The Cora Indians, or Na'ayarij how they call themselves, is a small indigenous group of about 20,000 people that live in the rugged mountain and deep canyon country of Sierra del Nayar in the Mexican state of Nayarit. Since the early 16th century, the Coras have for decades fearlessly resisted several attempts at conquest and religious conversion by Spanish conquistadors. In 1722, the Cora military leader was captured and executed and Spaniards destroyed all Cora temples. Jesuits and then Franciscans established their missions in the Cora territory and began converting the Indians to Catholicism. The long process of evangelization of the Coras has, among other things, given rise to a complex syncretic ritual called “La Judea”, the week-long Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebration that merges indigenous beliefs, shamanism and animism with Christianity.
Each year during the Holy Week all the Cora villages are taken over by hundreds of wildly running men, who have decorated themselves firstly with ashes and later with shiny colors. Painted all over their semi-naked bodies, wearing horned masks and holding wooden swords, these Judios (literally, Jews) or Borrados (“erased ones”) represent night demons or the evil itself. Reflecting the never-ending cosmic struggle, wild-eyed Judios run around in groups, they dance, often comically with lots of sexual imagery, they fight with wooden sabres in ritual duels and primarily, they seek Jesus Christ to capture him. During this phase of celebration, “evil” endangers cosmic harmony. On the Good Friday, after several attempts “Jews” finally find a little boy (Cristo Niño), an effigy of Jesus Christ, and they kill him symbolically. The next day, on Holy Saturday, the situation changes. Jesus Christ resurrects and painted demons return metaphorically to the river, washing off their colors in its water. The balance of the cosmos is restored and peace comes back to the Cora towns.
According to the various anthropology investigations, La Judea, with all its intricate symbols, seems to be originally linked to the agricultural cycle, together with the rain season arrival and the regeneration of life. Hence the fertility symbols, animal images and reproduction acts are featured throughout the spectacle, yet everything is mixed with elements of the Roman Catholic dogma. All Judios, participating in La Judea, run around for a couple of days, with almost no clothes and virtually without a break, and moreover, they are not allowed to eat and drink the whole day until the sunset. Due to those characteristics, it is supposed that the ancient Cora warrior initiation rituals, were also incorporated into the Holy week celebration.
La Judea, the Cora Holy week celebration, remains the most truthful expression of the Coras' culture, religiosity and identity. Although this annual festival unites all the Coras (children, teenagers, adults and elders) into a spectacular commemoration of their roots, forming the basic element of community cohesion, many young people leave and never come back. The drug cultivation and trafficking, propably the most growing industry in Mexico within the last decades, followed by violence, have reached the world of Cora and have dramatically changed their traditional society.
Photography by Jan Sochor
Sound recorded by Jan Sochor