A flat-brimmed straw hat topped with flowers fits over a stripped rebozo. The white blouse is embroidered with red roses, and both the long black skirt and red apron are trimmed with brilliant yellow, purple ad orange ribbons. But it's the huge butterfly, as well as the colored ribbons tying off the long braids, that allude to one of Michoacán's most fascinating features.
Each November, millions of monarch butterflies leave Canada for their 5,000 kilometer migration to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, a wooded area spanning the border of the state of Mexico and Michoacán. Over the winter, these fragile creatures mature and reproduce before flying north in the spring. The annual phenomenon coincides with Mexico's Day of the Dead; so many believe the butterflies carry the souls of the dead.
The majority of Michoacán's indigenous people refer to themselves as Tarascos. The Tarasco, or Purepecha, have integrated successfully with the general population, in large part because of their proximity to heavily populated areas. They subsist through agriculture, especially avocado cultivation; coastal and in-land fishing; and artistic trades.
Certain areas and products share the names of the articles in which their artisans specialize: extraordinary copper work comes from Santa Clara del Cobre; the jicaras de Uruapan are small bowls from Uruapan; las guitarras de Paracho are the guitars of Paracho, known as the "guitar capital of Mexico." The state's rich forests provide an abundance of fine woods that generations of skilled luthiers have transformed into excellent musical instruments.
Michoacan wears the northern Transversal Volcanic Sierra, also known as the Sierra del Centro, like a crown of rugged peaks. Lush vegetation alternates with the austere beauty of black lava slopes where volcanoes like the Paricutin tower over countless huge craters plunging into the earth. In the central Tierra Caliente, the Marques or Cupatitzio River flowers into midair, producing La Tzarara, a breathtaking waterfall.
Michoacán is a major producer of cattle, pork, poultry, milk, eggs, honey and beeswax. The avocado, with its creamy green protein-rich pulp, is a principal agricultural product, and virtually all of Mexico's strawberries are grown in Michoacán and Guanajuato. Coastal fishing yields morjarra, carp, charal, shark, red snapper, crabs, turtles, and oysters. The state's mines produce gold, silver, copper, lead, iron, zinc, and barite.
As with other southern states, traces of influence from African immigration are apparent in Michoacán in everything from the marimba (which originated in Africa), to mulattos (people of mixed race).
Did You Know?
One explanation of the name Michoacán goes back to Michamacuan, a province near what is now Patzuaro. Its center was called Tzintzuntzan, which means "next to the water," and its fishermen inhabitants were known as Michoaques, or people from Mechoacan, which means, "where there are many fish," or "the place of the fishermen." Hernan Cortes, the Spanish captain who conquered Mexico, spoke of the Purepecha kingdom as the Province of Mechoacan. With the passage of time, this place gradually became known as Michoacán in Spanish. Many years later, native-born Melchor Ocampo became governor, thus the name Michoacán de Ocampo.