Centuries ago iguana meat was a staple in south eastern Mexico but these days it is only consumed during Holy Week.

It can only be eaten on Fridays in Lent and the lizards must be slaughtered in a church in a ritual that combines elements of both Catholic and indigenous beliefs.

The tradition dates back to when Dominican friars rocked up in Tehuantepec after the Spanish conquest and set about converting the locals to Christianity.

They convinced the locals to use iguanas instead of humans in their sacrifices to their pre-Colombian deities. 

Iguanas have always been important in Zapotec culture so it wasn’t too much of a leap.

These days, the iguanas are served in tamales and only eaten on Palm Sunday.

Two or three pieces of iguana are placed in dough with an iguana egg and covered in a mole. They are then wrapped in a corn tamale and cooked overnight in a pot.

During Lent you’ll spot local Zaptec women selling live iguanas in the local markets.

Mexican photographer, Graciela Iturbide, spotted this woman in a market in Juchitán. 

She titled it Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas – Our Lady of the Iguanas. It became her most famous photo and a symbol of the strength and confidence of women in Zapotec culture.

The photo is the centrepiece of a virtual exhibition of 25 images from Iturbide’s career that celebrate her receiving the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award at the Sony World Photography Awards in 2021.

For more information about the Sony World Photography Awards visit worldphoto.org

Main image: Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (© Graciela Iturbide/Sony World Photography Awards)