By Mike Vondruska
México's Papantla Voladores
When asked, “SO WHAT DO YOU DO FOR WORK?”
This man replies, “No much. Just hangin around.”
For this indigenous Totonac from northern Veracruz state, the skill of becoming one of the Voladores or Fliers takes lots of practice and lots of guts. The techniques and history of this traditional ritural is passed down from generation to generation.
He is a member of the Voladores of Papantla (Veracruz). His “job” is to climb up a 90 foot pole (no harness), balance himself on top with 5 others, and then fling himself backwards off the top and glide around and around the pole upside down 13 times with 3 other Voladores.
13 times around the pole x 4 Voladores = 52 or a representation of the 52 weeks in a year marking a new solar cycle.
This ancient ritual has to do with pleasing the gods they worshipped to give them plenty of rain and good weather conditions for growing their crops.
If you have witnessed this ceremony, chances are you only saw the most dramatic last part of it; when the 4 Totonacs come off the top and wind their way down while the 5th person stands on top of the pole and plays a small flute. In reality, it is a much longer ceremony. But when done for tourists and travelers, they usually cut to the chase and show the big ending.
Viewing the Voladores de Papantla should definitely be on your “things to see” list when coming to visit the country of Mexico.
Many of Mexico’s main touristy locations now have resident Totonacs performing this colorful ceremony. To see the “real deal,” go visit the town of Papantla in northern Veracruz and also some of the nearby towns in the western region of the state of San Luis Potosi where this ceremony originated.
See you in México!