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Tiltepec, Oaxaca


30 August 1999


Antonio, at 59, is a senior member of the community of Tiltepec. During this short interview he discusses the community’s history and traditions, and how the community has changed over the years. Early in the interview he provides a slightly confusing account of the founding of the village. He says that a married couple governed the village, and that the wife, Señora Yabnesi, was in charge of the elections, deciding when the harvest should take place etc. At this time the village was large with around 1000 ciudadanos (citizens) and he links its subsequent decline to Señora Yabnesi leaving the village (after being insulted by some young boys), as well as to a male spirit cursing the community, after which many fell sick. (This may refer to the fact that the original location of Tiltepec, lower down in the river valley, meant villagers suffered a lot from ill-health, including bronchial infections and malaria).

He also explains how the villages surrounding Tiltepec were established and describes the old cloth map (Lienzo de Tiltepec), which was used to document the community’s boundaries. This, he explains, “was their documentation, which was very valuable for defending their property and their borders in the forest”. He then discusses the community’s relocation up on to higher land where they were able to plant corn. He feels that this move improved the villagers’ health: “before there were few children and now there are many young people. Well, it’s changed a lot now that we have moved the village, they don’t die so easily now”. The interview concludes with a brief discussion of the village festivals and traditions, which continued since the village moved.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Founding of the village: two leaders who governed the community, Sobrín and Yabnesi. The Señora (Yabnesi) determined whether there would be a harvest, selected the new officials in the elections and distributed the voting papers. At that time there were 1000 ciudadanos (citizens) plus others After the elections the Señora retired and for that reason Tiltepec didn’t become a “city” and went into some decline. By 1958 there were just 20 ciudadanos. A male witch cursed the village and the young children died.
Section 3-4  Mentions the other villages that bordered Tiltepec when it was large. Now there are close neighbouring villages as “as always people have come here from different places”. How these neighbouring villages were founded. How the villages used to defend their land rights: they had a “map” drawn onto cloth, which is now in Oaxaca.
Section 4-5  The village moved to higher land; they could plant corn. New position is healthier: “Where we are now is good for us…Before it wasn’t so good, because the children were dying from every type of disease.” Continuation of festivals after the move – now people play sport at festival time as well, as they’ve been able to make a playing field. Their forefathers’ statues – they were made from cedar by a Spanish carpenter in the village. San José was the village’s original patron saint, then it changed to San Miguel.