By: Olga Rosario Avendaño
OAXACA (EFE).- A radish 90 centimeters (35 inches) long and weighing as much as 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) might be turned into a dancer or a traditional musician for the upcoming Night of the Radishes, a 112-year-old institution in this southern Mexican city.
"It's all about showing off," Carlos Manuel Gutierrez said while looking over the radishes he'll use for his exhibit Wednesday night as he competes with a hundred other truck farmers in the area.
The predecessor of this festival - which attracts thousands of tourists - goes back more than a century, when a Christmas vigil was kept in Oaxaca and those who sold their products in the market decorated their stalls with figures made of radishes and lettuces.
It was in 1897 that governments of the city and the likenamed state created a competition to award prizes for the best carvings, and on every night of Dec. 23 since then the main square of Oaxaca city has been full of red-and-white figures.
To begin carving a radish, the experts recommend cutting it as little as possible. "The idea is not to remove pieces, but to conserve as much of it as you can," Gutierrez Cruz, who when he carves a musician must bear in mind that both the feet and the hat have to be part of the same vegetable, said. Israel Altamirano Mendoza, from the town of Ocotlan de Morelos - 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of Oaxaca city - is going to create one of the old-time horseraces held in the nearby town of San Juan Chilateca.
To carve horses galloping, as well as wagons and folk of the period, he had to peruse some photographs of earlier days and consult some of the more elderly people of the town.
Altamirano Mendoza says that the Night of the Radishes is a chance for Oaxaca to display the vast culture and traditions of a state that has 16 indigenous peoples and an equal number of languages.
For the Night of the Radishes exhibition, contestants use 12 tons of radishes of the Bantender and Champion varieties. Some of the former are as long as 90 centimeters (35 inches), while the second type is smaller and is used for making such details for the figures being exhibited as eyes, eyebrows, mouth, tongue and fingernails.
To the radish contest have been added the categories of "totomoxtle," or corn husks, and the immortal flower. The characteristic of the latter is that it is a flower unique to Oaxaca that despite being dried, continues to look as if it were alive.
Both materials are used to make figures typical of Oaxaca's festivities and traditions. EFE