The Voladores (Flyers) of Papantla is a well-known Mexican ritual with pre-Columbian roots involving five dancers and a tall wooden pole. The standard height of the pole is usually 30 meters (98.5 feet), which all five dancers climb following a ground-level dance and song. From the top of the pole, four of the dancers hang upside down tied by their feet, rotating in a slow bungee jump-like position, their partner dances and plays the flute atop the pole.
Common anthropologic consensus believes that the ritual originated as a prayer for rain to the deities of indigenous groups like the Otomíes, Totonacs, and Huastecs. This cultural expression is common to the Central-Atlantic coastal area of the country but most closely associated with the town of Papantla, Veracruz. It’s here that we find the tribute to the Volador, a gargantuan statue, depicting a musician in traditional garb, his back arched in the passion of song. His flute is tilted high in the air as if his very spirit stretched into the sky above. The figure represents the single player atop the pole rather than the “flyers” themselves.
Voladores are now common throughout the country as tourist attractions. The Tajín archaeological site near Papantla is one of the places where the ritual is done on daily schedules. These same daily representations can be seen in Playa del Carmen and Mexico City’s National Anthropology Museum. The Voladores ceremony was recognized by UNESCO as an Immaterial Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
It may not sound like the most obvious depiction of a “Monument to Flying,” but after one look at this artful spire, the sense of soaring passion it evokes is undeniable. And thus the obvious is forgotten, and the emotion of the message is all that remains, and it’s exactly right.