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Mexican community revives customs with ancient fire ritual


Incense fills the air and burning sticks light up the night in an Indigenous community in Mexico where an ancient fire ritual has been brought back to life.

The tradition, which had been forgotten for centuries, was revived by the Purepecha people in the 1980s with the help of historians and anthropologists.

For three days each year, participants wearing traditional dress carry the precious flames nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) from village to village through the mountains of violence-ridden western Mexico.

The "Fuego Nuevo" (New Fire) ceremony takes place on the night of February 1 to mark the turn of the year based on the Purepecha's variant of the Mesoamerican calendar.

"When the Spanish (conquistadors) arrived, they took away our way of dressing, our way of speaking, but we are trying to recover the customs of our ancestors," said Catellana Nambo, who still works in agriculture at the age of 80.

The trek through Michoacan state culminated this year in Ocumicho, where Purepecha people from around the state gathered in a burst of color, music and dancing.

The fire will be kept alight in the small town for a year before making the journey to another village.

"We realized that our ancestors held this celebration before the conquest. It's now our turn to revive it and we have been doing so since 1983," said Javier de la Luz.

These days the community faces a struggle to protect its forests from logging, the 66-year-old agricultural worker said.

"In some way, this celebration empowered our communities to come out in defense of their natural resources," he added.

Michoacan is one of Mexico's most violent states due to turf wars between rival gangs involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

Lucia Gutierrez, a 41-year-old midwifery student who splits her time between Michoacan and the United States where her husband lives, said the ritual was a welcome respite from modern life.

"People relate our customs with things from the past, that are obsolete, but really I think that's what the world needs -- to take a step back and realize that we're advancing very fast," she said.

"We're forgetting what really matters: nature and these celebrations." — AFP

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