May 252013
 

No Mexican festival is complete without a dazzling display of fireworks. Gunpowder was unknown in Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, but its use in fireworks quickly caught on. Firework production is usually a small-scale family affair, and there are workshops specializing in fireworks throughout the country. The undisputed  capital of fireworks is Tultepec, a settlement with 130,000 inhabitants on the northern edge of Mexico City. Generations of expertise have led to Tultepec becoming the source for about half of all the fireworks manufactured in Mexico.

To celebrate its skilled pyrotechnic craftsmen, Tultepec hosts a 9-day National Pyrotechnic Festival in March each year. The festival, first held in 1989, includes competitions for the best castillos (castles) and toros (bulls) or toritos (little bulls). Castillos can be several stories high, with an intricate interconnected network of sections representing saints, animals, flowers, birds and other designs. Toritos, first recorded in the nineteenth century, are bull-shaped frames placed over the heads of willing volunteers. As the firecrackers explode, the toritos are carried through the streets or dance in imitation of a bull fight as young bystanders pretend to be matadors. About 250 toritos ran the streets of Tultepec in 2013.

The manufacturing of fireworks is tightly controlled by the military, but accidents are all too common and often serious, sometimes fatal. About 2,000 people work directly in the industry, in some 300 small workshops. The creativity of these coheteros (fireworks makers) knows few limits. For example, mid-way through this video, look for the small, firework-propelled vehicle that goes alternately forwards, then backwards, entirely on its own once its fuse has been ignited.

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