"The Purepecha Empire -Paradise Lost"
By Xill Fessenden
October 2002 Guadalajara-Lakeside Volume 19, Number 2

      The Purepechas, known as the Tarascans to the Spanish Conquistadors, flourished in the state of Michoacan from about 1100 A.D. to 1530 A.D. The exact origin of these people remains unknown, but linguistic similarities to the Quechua language of South America have repeatedly been noted. Fierce warriors, they were never conquered and in their glory years, successfully sealed off huge areas from Aztec domination.
      In the early sixteenth century, much of West Mexico was under the political control of the Kingdom of Tzintuntzan, Irechecua Tzintsuntzani known to Europeans as the Tarascan Kingdom. It was the second largest and most powerful Mesoamerican Empire. Its influence stretched from the state of Mexico into Guanajuato, around the shores of Lake Chapala and through part of Colima to the Pacific coast. The Purepechas also had metallurgy, again prior to the Spanish conquest found only in the cultures of South America. Products such as honey, feathers, copal, and deposits of salt, gold and copper were highly prized by the Tarascans-and neighboring regions that possessed these commodities became a target of military expansion.
      Like the Aztecs, the Tarascans had many deities. The most ancient was Curicaueri, the fire god. The pre-Columbian Tarascans thought themselves to be his descendants, and when they performed their ceremonial dances, they were affirming their connection to their ancestor gods.
      The Purepechas were the only state to become an empire in the Western Mexico cultures and this empire remained unconquered for centuries as they bravely defended their borders against the famous Aztec Empire. Although the political conquest by the Spanish was completed by 1530, the cultural independence continues to this day.
The Purepecha Fiesta coming to the Ajijic Plaza is an event of cultural significance for our entire community. The Ajijic community, Mexican and foreign, have unified their efforts to make this encounter with the traditions of the Purepecha Nation a fiesta in which all participate and experience as these indigenous peoples integrate with the living expression of their culture. October 12 is the celebration of Dia de la Raza, a day observing the survival and resistance of the indigenous Mexican. The national holiday has been chosen for the Ajijic Purepecha Fiesta as a way to recognize and experience the contributions of the Purepecha community to the heritage and culture of Ajijic.
      The fiesta is being organized in traditional ways. At 12 noon, October 12th, a religious service will be held at the Santuario de Guadalupe at Seis Esquinas (Six Corners) in Ajijic. A women's choral group will sing canto in the Purepecha language. Following the mass, musicians, dancers and artisans will join in a procession down Hidalgo to the Plaza in Ajijic. In the Plaza, members of the Ajijic community and the community of Patamban, Michoacan will create carpets of flowers, and arches in the Calle La Parroquia and by the fountain called the Paseo de los Artistas. A crafts fair will be set up in the Plaza and two altars will be erected, one typical of Semana Santa and one typical of the Day of the Dead. Speakers will explain the significance of some of the dances and altars. There will be narratives and literature presented in Purepecha, Spanish and English; also a presentation by the director of Radio XEPUR, the Voice of the Purepechas on community radio. You will hear a musical presentation of Pirekuas by the Rayos del Sol, a traditional musical group of the region, and regional food including corundas, churipu, and uchepos. Atole will be served and the different communities will present folkloric dances throughout the evening.
      At five in the afternoon we will draw the raffle winners. The fiesta will continue into the evening and the artisans from all over the state of Michoacan will sell their ancestral art until the 20th of October. A booth in the Plaza Ajijic will provide a program of events. You may also contribute donations or volunteer to participate in the events. There is a resurgence of study in the history and cultures of West Mexico and the Purepecha Fiesta is an important resource to its understanding. The Purepecha Empire had no written language and the collective memory of their culture was transmitted to future generations in the form of its celebrations and rituals. Today the fiesta remains the place where history, culture and tradition is manifested and where we may experience the essence of these ancient people.

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