Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Abdon Punzo Angel works on his copper dragon in his shop in Santa Clara del Cobre. He had planned to enter this and another dragon in teh 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, but later decided they were not ready. April 2006.

Abdon Punzo Chavez, 20, above and below, works in the shop of his father, Abdon Punzo Angel, in Santa Clara del Cobre. Chavez is working on the details of butterflies in a silver pot he plans to enter in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, April 2006.

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Norberta Perez Zirango, 75, uses a backstrap loom to weave material for morraleses - cloth bags - at Casa de Artesanias (not to be confused with the state agency of the same name) in Cuanajo, Michoacan, Mexico, in the days leading up to the Domingo de Ramos crafts fair and competition in Uruapan, April 2006.

Juan Esteban Cuin Augustin, 13, traces desings into a panel of wood for a carved chest his father plans to enter in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico. April 2006.

Angel Cuin Juarez, 50, at left, and his son Juan Esteban Cuin Augustin, 13, at right, with the chest that Juarez plans to enter in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico, April 2006.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007


Generations of Michoacán artisans engage in a variety of crafts
Story ran May 13, 2006 in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas.

URUAPAN, Mch., Mexico — Abdon Punzo Angel’s thick hands tapped minute details into the menacing snout of the copper dragon that sat immobilized in a vise, its body seeming to squirm.

Beside him, another shiny dragon writhed from its base, teeth bared, tongue flickering, the scales across its back bristling. A candle holder sat on its head, another on its tail.

Angel, one of the best coppersmiths in Santa Clara del Cobre, spent two months working on the copper dragons to enter in the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Tianguis y Concurso Artesania in Uruapan; he was one of many artisans throughout the state of Michoacán preparing for the event.

In Zinapecuaro, J. Ventura Hernandez Benitez, 47, had already sent his two ceramic entries to the contest. He planned to be in Patzcuaro for another show during the weekend of Domingo De Ramos. However, in the shop behind his house, he demonstrated how he has worked clay for forty years, a craft passed down to him through many generations.

The workshop’s rustic brick walls held up a corrugated metal roof beneath which his creations seemed to gestate in the heat. His homemade plaster molds and their offspring – pots, vases and pitchers which required weeks of labor – lay about the shop in the hypnotic chaos of a true artisan. Small ceramic pumpkins sat on the concrete floor in front of a shelf of cracked boards loaded with vases covered with images of skeletons dressed in fiesta garb, geometric patterns of terraces and triangles, stylized dogs and monkeys. Pots in subtle hues of dark red ochre, greenish umber and bluish gray sat nearby.

Benitez ran a wet rag over the bowl spinning on his potter’s wheel, slithering streams of water shooting away as he smoothed the piece into a finer shape. When it was almost dry, he said, he would dip it into a tub of barro y kaolin to give it a particular hue. Paints, brushes and a stool sat near the door where brief glimpses of his artist’s soul would manifest themselves in dynamic shapes and colors in his work.

The collection of pumpkins on the floor reflected a relatively recent innovation. Zinapecuaro´s artisans have been making ceramic pumpkins for about 30 years; they used to make them from lead-based materials.

However, Trinidad Martinez Garcia, director of commercial development at the Casa de las Artesanias in Morelia, said the local crafts people began making the newer versions without lead-based materials about 10 to 15 years ago after learning about the harmful effects of lead.

Benitez said that the newer pumpkins, in softer earth tones of roasted coffee and autumn leaves and earth greens, are actually more attractive than the old ones. “They sell better than the glazed ones,” he said.

Angel Cuin Juarez, 50, from the village of Cuanajo, said people prefer the natural look of carved furniture to the brightly painted version. That’s why he decided not to paint his contest entry, an intricately-carved wooden chest. Just a few days before the event, he was putting the finishing touches on the piece in the shop behind his house. His 13-year-old son, Juan Esteban Cuin Augustin, had just gotten home from school and now went to work tracing designs into a panel of wood and then carving them.

The boy’s father began working in carpentry himself at age 13; he didn’t start doing the elaborate woodcarving for which Cuanajo is famous until about 20 years ago. That’s when a man in Erongaricuaro, near Lake Patzcuaro, asked him to do some work and, out of necessity, he learned the craft.

Elsewhere in Cuanajo, at a store called Casa de Artesanías (not the state agency of the same name) Elodia Garcia Romero and her friend, Norberta Perez Zirango, sat at their backstrap looms weaving material which would later be used for morrales — colorful cloth purses — just like the ones that hung on racks for purchase. Romero had already sent her two morrales to the contest; Zirango had entered two caminos de mesa, elaboratelywoven bands of cloth placed on dinner tables.

Zirango, 75, has been weaving since age 15, and she sat before the loom now as though she had always been there; the thick braids of her hair were tied together at the ends, her pleated blue skirt draped over folded legs. Her ancient hands fit the wooden rods through long strands of vertical thread, gingerly pressed them down and raised them up as the decades of artistry now interwoven into the fabric of her spirit manifested themselves in the cloth.

That manifestation continues to express itself in younger generations. Her friend, Romero, shows no signs of quitting; Romero’s daughter, Maria Concepción Guadalupe Garcia, 18, sat nearby weaving a scarf. She said she wanted to commit to the craft for the rest of her life.

More young people were committed to their copper work a few miles away in Santa Clara del Cobre, where the ringing and pounding of hammers filled the air in Angel’s shop. Punzo, who has won many national and international awards and has even made two presentations in Albuquerque, N.M., has 12 employees in his shop; all were busy at work this particular day.

Smoke bit nostrils and untrained palates, thunderous whops of hammers pounded objects into shape and disrupted the loud music crashing into the sunny yard, balanced simultaneously by the “ting-ting-ting” of tiny hammers tapping fine delicate details into copper pieces.

Hammers and tongs hung on the walls; sparks writhed in furious circles from a charcoal fire where a worker heated a copper piece before pounding it into shape over a long metal bar. Nearby, thick fire stroked the sides of a huge pot of boiling water where workers periodically placed copper pieces to give them their distinctive color.

All 12 of Angel’s employees are relatives — sons, nephews and other family members. Many of them have the name Punzo, a Purhepecha name passed down from his great-grandfather.

On this particular day, some of them were finishing up their contest entries. Son Carlos Punzo Chavez, 23, crafted the final accents of the flutes in a shiny vase. Another employee, Abdon Punzo Chavez, 20, tapped the details of butterflies into a silver pot. The 20-year-old artisan had already pressed the shape of the butterflies into the pot from the inside out, and then filled it with a substance called chapopote to keep the butterfly images intact while he put more defined details.

“When it hardened,” he said through an interpreter, “that’s when I began hammering little indentations into the butterflies from the outside.”

Once he tapped in the minute lines that would reveal the insect’s body and antennae, he would melt the chapopote.

Abdon Punzo Chavez had high hopes for this entry which he had worked on for a month.

“This is different, it’s unique,” he said. “It will probably win something.”

Why did he decide to make a silver piece instead of copper?

“It’s prettier, it’s easier, more smooth,” he said.

His father had also been working on an entirely new design, two dragons, one with two candleholders, and the other strictly decorative.

“It will have an impact in the contest,” he said with eager enthusiasm. “I had thought of making a candle holder, and I thought of making a dragon.”

However, Angel later decided not to enter his dragons in the contest.

“I couldn’t finish them in time,” he said. “I need to put the finishing touches on them, on the whole thing. I need about 22 more days. I’ll probably enter them in the Patzcuaro contest or the next Uruapan contest.”

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Luis Felipe Punzo Chavez, 15, with his diploma for first place in the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts contest. He's standing in front of a stall of other copper items at the crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006.


Mexican artisans compete with dazzling craftsmanship
Story ran May 13, 2006

Monitor Staff Writer travis@themonitor.com

URUAPAN , Mch., Mex. — Luis Felipe Punzo Chavez worked for two months on his decorative copper pot, and his work paid off at a crafts competition.

The 15-year-old coppersmith took first place in his category in the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Concurso y Tianguis Artesania in Uruapan , organized by the Casa de las Artesanías, a state agency based in Morelia. The contest in the second largest city in the Mexican state of Michoacán (the biggest is Morelia, the state capital), took place April 9 at the San Pedro Textile Factory where more than 1,000 artisans presented their crafts for the annual competition.

An especially intriguing category in the contest — feather art — showed a great deal of refined technique and talent in which artisans used bird feathers to create beautiful images. One piece depicted a monarch butterfly; the delicate feathery filaments used to create the butterfly’s wings accentuated the poetic power of the monarch.

More of these unusual crafts sat on the floor against a solid wooden beam, portraying such various subjects as the Virgen de la Luz, owls and a horse trotting across a meadow beneath swirling clouds. These pieces were priced in the hundreds of dollars.

Visitors didn’t need much knowledge to appreciate the work that had gone into the pieces set up around the room.

Sondra Zell stopped to admire some prize-winning copper pieces that ranged from under $80 to more than $130; “I love it,” said Zell, originally of New York City. She now calls San Miguel de Allende, Mex., home and would only describe her age as “over 60.”

“I’ve been here several days,” Zell said. “I was looking forward to this aspect of it so I could see the top quality.”

“It’s been lovely,” said her friend, Clare Piaget, 60. ”It’s quite an eye opener to see the event.”

Piaget, who spends half the year in New York City and the other half in San Miguel De Allende, admired one of the prize-winning copper pots.

“It’s in a clay shape, for a clay pot, but they made it in copper,” she said.

“I think that’s true of this bowl, too,” added Zell, closely inspecting another piece.

She bent down to examine a curious mound of thatched leaves and commented, “I don’t suppose you know why this got a prize. I don’t know what it is.”

“I think it’s a costume,” answered Piaget.

The “costume”, explained another visitor a few minutes later, was actually a raincoat. Von Peacock, originally of Indiana, now lives in Colima City, Mex. The 70-year-old has been in Mexico for 48 years. He lifted the thatched leaf item to reveal very fine stitch work underneath.

Peacock comes to the Domingo de Ramos event every year.

“I think it’s a good incentive for the artisans in the villages,” he said. “It’s a chance to compare their work with others and a chance to see what they have to do to refine it.”

Pieces were judged April 8 at the factory, and winners were awarded in a ceremony the following day at the Huatapera where they shook hands with Michoacán Governor Lazaro Cardenas Batel.

Chavez, the son of awardwinning coppersmith Abdon Punzo Angel, put his award winning “cazo” or pot, up for sale for $300 in a stall at the crafts fair, along with numerous other copper pieces. The piece, which had already brought him first prize winnings of $320, had a continuous line of leaves overlapping each other across the rim, the delicate lines of the ribs and veins revealing the tedious hours of work Chavez put into the project.

“I feel very proud, since my father taught me the technique of copper work so I could obtain the prize,” said Luis Felipe Punzo Chavez. “He’s very proud of me.”

Friday, July 6, 2007


People dressed in the traditional clothing of their native villages parade through the streets of Uruapan during Domingo de Ramos festivities in April 2006.

Jan Honeycutt, Joan Kaulbach and her husband, Harry Kaulbach at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006.

Laura de la Vega, 37, second from right, and her mother, far right, of Morelia, examine pottery from Patamban at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006. Seller and Patamban artisan, Elodia Bernave, 40, is at far left.

Juana Cano, of Cocucho, makes a Huancipo at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006. Huancipos are placed beneath hot pots before being set on hard surfaces.

An artisan from Huancito decorates a pot at the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, April 2006.

Katie Cowger, center of Ashland, Oregon, and her boyfriend, Carlos Torres, right, from the Mexican state of Guanajuato, purchase some pottery from a Tzintzuntzan artisan at the 46th Domingo de Ramos crafts fair in Uruapan, Michoacan. April 2006


Shoppers at crafts fair find great bargains on pottery, copper and textiles
Ran May 13, 2006 in The Monitor.
Monitor Staff Writer
URUAPAN , Mch., Mex. — Katie Cowger and her boyfriend had just picked out some black pottery made in Tzintzuntzan.

“We’re just trying to find some stuff for my apartment,” said Cowger, 18, of Ashland, Oregon, who had been studying Spanish in Guanajuato for about 2 ½ months.

Cowger and her boyfriend, Guanajuato lawyer Carlos Torres, 24, were just two of the many people looking for bargains at the crafts fair in Plaza Morelos in Uruapan . The fair, larger than the similar one in Patzcuaro in late October and November, featured scores of artisans and their wares from across the state of Michoacán.

Customers browsed through stalls of copper and silver bracelets, pots, bowls and cups. A zoo of shiny copper elephants and horses paraded across a table while a single rank of disgruntled copper owls looked on. A woman with stern lines across her face and heavy earrings dangling near her cheeks waited passively for the next customer.

There were white cotton blouses and tunics with orange punto de cruz (needlepoint) stitching across the top from Tocuaro, guitars from Paracho and masks with twisted horns from Ocumicho. In the section set aside for artisans from Patamban, Elodia Bernave, 40, negotiated a sale with Laura Rodriguez, 60, and her daughter, Laura de la Vega, 37.

“In spite of it being very traditional, it has many modern forms,” De la Vega said.

Her mother said this was by far the best crafts fair in Michoacán. “We have all the regions, all the artesanos,” Rodriguez said. “I like the clay, the weaving, the embroidery. I like the figures from Ocumicho. It’s very traditional.”

The Patamban pottery, indeed, has a traditional terracotta look about it, with bands of blue and white flowers that seem to float around the hips of some jars; others have abstract blue and white shapes that shimmer in the shade of mid-afternoon. Bernave was selling glazed serving bowls, large mouth bowls, and pots and pitchers she’d spent the whole year making. She said she typically begins working at about noon and continues until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. She was charging between $1 and $4 for her wares but said the weeklong event was definitely worth the effort.

Cowger and Torres had only been at the fair for about 15 minutes when they found the black pitcher and four mugs, all for only $9.

“So far it’s really pretty good,” Cowger said.

“This is like ancient crafts made in the state of Oaxaca,” Torres said, before the artisan cut in and said, firmly, “Tzintzuntzan.”

Joan Kaulbach, originally of Canada, liked the distinctive “pineapple” pottery from San Jose de Gracia, with its glistening bursts of leaves, buttons, flowers and tiny cups. She and her husband, Harry, hadn’t purchased anything yet. They wanted to wait until they had made a tour of the whole fair.

They previously lived in Queretaro for 3 ½ years before recently moving to Uruapan , where it’s a little warmer.

“It feels better here,” said Joan Kaulbach, 71.

“As far as we have traveled in Mexico,” added her husband, “this area is very green, very tropical, lots of mountains and extinct volcanoes.”

“There’s lots more crafts,” Joan Kaulbach continued. “Our friends like it. I have a son who lives in Europe. We give it to him and he gives it to his friends. They like the mariachi figurines made of pottery.”

Jan Honeycutt, a friend of the Kaulbachs, was impressed by the resourcefulness of some artisans she had seen painting with brushes they had made of cat hair.

“He was doing very fine line work,” said Honeycutt. 63. “I love it, the industriousness of the people. It’s wonderful to see, always amazing, the artistic ability.”

She and her husband, Pat, moved to Mexico last August from Albuquerque, N.M. Before that, they lived in Teague, between Houston and Dallas.

“We just vacationed in Mexico several times,” she said. “We liked the people, liked the culture, so when my husband retired, this is where we wanted to be. I think there’s so much here. … We have bought all that store stuff. We appreciate having something that someone has made.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2007



Michoacán city offers interesting tourist sites
Ran May 13, 2006 in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas

Story and Photos By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN , Mch., Mex. — The excitement of the coming Holy Week swept quickly through Plaza Morelos in the center of Uruapan , the second largest city in the state of Michoacán.

The plaza was soon filled with crafts from throughout the state as artisans descended on the community for the 46th annual Domingo de Ramos Tianguis y Concurso de Artesania. While the crafts competition was a few blocks away at the San Pedro Textile Factory, artisans crowded the walkways with hysterical ceramic devils on horseback from Ocumicho, handmade dresses and tunics from Tocuaro, copper from Santa Clara del Cobre and an endless variety of other items.

Several days before Palm Sunday, artisans had already set up red ceramic pitchers and bobble-head armadillos on the steps to the Templo de San Francisco and the adjacent nursery. In the patio of the Huatapera, next to Templo de la Immaculada, they sold handmade dresses with colorful stitching, woven palm-leaf items and other crafts.

Uruapan was founded in 1533 by the Rev. Juan de San Miguel, a Franciscan friar, according to an article by Jennifer Rose in Mexico Connect, an online magazine. Rutas Turisticas Michoacán, a magazine printed by Guia Mexico Desconocido, states the friar also established the Huatapera as a hospital. Its name translates to hospital in the language of the Purhepecha Indians, who heavily populate the area to this day. The Huatapera now houses the Museum of Popular Art, and its patio served as the location of the awards ceremony April 9 for the artisan and traditional costume contests.

Until a few years ago, Uruapan ’s major crop was coffee. While coffee still has a strong presence, in recent years avocados have become a strong force in the local economy. Macadamia nuts are also popular. You’ll find them for sale along the street corners around Plaza Morelos, along with cups of nance fruit, powdery pinole and garbanzos. Although the afternoon sun heats up the city to a tropical steaminess, things cool down after nightfall.

A visit to the old San Pedro Textile Factory building, owned by Rewi Illsley and four other business partners, is a must. Illsley’s American-born parents, Walter and Bundy Illsley, own the business housed there: Telares Uruapan . Shoppers will find some great bargains here for handmade textiles and, if they aren’t too busy, the Illsleys have some wonderful stories to tell.

The Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio also draws both locals and tourists who enjoy strolling along broad cobblestone walkways that wind through towering rainforests, past cold springs splashing their way over rocks into the swift clear Cupatitzio River.

With the exception of the park and the textile factory, most of the other sights in Uruapan are located around Plaza Morelos, also called Plaza de los Martires.

The Templo de San Francisco, located on the north side of the plaza, has a commanding façade, featuring an entrance bordered with large floral motifs; images of saints stand in niches between two sets of columns on either side of the entrance.

East of the church you’ll find the Casa de la Cultura, where numerous cultural events are presented throughout the year. During Domingo de Ramos festivities, there was a native costume show and a presentation of regional Michoacán music.

Farther east, but still facing the plaza, stands the Templo de la Immaculada, a pretty chapel with paintings of saints and the Holy Family journeying by donkey. Tall, simple yellow pilasters bear images of the Stations of the Cross; ornate, sixpronged candle holders jut from the walls.
It’s hard to separate Domingo de Ramos from a general survey of Uruapan . Bundy Illsley and her son, Rewi, 44, (who was born and raised here) explained that, traditionally, locals had been weaving objects from palm fronds and presenting them in the plaza on Palm Sunday for years before someone decided to have a contest. Soon, the contest evolved into a competition for artisans of a variety of trades throughout Michoacán and moved to the San Pedro Textile Factory. To get there, head west on Calle Emilio Carranza for several blocks to Calle Miguel Treviño, then turn left. Continue down this street until you come to the factory, an impressive structure made of dark red stone.

“My son and a group of people own the building,” said Bundy Illsley, a New York native who came to Uruapan in the 1950s with her husband, Walter. They took part in a number of ventures in the early years but, finding a large number of weavers in the area, they became heavily involved in that industry and have made a successful business.

“We have tablecloths, handmade bedspreads, cushions,” she said.

The little store was alive with color; lime green and pink table napkins in burnt orange and rich purple; viridian green tablecloths; woolen wall hangings with poinsettias, flowering trees and village scenes of children walking through streets; donkeys, cats and orange cows. A sailboat traveled across one wall-hanging while a crane soared overhead. There were straw tortilla warmers on shelves, old clay pots and wooden utensils — plates, knives, forks and spoons — along with colorful pillows, bedspreads and blankets.

Sets of four place mats and place napkins sold for $11 or $12. “It’s all hand-woven,” she said.

While the textile factory has some great shopping, that’s not the only place to find good deals. The shopping around the perimeter of the plaza is also robust. You can get Taxco silver rings, necklaces and hoop earrings for between $2 and $4; leather purses for $15 - $39; leather billfolds that run between $4 and $13; belts with nickel buckles ranging from $5 to $25.

Pass through the entryway beneath the “Mercado de Antojitos” sign on the north side of Plaza Morelos (just west of the Huatapera) and you’ll pass stalls loaded with copperware, leather sandals and belts, textiles decorated with punto de cruz (needlework) stitching and embroidery and more.

Soon, however, you pass dining areas that serve carne a la Tampiqueña, chilaquiles, albondigas, mole con pollo and other dishes. You then come to a large U-shaped area filled with open air cafes preparing sopa aguada, enchiladas con pollo, and local recipes such as morisqueta, a delicious meal of meat and beans over rice.

Leave the Mercado and cross Plaza Morelos to Calle Emilio Carranza. Head west and you’ll come to La Macadamia: Dulces Regionales, a sweet shop with bags of macadamia nuts (one kilo for about $3), bottles of “Licor de Café” “de changunga” or “de membrilla” (quince fruit) each for $6, all made locally. Small packets of macadamia candies process with sugar, garlic and salt, or chile sell for a little over $2. You can also get locally-made chocolate (for preparing hot chocolate) for a little over $3. For about $6, you can even buy a little gift basket of candied nuts, small bottles of liquor, cajeta and tamarind tamales.



National park in Michoacan a must for travelers
Ran May 22, 2006 in The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN — Broad cobblestone walkways meander through the rainforest, the sound of rushing water permeating the air as ribbons of sunlight flutter through the shade of trees towering more than 100 feet high.

Laughter and excitement skip along the trails as children discover the wonders of Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio, - Cupatitzio Gorge National Park, an 894-acre park whose entrance lies at the western end of Independence Street in Uruapan, the second-largest city in Michoacan. It's not something you'd expect to see right on the edge of town; natural wonders such as these are usually located far away from populated areas.

However, this park is populated - with tourists. For only about $1, visitors spread out along the many winding trails, rushing up to fountains of water bouncing over rocks like disoriented snakes, or dripping lazily from cold stone, or cutting across breaks in the trail.

They all have the same destination - the river, where the water in minute periods of wakefulness manifests itself in shreds of foam, twisting and turning before receding into its warped translucence.

People are everywhere, but it never seems crowded. Families make brisk climbs along steep hillsides; trails shoot off in different directions and lead them to new adventures, to quiet parks or playgrounds with slides and swing sets, past a fish farm, waterfalls, benches, gazebos and small vendors selling food and drinks.

At a stand selling cups of freshly-cut fruit, a woman slices a mango in slithers so it looks like a blossom, then sprinkles chili pepper on top and hands it to a customer.

Halls, clorets and candies crowd a small table nearby. Gorditas are transformed by heat and oil into a welcome meal, bubbling, sizzling and popping in the sun for hungry travelers. Bundles of pumpkin flowers — flor de calabacita — lay on a plate to be used in quesadillas, and dark red links of chorizo meat wait for the next round of gorditas. Boxes of Ramen noodles sit nearby.

Two little girls bounce eagerly down the walkway in front of their parents to a point where water explodes from the rocks to achieve a moment of timeless beauty before crashing into a foaming pool and then the river below, losing its identity forever.

It's a river with a powerful draw. While signs specifically forbid anyone from entering the river, some can't resist the temptation to experience its enchanting waters. A man in a uniform orders several boys out of the water, but elsewhere others have partaken of its dream, dipping hands or cups into streams of spring water spewing from holes in concrete steps.

They can savor this moment, or they can finish it off back at the entrance where a vendor provides you with a taste of Michoacan's coffee: a cup of straight mojo, a bag of fresh coffee, or a frozen cappuccino, a perfect way to cool down from a long and wondrous hike before returning to the playful energy of Uruapan .


Purhepecha Indian Medicinal Plants Good for a Variety of Ailments
Ran MAY 22, 2006 in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas

Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN, Mch., Mexico — Stomach ache? Drink some albahacar tea.

Got a bruise? How about a salve made of arnica flowers. The plant is also good for diabetes and ulcers.

Of course, arnica isn’t the only medicinal plant the Purepecha Indians use for a broad range of ailments. They also use sosa for rheumatism, romero for muscle pain and gordolobo for cough, plus a host of other plants. Many of these plants are found at the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio on the western edge of Uruapan , Michoacan, Mexico, west of Mexico City.

On a recent morning, Marta Leticia Roman Mares had set up a table with medicines made from those plants, preparations created by the Unidad Regional Michoacán de Culturas Populares e Indigenas. The air was alive with the intoxicating murmur of rushing water, the musty scent of old forest and damp earth, permeated by a gentle coolness. Water rose from the floor of a man-made stony alcove nearby, the crests capturing bits of sunlight bouncing through the trees.

Around the walls of the alcove were pictures of native plants and their uses. There was the chicalote, a spiny, treacherous-looking plant whose white blooms, stems, leaves and fruits are used in a salve for rheumatism. There was the juicy blackberry (situni in the Purepecha language) whose leaves are good for headaches. The stems and leaves of the cedro are good for stomach ache.

Mares, a special researcher with Culturas Populares e Indigenas, said she and other representatives of that organization have done thorough investigations of medicinal plants used for centuries by the Purepecha Indians. The tribe has a strong presence in this part of Mexico.

Her organization did manage to isolate the active ingredients and develop combinations of various plants to treat nerves, diabetes, cough, allergies, acne and other health problems. Many of those remedies are now found in a book called Medicina Tradicional, created by Unidad Regional Michoacan de Culturas Populares e Indigenas.

“This is a lot of traditional information from investigations with the curanderas,” she said. “The recipes from the grandmothers have been passed down from generation to generation. They want to give the information. Before they had doctors, they would go to get cured with a curandera.”

Mares knows the park, and its plants, very well; she grew up just a few blocks away and has visited here often throughout her life. Walking along a trail, she stopped at a coffee plant and pinched off a ripened bean. The fruit was soft and sweet, the bean hard as a pebble. The fruit, she said, is good for stomach ache.

“You put the flowers of the coffee in a tea and it’s good for the headache, for a very strong headache,” she said.

Look up Mares’s organization at www.culturaspopulareseindigenas.gob. mx/unidades.estatales.htm.



Ran May 10, 2006 in The Monitor, McAllen, Texas.

Purhepecha Indians prepare indigenous foods at cooking show

Story and Photos By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
Monitor Staff Writer travis@themonitor.com

URUAPAN — Elisa Charicata Olivares leaned into the stone metate, pressing the long, squared mano over the cream-colored masa, shifting it back and forth, breaking off a portion to mold into a tortilla.

She was one of many culinary artisans at the 38th Annual Muestra Gastronomia Purhepecha, the Purhepecha Food Show, April 8 and 9 in Uruapan , the second largest city in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The event was presented by Unidad Regional Michoacán de Culturas Populares e Indígenas in the Plaza de la Ranita, just a block away from the crafts fair on Plaza Morelos. The crafts fair was part of the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Concurso y Tianguis Artesania in Uruapán, coordinated by the Casa De Las Artesanias, a state agency based in Morelia.

Purhepecha Indians, who heavily populate this area of Mexico, came from miles around — from Cheran, Tzintzuntzan, San Lorenzo and other locales — to demonstrate native cooking. Tall clay pots filled with native foods sat steaming over open wood fires amid the sounds of “clap-clap-clap” from women slapping rolls of yellow or blue corn masa into tortillas. There were bowls of atapakua de calabacitas, a green soup of chopped squash; pots of atole, a corn gruel; and charales, minnow-sized fish fried in a large skillet.

Customers peeled corn husks from corundas, a local variation of the tamale, or dove into hot bowls of churipu, a delicious and spicy stew.

“We’re trying to rescue all the indigenous food in this show,” said Marta Leticia Roman Mares, investigator for Unidad Regional Michoacan de Culturas Populares e Indigenas del Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.

“We want to know the food that is consumed in the Purhepecha daily life,” Roman said.

A few feet behind Olivares, Cleofas Dolores Cira, 30, of Tzintzuntzan, and her family engaged in constant conversation as they maintained their work area while cooking up pots of mojarra dorado (another type of fish) and charales.

“We live on a little ranch along Lake Patzcuaro, we catch the fish ourselves,” said Cira’s father, Mauricio Dolores Ponciano, 62, who proudly added that he was “100 percent Purhepecha.”

He kept close watch on a batch of charales sizzling in a large skillet.

“I add salt but that’s all it needs,” he said. He stirred them a bit, then placed a large portion on a plate and added more from a plastic bucket.

A plate of this crispy dish of fish may at first seem intimidating. If you can get past the heads (and eyes) staring up at you, they are actually quite tasty.

Across the plaza, Petra Sanchez de Rhodes got herself a quesadilla with a filling of coriander, mint, onion, amaranta and guajillo chili seeds.

“This is for tomorrow, Palm Sunday,” said Rhodes, a local woman who runs a language school in Uruapan with her American husband.

“Then next week is Holy Week,” she said. She then wrapped a tortilla made of blue corn around her quesadilla, saying it was healthier.

A bowl of dark green gorditas sat nearby. “Those are made of corn and brown sugar,” Rhodes said. “Gorditas dulces. It’s all pre-Hispanic origin.”

Another basket contained small bundles of corn husks with a sweet paste inside. Those were called chapata, which also contained amaranta and sugar.

“It’s very nutritious,” she said. “This is Purhepecha culture.”

Back across the plaza, Charicata, 52, of Cheran turned tortillas on a hot plate next to her metate. A pot of atapakua de queso (with green tomatoes, cebolla, chile, cilantro and tomato) and a small plate of nopales sat nearby. A girl stirred a pot of carne de res on the hot plate as a wood fire flickered below. Charicata dipped her hands in some water before bouncing a thick pad of masa back and forth to spread it into a tortilla.

She appreciated the opportunity to show her native culture at an event such as this.

“I feel very proud,” said Olivares. “I’ve been making white and blue corn tortillas my whole life. The blue tortillas taste better.”

“It’s all natural,” said her helper, Maria de Jesus Rafael Gembe.