Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New meanings in the ritual of the piñata game

Esta foto pertenece a mis archivos personales. Realmente me impresiona porque parece que las piñatas, en su reunión estuvieran vivas.
This picture belongs to my personal archives. It really impress me because the gathering piñatas, seem to be alive.

I took this picture in a room next to the other piñatas. I called it ¨The death of Elmo¨. Elmo seems to be treated as a human body. Imagine the situation, everything in abandonment around Elmo. The tools are like surgery utensils.
The definite quality of architecture is to be inhabited, and the specific human habitat relies upon its historical character. In the many ways humans occupy space to inhabit, organizational, social, political, symbolic and ritual issues have a role in this said space and define essential features of our personal and groupal identity.

There is a set of interrelations between spatial configurations and activities or behaviors that the group develops in different densities.
Densities in habitat appear to be organized according to a wide range of parameters: spatial densities about closeness of bodies and their varying occupation of space, utensils, ornaments or temporal densities. In habitat, we also find focalizations on persons, on sites and objects at very different scales.
We will indicate and briefly illustrate some ways of intended explorations in the domestic scale, precisely in the field of Mexican and Chicano habitat.
Mexican culture has very interesting rituals, as the ¨Dia de los Muertos¨, quinceañeras, posadas, pastorelas, the ¨game¨ of the piñata. Let us deepen in the last one.
Piñatas are centerpieces of birthday parties, specially in México and Southern California. Although breaking a piñata at children´s parties is very much a tradition among Hispanics, the fun game has spread throughout the entire United States since the 1960’s. Children gather almost piled up, trying to break open the piñata in order to enjoy the candies that fall from its inside. The piñata is the focus, the motivation to organize the children´s game space.
The history of the piñata is filled with folklore and legend. Historians point to China as the country of its origin. Marco Polo discovered the Chinese beautiful figures of cows, oxen or buffaloes, covered with colored paper and adorned with harnesses and trappings. When the mandarins knocked the figure hard with sticks of various colors, seeds spilled forth. After burning the remains, people gathered the ashes for good luck throughout the year.

Marco Polo passed this custom to Europe in the 14th century, which spread from Italy to Spain. The Spanish used a clay container called ¨¨la olla¨, the Spanish word for pot. At first, la olla was not decorated. Later, ribbons, tinsel and fringed paper were added and wrapped around the pot. At the beginning of the 16th century when Spanish missionaries arrived to America, the piñata was employed as one of many tactics used to lure the indians into accepting Catholicism. However, indigenous peoples already had a similar tradition. To celebrate the birthday of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, priests placed a clay pot on a pole in the temple at year's end. Colorful feathers adorned the richly decorated pot, filled with tiny goodies. When broken with a stick, the goodies fell to the feet of the god's image as an offering. The Mayans, played a game where the player’s eyes were covered while hitting a clay pot suspended by a string. The missionaries brightly utilized these games for religious instruction. They covered the traditional pot with colored paper, giving it a fearful appearance. The decorated clay pot represents Satan who often wears an attractive mask to attract humanity. The most traditional style piñata has seven points, each with streamers. These cones represent the seven deadly sins, “pecados”: greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath and lust. The ten pointed piñata symbolizes the sins that come from breaking the ten commandments. There are two interpretations for the original candies and fruits inside; they represent the temptations of wealth and earthly pleasures but also the forgiveness of sins and a new beginning.

Here´s my youngest daugther trying to break open a piñata. Personal archives.
Before attempting to hit the piñata, the person must cover his eyes, symbolically to protect himself from being enticed by the piñata (the devil). The stick which is used to break the piñata represents and symbolizes love. It is supposed to destroy the sins by hitting and breaking the piñata into pieces. The blindfolded participant represents the leading force in defying evil, the faith, that must be blind. People gathers near the player and spin him around to confuse his sense of space. Sometimes the turn numbers thirty three in memory of the life of Christ. Charity is seen in its eventual breaking, everyone shared in the divine blessings and gifts.

Today, the piñata acts as signs both denotative and metaphorical. It has lost its religious symbolism and most participate in the game solely for fun. It is now integrated into sign systems for different modern groups or sets of readers, with few intersections with history, but not identically. As shown by sociological and anthropological studies, ¨classic¨ urbanism still lacks sufficient tools to identify and explain phenomena of cultural value.
The most recent researchs are only beginning to clarify the nature of rituals and their complex interactions that lead to different ways of organizing space and shape the environment by individuals and groups. Among the subjects being studied we will mention the following: the importance of the motivations, the role of symbolic and cultural criteria, as opposed to physical and material aspects of the environment.
The question of inhabiting takes a primary role in the way and the space within which people can build their own identity and culture itself. It is the substance of everyday freedom .
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