The Papantla Flyers

“Okay, so there’s that this really tall pole and there’s five people around it. One of them is this Indian priest dude and the other four guys are called flyers. The flyers are supposed to represent the…the four elements like air,water, fire and ummm, earth. Oh also, they’re the four points like north, south, east and west. Okay, so the dancers and the priest climb the pole, one at a time, and they’re climbing and climbing. Then when they get to the top, the priest starts playing and dancing on a…it’s like a stage or a platform or something. And he has a flute and a drum and the dancers just fall – they like, throw themselves back but they’re like, tied to the pole by their ankles. Then as they’re moving downwards, they’re supposed to make like, 10 or 13 what do you call that…circles around the pole and that’s supposed to mean something. Yeah, you can look that up or something. But you can see this in a lot of tourist places in Mexico. Yeah, you should see it sometime.”

After talking with Tony, I looked up the story and the 13 cycles are supposed to be the cosmic cycle in pre-Hispanic times. The costumes of the fliers are also supposed to represent “the beauty of nature, the purity of humans, and the reflection of life” (Cit.) This goes back to an ancient idea of admiring the universe and nature in its entirety and recording its way through calendars and rituals. It also ties to the old Totonac culture, and the the Totonac were the people who lived on the coast before the Spanish settlers came. Since it is a significant tourist attraction, it presents current Mexican culture as still heavily tied with cosmic and ancient reverence, which is like that authenticity that tourists are looking for. Tourist attractions are often trapped in an idealistic past so though the Totonac have been long gone and present day Mexico is closer to hispanic heritage, the flyers show is the piece of Mexican history that tourists want to see and therefore Mexico chooses to present. Unfortunately, I was not able to witness this personally, though I did look up some Youtube videos of it afterwards and I suggest that readers do the same.