When visiting Oaxaca City, you will undoubtably see monos de calenda or giant paper mâchè puppets in a parade. The monos de calenda dance around with their arms swinging in every direction, bringing a smile to everyone's face. Monos de calenda are sometimes called monos or gigantes.
Monos first came into use during the Spanish colonial period on the haciendas in Oaxaca. The ridiculous appearing monos representing the Spanish hacienda owners would be used in fiestas and in religious processions.
Author Geri Anderson suggested we do a story about monos de calenda together. I thought I knew all about calendas (a type of Mexican parade) and monos de calenda. I was wrong.
Geri Anderson and I visited José Azcona (José Octavio Azcona y Juárez), Mexico’s foremost monero or giant puppet maker and expert on the subject of monos de calenda at his studio in Oaxaca City in July 2016. He has been making monos for over thirty years and his monos de calenda can be found in various museums including the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropologia) in Mexico City and in the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca in Oaxaca City.
When he was a young man he really wanted to dance using a mono de calenda at a fiesta and the owner of the mono promised to let him use it. He waited and waited and finally the fiesta ended and he never got to dance in the mono de calenda. Angrily, he promised himself never to ask to borrow a mono again. And that was when he got the idea to make his own mono de calenda.
His first mona was of a female dressed in the costume of the women from the isthmus of southern Mexico. He lent his beautiful mona and she was never returned. As he started making his second mono, he got a request to make two more. And in this manner, he began making monos de calenda. Sometimes he lent them, gave them or sold them.
"Every mono is different. Every mono is special. Every mono has a part of my heart. What I like most is that the dancing of the monos makes people smile; nationals, foreigners, boys and girls. I really enjoy making people smile. What I want is after the children grow up, is for that their children too enjoy the monos de calenda."
"Oaxaca is always in a state of a fiesta. When someone is born, there is a lot of music, also when someone dies. And between the two, we dance and enjoy life. The music is something that accompanies us at all moments. And monos without the music have no soul. With music the monos function."
Part of the interview with José Azcona was made into a video and can be found here: Interview with José Octavio Azcona. The interview is in Spanish.
Below, Jose's workshop with monos in various states of completion.
Making monos is time consuming but I think for an artistic person (which I am not), they are easy enough to make. To make a great mono will take patience and practice. This article shows how to make a frame for a mono. The article is in Spanish but has lots of photos and is self-explanatory.
The photo to the right or above shows the cane or bamboo that is used make the frame. The cane needs to be flexible. Much of the cane will need to be cut in half length wise to reduce the weight of the frame. You will notice in the photos that parts of the cane are covered with newspaper, that is because the cane has sharp edges and will cut whoever is inside the mono.
The hands and lower arms need stuffing in them so the arms will swing around as the mono dances. Stuffing from a pillow will do the job. Be careful of the weight and length of the arms, as the mono dances, the arms will swing about and are known to occasionally hit someone who gets to close.
Making the mono's head is the fun part. This article shows how to make a head. The article is in Spanish but has lots of photos and is self-explanatory. A large balloon covered in paper mâchè can be used to make the frame for the head. The hair is made with raffia. For female monos, you will need ponytails if you want the hair to swing around as the mono dances.
As you make your mono, keep in mind someone will be in it. Make sure that there are no exposed sharp edges on the cane. The weight of the mono needs to be kept to around to 10 kilos or 22 lbs. Make sure there is enough space inside the mono for a strong young man to fit into it.
If you are interested in this topic, you might want to visit:
Photos taken by Geri Anderson and/or Marc Wilkinson. I, the copyright holder, hereby publish these photos under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).