The Dance of the Tastoanes is a celebration held in the villages of western Mexico for more than three centuries. It is a cultural expression characteristic of the region. Held since colonial times, it represents the triumph of indigenous Chimalhuacanos on the conquerors, represented by Santiago (St. James).
The indigenous people of this region were so fierce in battle that they appeared to be demons. the indigenous warriors fled the Spanish conquerors and hid in caves, where they were then discovered dead with snakes, scorpions, spiders or lizards crawling on their faces.
However, victory was short lived. The Spaniards regrouped and returned, backed by allies from other native tribes and crushed the rebellious Chimalhuacanos. The veneration of Santiago, Spain's warlike patron, became a tool to assimilate the defeated indigenous people: Incorporating aspects of the Caxcanes’ culture into the Catholic festival drove home the message that indigeneity was the “evil” defeated by the “holy” Spaniards, Santiago at their backs.
Though customs vary from pueblo to pueblo, the three-day principal ceremony plays out a mix of theatrical dances, rowdy entertainment, and religious services.
The Celebration is held on July 25 in the towns of Jalisco, from the municipal capital of Tonala and Salatitán in San Juan de Ocotán, Nextipac, Santa Ana and San Francisco Tepetitlán Ixcatán in Zapopan. In the state of Zacatecas, celebrations take place in Juchipila, Apozol and Moyahua Estrada and others.
The ceremony brings together war dances, mystical beliefs and history. The ritual passed down from generation to generation with integrity but the costumes have undergone some changes. The participants wearing masks are made of leather, wood or rubber in the form of animals. The instrument used to accompany the dance is the flageolet (wind instrument made of wood, similar to clarinet).