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Blood, Sweat and Jaguars



Every May, the small mountain communities of Acatlan and Zitlala in the Mexican state of Guerrero erupt in raucous celebrations during the Catholic Holy week which coincides with the beginning of the spring planting season. The annual celebrations contain elements of Catholicism and pre-colonial traditions which, as in many parts of Latin America, blend together neatly in unique and colourful rituals. In these communities, ritualised fights amongst the men and boys, dressed in colourful costumes and wearing jaguar masks, erupt sporadically during the Christian Santa Cruz celebrations and double up as offerings to pre-Christian gods in the hope of plentiful rains and an abundant harvest. The jaguar is thought to be integral to ancient rituals surrounding rain and sacrifice. In Acatlan, boys and men will square up in the middle of cheering crowds, boxing with few obvious rules, until one of the two combatants bows out. In Zitlala, another tradition has evolved where men fashion three foot long clubs called 'cuartas' out of half-inch diameter ropes which is then used as an offensive weapon. In the past, a metal object would be embedded into the rope, thus causing much greater pain and injury. Though these are not used anymore, injuries do occur frequently and it is believed that the sweat and blood dripping off the men onto the ground serve as a sacrifice to the rain god Tlaloc (also known as Chaak and Cociyo). Another part of the spring rituals are visits to local wells where, according to archaeologists, children used to be sacrificed to the gods. Nowadays people just leave flowers, asking the gods to release their tears onto the fields. The children come along for festive picnics.
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