Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Glimpse into New Mexican Culture -The Zozobra

Today's glimpse will deal with a central New Mexican tradition (and perhaps all of New Mexico as well) of burning the Zozobra.

Most people I talk to get this confused and ask if I mean the "Burning Man", an annual festival that takes place in Black Rock, Nevada.

I am not.

I don't want to demean the Burning Man. I'm sure it is a wonderful, can't-describe-it experience. see...the Zozobra has been around for much longer. 84 years in fact, vs the 15 years (or so) that the Burning Man has been around.

As you can probably tell from the last blog we New Mexicans are proud of our traditions, food, state in general. This is why in my heart I feel that the Zozobra is a bit better than the Burning Man.
But lets get to the nitty gritty - - -

The Zozobra vs. The Burning Man

The Burning Man!

The Burning Man festival seems to be much more popular than Zozobra. A festival that describes itself as an experience in community, radical self-expression and self-reliance, had 47,000+ attendees in 2007. So ...I guess, it IS much more popular.
It's an 8 day festival ending on Labor Day (weekend) with the burning of the man. ...hence...Burning Man.
This festival is complete with crazy concept art cars, people dancing with fire, and probably drugs. I'm assuming drugs. Honestly how can you experience THIS to its full extent if you AREN'T on drugs?

It all started when two guys in 1986 got totally smashed in a desert and burned a wooden effigy of a human to symbolize "sticking it to the man".....Just kidding... they were actually on a beach.
But seriously, it doesn't say much about why they burned the man or where they got the idea, except a hint towards a movie called "The Legend of Billie Jean" where they burned a wooden man at the end. Well, at least they didn't go see Ol' Man Gloom (Zozobra) and then pretend it was all their idea...

Not until 1990 did they finally go to the desert (the Black Rock Desert to be more specific) to burn the MAN. The event became very "dadaist" which we all know means "mother-effing crazy shit".

1997 it became way more popular. So much so they actually had to think about applying for permits to burn the MAN. They have all kinds of bans now, some of which I think are pretty necessary for an 8 day festival in the middle of the desert.

Don't bring dogs (what if they run away?)
Don't have a bonfire (just wait until the last day!)
Don't burn your own art (which is...i made don't burn it)

Another thing to mention about The Burning Man is each year they have a theme. This year its "American Dream"...and the tickets cost like...$295 at the most! Whoa! What?

If you look closely at this picture below, though I don't recommend it, because its really small and you'll hurt your eyes. This is what I assume is a satellite picture of the layout of Burning Man. The center being the Man.

Now as much as it looks like this festival would be fun, and I think it would be, it just seems so spread out. How big IS the Burning Man when you are on the outside of the C? But lets not talk about Nevada too much...

The ZOZOBRA! or "Old Man Gloom"...

Oh how I have a place in my heart for this green eyed, red lipped, orange haired man. I was apparently wrong when I stated that the Burning Man was more popular because 40,000+ people attended the festival. Well, over 40,000 people go to Zozobra as well! Although they are hidden in the city of Santa Fe I would guess.

Good Ol Zozobra. Now I want to note that the wikipedia site for the Zozobra is WAY smaller than the Burning Man site. This just proves one point that I had thought it was less popular. Now I'm just thinking, hey, maybe we don't care if people don't know about the Zozobra. So Eff off. EFF off.

The Zozobra isn't some crazy puppet people burn for no reason. Oh no. This man takes all your years worries and burns them up in a rip-roarin, firey death. But lets not get ahead of ourselves.
The Fiestas de Santa Fe is where this all starts. An annual "celebration" of the peaceful retaking of Santa Fe by the Spanish from the Pueblos in 1692. I say "celebration" because if you ask a Pueblo, I'm sure they might disagree. What with the "it was my land first" kind of thing. So... we burn the Zozobra at the beginning of the festival (instead of the end). Kind of a lets get our crappy year behind us and start a-new.


Many people do go to the burning of Zozobra, though I doubt the majority of them are in the festival grounds. When I went I was on a roof of a house....

Now there isn't much history beyond this (i.e. wikipedia don't have much details) , but there are plenty of first hand accounts of people who go to such a celebration.

I've only been to the Zozobra once, but remember when I was a kid they'd show it on the tv. When I did go, like I said, I was on a roof of a house. We ran into these people and they invited us over for beer. They burned their own mini-zozobra before the real one and we all got drunk. My favorite part of the Zozobra, which I haven't mentioned until now was the moaning.

Zozobra MOANS and GROANS and ROARS and all kinds of awesome shit like that. I mean, come on. Thats Effing awesome.

The second account comes from our friend Kelly. Who lived in Santa Fe and probably went to the Zozobra more times than a monkey has smelled his own poo. ok sorry that was gross. I've edited it a bit....

"...when i was in high school we'd go regularly - this was when it was still on a friday night, instead of now being on a Thursday (one time someone got shot, so they decided to move it to a Thursday when people had to work the next day in the hopes of it being tamer). i remember going there early evening to get a good place on the field. we took food and everything and there were a bunch of folks around that i knew. so we hung around and waited and waited. then it FINALLY got dark, and everyone stood up (at which point you could no longer see the fire dancer and the ghosts - the little human who "lights" zozobra on fire and then all the kids who dress up as ghosts and accompany him - just FYI for something like 20 years the fire dancer part was played by the same guy with a beard; now i think his daughter is doing it or something). The fire dancer started dancing - and we're in this mass of people, all trying to see, packed together, and everyone's yelling and shouting "burn him! burn him! burn him!" and they they lit him on fire, fireworks went off all over the place, everyone screamed as zozobra is moving around, on fire, groaning, and then quickly it was over. Then we all slowly wove our way through the crowd down towards the plaza. At one corner there was (and always is) a group of ultra-Christians who are yelling at the crowd, telling them that zozobra is devil worshipping and we're all going to hell."

So there you have it. Our very own New Mexican tradition. Complete with first hand accounts.
Now I'd say if you had to choose, go to the Zozobra, if only to spend LESS money. But also.. he GROANS people! Who doesn't want to see a giant puppet moan while being burned? WHO?


KikiB said...

I think the other important thing about Zozobra is that he is made up of paper that people want to get burned, like old love letters, tax forms, bank statements, things they want to forget and move on from. I don't know about the burning man.

steven said...

Oh man, I inadvertently learned something.

Mandy said...

You're TOTALLY right about the awesomeness of the moaning and groaning of a giant burning puppet. YEAH! And also, the name Zozobra is way cooler!