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Celebrating the wonders of Mexico! – Papantla Flyers


Rooted in the pre-Hispanic period the Voladores de Papantla /”Papantla Flyers” do fly! This ritual dedicated to the Sun God and is believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec, and Otomi peoples in central Mexico and then spread throughout most of Mesoamerica.

The Voladores de Papantla ceremony begins with four flyers entering a circle led by a priest who is dressed in red and white representing the sun and wearing a multi-colored headdress to reflect the rainbow. All five dance around the base of a pole, saluting the four cardinal points while asking permission to do the Sundance, which honors the Creator. The four flyers, in turn, ascend the 30-meter high pole, which towers from the earth a full eighty feet, topped by an eight-inch diameter drum and a rotating platform.

The pole represents the connection of the earth to the heavens re: our earthly connection to the divine. A rope is wrapped around the pole from the bottom to the top, and which they use to climb, represents the umbilical cord. The priest is the last to ascend and once he is at the top he makes an offering in song using a flute and dancing on top of an eight-inch drum, moving north, south, east, and west offering a prayer.

The drum, upon which he stands, carries his footfalls down through the pole to the earth as his flute song is carried to the heavens. The dance on the drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the flute represents lightning. The priest then takes a seat on the drum and the 4 flyers drop backwards into the air and descend, making 13 revolutions before they reach the earth. This number, 4 X 13 = 52, represents Venus, the morning star, and her influence on the earth.

The symbolism is entwined with the ancient Mayan and Aztec calendars and their intimate knowledge of astronomy and the universe. After the four flyers reach the earth they wait as the Priest descends with the sun setting in the west and touching the earth ending the dance and their offering of thanks to the Great Creator.

Although the ritual did not originate with the Totonac people, today it is strongly associated with them, especially those in and around Papantla, Veracruz. The Voladores de Papantla ceremony has been named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in order to help the ritual survive and thrive in the modern world. This is the second Mexican event to be recognized by UNESCO, the first being the Indigenous Festivity of the Dead in Michoacán, stay tuned for this one!

In the meantime here is a video of this wonderful custom for you to enjoy and admire especially the courage of these Voladores de Papantla. If you want to see them live, they perform at the Puerto Vallarta Malecon every night.

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