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El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca


9 October 2001


Maximina’s testimony offers insights into the customs and traditions of the people of El Punto, near Ixtepeji. In particular she describes the religious festivals and rituals practised – the food prepared, the ceremonies and rituals, music and songs – and the involvement of the community.

An active community member, Maximina describes changes experienced during her lifetime, highlighting both the positive and negative impacts on the community. She tells of the benefits brought about by electricity, tap water and transportation – the lack of which had caused many hardships in their lives. “Before it was more arduous for us to go to Oaxaca. We went on foot, we had to go away [for] three days… But soon after that there were cars.” Change, however, has also had adverse effects, in her view. In particular, improved communications account for the dying out of the Zapotec language: “now it is totally lost, nobody speaks it. We sometimes make the attempt to speak, but we can only speak it very slowly because we do not know all the words.” She is sceptical of the changes in the education system, disapproving of the teachers’ strikes, which have been a recent feature of life in Oaxaca, and observing that learning, before, “was all done in the head only… we did not have to use other things.”

Maximina seems somewhat nostalgic about the past, commenting that “the practices and customs are vanishing, very little is left”. But she believes that a revival could take place: “[it is] as we say, no? If we make more effort we can do it again”.

A sizeable part of the testimony consists of a detailed and lively description of various fiestas, which, she says, “[are] now… just about done, butnot… like before.” She ends by talking of her work for and with the community, evidently taking pride in her roles as president of the women’s league and presidenta de la pastoral (church leader).

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Her domestic work and other skills. Changes affecting traditional ways of life (due to less work in fields, better transportation, increase in trade/commerce): “Our customs are more or less dying out. Because at that time, we did not have anything to sell, there were no other things then; we had to work in the field. But now... hardly anybody works in the field; we buy everything. Everything is different now. For that reason it is almost as they say: our practices and customs are vanishing, very little is left.”
Section 2  The Zapotec language: “it is no longer in use… It was lost because all the young people here no longer know it. Well they hear it, they listen to it, but they no longer understand it, that’s how it is.” She went to school for only three years: “that is how it was. There was nothing else, there were no more grades then; there was nothing more than first, second and third. And since we were just a few [children], there was just one teacher.”
Section 3  Changes in the education system – new school calendar, methods of teaching, strikes. Access to water: “at that time it was very difficult to get water… my late husband, he carried water using animals, beasts… we did not have drinking water until 1960… we suffered a lot to get water, because we had to carry it in pitchers, had to carry pitchers from wells to [the store] where the water was closer.”
Section 3-5  Festivals/traditional holidays observed: New Year’s, Easter, April 30th children’s fiesta, 10th May (Mothers’ Day), the fiesta of the Holy Cross, the fiesta de muertos (Day of the Dead - detailed description), All Saints, Posadas (Mexican festival that re-enacts Joseph’s search for room at the inn). Types of food prepared for fiestas.
Section 5-6  The growth of the town and its population. Introduction of electricity. Prior use of oil lamps: “we didn’t have [electric] light [before]. For light we used petroléo (paraffin oil) or ocote (pine wood) …we had to buy our oil in Oaxaca…And at that time, because… most of the people, didn’t go to Oaxaca like [they do] now … we had to bring our paraffin – [enough] for 15 or 20 days.”
Section 6  Starting up the yearly Posadita festivals. Community involvement in the festivals: “Each year we change the people who do it, but in every way the whole town cooperates to do the fiesta.” Celebration of the Holy Family.
Section 7  Her role in community work as president of the Liga Feminil (Women’s League) and presidenta de la pastoral (church leader): “I’ve had two years of giving marriage talks, baptisms, and all that I am in charge of… As long as God gives me life I have to continue, because while I am alive I have to collaborate with my town.”