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The Ritual of the Voladores


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Voladores de Papantla
Photo by Hugo Cadavez, licensed under Creative Commons

Ritual Ceremony of the Voladores

The ceremony of the Voladores de Papantla is a cultural tradition of the Totonac people of Veracruz state. The tradition dates back to ancient times and has been passed down through the generations. The voladores, "fliers," sometimes called hombres pajaro, "bird men," launch themselves from the top of a pole of up to 150 feet in height, and slowly descend circling the pole. It is a breathtaking spectacle performed at a great height.

The ritual begins with five men circling a tall pole. One of the men plays music with a flute and a small drum. They then climb the pole, and position themselves on a small wooden rotating platform at the top. The man playing the music is called the caporal. He stands in the center, playing his flute and drum, and does a dance, facing each of the four cardinal directions in turn. This is one of the most tense moments for the audience as he performs his dance standing at the top of a pole without a harness or any protection.

The platform begins to spin and the four voladores launch themselves off, and begin rotating the pole upside down. They are attached by a rope around the waist, but they twist a leg in the rope to maintain an upside down position. The caporal remains at the top of the pole as the others descend. In their descent, each volador circles the pole 13 times. Thirteen times for each of the four voladores, for a total of 52 rotations, representing the number of years in the Mesoamerican calendar cycle.

Next: The Legend and Symbolism of the Voladores

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