were 3 lovely witness all dressed in wedding finery who signed that they had indeed seen the bride and groom sign the papers without being coerced. Then the happy couple stood up and kissed and the attendees (parents, grandparents, and myself and my partner Max) all came up in turn to have our photos taken with the newlyweds.
It was all over before 8:00 at which time friends and family showed up for…..more party!
Tables were set up all through the garden space and waiters in fancy white shirts served pork tacos on paper plates. Everyone got as much coke or other soda as they could drink. A few of the guests had enjoyed beer before arriving, but no beer was served (My guess is that it would have been too expensive).
A DJ played music with a big screen so everyone could see the music videos and a fog machine spit out fog every few minutes to the delight of the young boys who were running around. (I suppose you could count the fog as incense?)
There was, of course a fabulous cake in many tiers and a table stacked with gifts brought by friends and family. But there was no chanting, no summoning, no anything that one might envision in a “traditional” Maya wedding!
Well, what IS tradition, after all?
The following morning, many of the friends and family re-convened at the bride’s parents’ house to feast on Relleno Negro, a “traditional” dish of pork and turkey in a thick black sauce made from chilies that have been charred. And I mean charred. They cook the chilies over an open fire (That’s what they cook over every day in the family kitchen) until the chilies are completely turned to ashes, unrecognizable as chilies anymore. The dish takes more than 24 hours to prepare and most of the preparations had gone on the previous day while the bride was getting her hair and makeup done by a professional who came to the house for this reason.
When we arrived that afternoon, several hours before the ceremony, they were getting the pib ready so they could cook the pork. A pib is a hole dug deep and then filled with hot coals. They slaughter the pig they raised themselves for the occasion (They didn’t name him, but I did meet him before he became the wedding feast). Then it is cleaned and prepared with aciote (a smokey local seed) other spices, and covered in banana leaves. The whole thing goes into the pib and is covered with more banana leaves, banana trunks split in two lengthwise, tin like a piece of tin roofing, and dirt.
Don Francisco was beaming, so excited and happy and a bit tipsy. Angela, his dear wife and helper, was covered in soot, and friends and family were milling around drinking beer and soda. Oh, yes, Don Francisco was filthy from all the work he and other close friends were doing to prepare the pib. But they all were reveling in the day!
When we arrived, hugs and kisses were shared all around and we (Max, my partner and I) were whisked into the bedroom to see Arely with her hair in pins and curlers and make up being carefully painted on her face. She was nervous like any bride might be. Later that evening, at the ceremony, it was obvious that not only the bride, but also Mom and younger cousins had the attentions of the professional hair and makeup artist. Everyone was stunning!
So, by the morning after the ceremony and party (which lasted, I am sure, until 5 or 6 am) the pork was ready to come out of the pib and go into the black charred chili sauce along with turkey (which was also raised right there at home) and other spices. Corn, which they grew themselves, was soaked in lye, ground by hand, and used to thicken the dish. More corn was made into thick, hot, handmade tortillas.
By 10am family members began to gather (some of course came earlier for moral support). Beer and soda flowed freely with the traditional delicacy, relleno negro, the dish that began in the pib the previous day.
I don’t know how long that day's party lasted, but I heard they left there when they were finished and went to the groom's house to do it all again, only this time with cochinta pibil (another pork dish cooked in another pib)
So, as I try to share what really happens at the “traditional” Maya wedding of the family of generational shamans, I find that food, friends and family and a looooooong party is the core of the tradition… 3 full days of party!
I do so love having precious time to spend with this family. I am learning so much. One very important thing is that what the world imagines of the modern Maya people is most often not accurate. I am constantly surprised by the depth of the modern magic and its power and the simple and happy life of the people. I am still working on not making assumptions, but it isn’t easy when you work from your own experience. I focus on trying to just take things in as they are and not filter them through my own past experiences. If I don’t understand something, I ask. If I can’t ask, I try to not come to conclusions until I can get more information, either by observing or by having a chance to ask at a later date.
It is fascinating.
And they are lovely people.
I am blessed.
Tired and happy,