The Papantla Flyers Tradition Dates Back More Than 600 Years
The tradition is considered a blessed opportunity for the flyers themselves and was believed to serve many purposes as an offering of gratitude to the ancient gods in the hopeful return of good fortune to the surrounding people and land.
This ancient ritual was started to serve a very deliberate and important purpose, to offer gratitude to the ancient gods. The specific gods that were being honored were Chi’chini, the sun god, Xipe Totec, the god of Spring, and Tlaloc, the rain god. The ritual is viewed as a dance, a prayer, and as a thank you to the gods in appreciation for the surrounding lands and the shelter and food that they produce and provide.
The preparation for the ritual is as essential and intentional as the ritual itself. The planting of the pole is the first step in this ancient act. A few days ahead of the ceremony, the flyers turn all of their focus on the ritual and press pause on their daily lives. Following this rest period, the focus shifts to search for the perfect tree to fly from. The trees they search for are hardwood and grow very straight, reaching 130 feet. The flyers agree upon the selection of the tree, and a high priest or a “caporal” is called on with a flute and drum to begin playing as the tree is prepared to be cut. The instruments are there to represent gods voice asking the god of the mountains, Quihuikolo, for forgiveness for taking one of his children for the ritual. They ask for forgiveness in the hopes that Quihuikolo does not take the life of one of the flyers in revenge for the tree being taken. Before the tree’s setting, it is stripped of its bark and wrapped tightly in a rope, creating spaces for foot and handholds for the flyers to climb. After planting the tree, the flyers place a frame on top that the flyers will use. The tradition is considered a blessed opportunity for the flyers themselves and was believed to serve many purposes as an offering of gratitude to the ancient gods in the hopeful return of good fortune to the surrounding people and land.
Anyone who has viewed this spectacular ceremony has witnessed the height, speed, and precision used in this high-flying act. But the video above gives you an intimate look at just how incredible these flyers are. After a procession to the pole, the flyers approach the pole. The Caporal leads and heads to the top of the pole, where he plays his flute and drums, just like in the tree cutting ceremony. The Caporal stands at the platform’s top and begins to spin and rotate, representing the Sun shining down on the land. Suddenly, the four men leap headfirst and begin to rotate and swing around the pole as the Caporal plays “son del Vuelvo,” the flight song. Each flyer will complete 13 spins as they slowly lower to the ground with each revolution. In total, it is 52-spins representing the 52-weeks in a year. The flyers land softly on their feet, following their last spin as the Caporal climbs down a rope. Once on the ground, the flyers perform Huahua, an ancient dance of gratitude and satisfaction for completing their flight. This is how the flyers give thanks that they have completed the ritual and that the gods have not taken any of the flyers, and they show gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to show the gods their love.