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Alebrijes - the magical animals

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

#Alebrijes at Oaxaca market, #Mecian Artesanias

The night before a baby comes to this world, the ashes from the cooking place are being scattered around the house. Wild animals leave prints on the ashes, and it is how one's counterpart animal or nagual is determined.

Some Mesoamerican Indians believed that nagual or nahual (from the Aztec language Nahuatl) resides in an animal. This concept is called tonal, and according to which, a person being born acquires a close spiritual link to an animal, and that link lasts throughout both of their lives. Depending on their connection and ability of a person, the person receives the energy of that animal, sometimes even can turn into it. The stronger the animal, the more powerful the individual.

The Art of alebrijes is, in opposition to the most of Mexican crafts or artesanias, relatively modern and well-documented. It was created by Mexico City artist Pedro Linares after he became ill at 30 years old. It is unclear weather the vivid fever dream was a result of the medicine for stomach ulcer, alcohol, or both, but in 1936 the concept of alebrijes, as well as its name were born. Unconscious Linares saw the unseen creatures in his dream where all of them were shouting name "Alebrijes". After his illness Pedro Linares started recreating the figures he had seen in dreams from paper (known locally as cartonería).

The magical animals are primarily made of copal wood, whose scent is believed to be theraputic. The carvers prefer feminine tree versus masculine because of its size (feminine trees are bigger) and softness. The copal tree is a species of tree native to Mexico and Central America. It prefers heavy shade, grows to 30 meters (98 ft) and has been known since its resin was offered to the gods in Mesoamerican agricultural rituals ages ago.

The alebrijes became so popular that some families in Oaxaca Valley had abandoned agriculture to work as full-time carvers. As the market continued to grow, it became apparent that individual families could not keep up with the orders using only household labor, and several alebrije factories, each employing twenty or so workers to help with the sanding and painting, were established in the vicinity of Oaxaca City. Alebrijes have become iconic of Mexican culture, being showed at the art galleries around the world and even appearing in animated movie Disney-Pixar’s Coco.

Nowadays, the towns of San Martín Tilcajete and Arrazola near Oaxaca continue to be the primary producers of wood-carved alebrijes in Mexico. The carving has become a primarily source of income of many local families, and their home-studios welcome to watch artisans.

I have visited two: one of them is a whole mini factory, with almost ten people painting at the same time and a huge gallery with already finished work, waiting for buyers.

The other gallery - Zoologico Magico - is unique in San Martin Tilcajete because its team is led by women.

Rosario Fabian Calvo is the only woman carver in the town.

You can order already made creatures online from their website , or they can fulfill your vision.

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