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Las Animas, Ixtepeji


25 September 2001


This is a dense and complicated interview, particularly in the second half where the narrator’s lengthy and full answers to questions about Ixtepeji history are sometimes hard to follow.

He begins by talking about his work, making and trading in molinillos, the wooden whisks used to make Oaxaca’s popular chocolate drink. This craft, passed down through several generations, was done by hand until 1970, when the narrator asked a craftsman from Mexico City to teach his family how to use a lathe. The issue of how natural resources are used – particularly the conflicting needs of farmers and craftspeople – is also addressed. Farmers cut down trees, and “since we [molinillo makers] are too many, we hardly get enough to maintain ourselves and we can’t increase production because of lack of wood”. He complains that the authorities responsible for protecting communal resources are not doing their job properly. Despite these problems he believes that making molinillos will continue to be important – “a source of lifea source of work” – and that although young people are now being educated this does not guarantee their finding new types of employment.

He speaks interestingly about the origin of local place names and his account of Ixtepeji history – though unclear in parts – conveys his awareness of a complicated sequence of events and their impact. For example, he feels it was because there was so much resentment about the taxes imposed by Montezuma that when the Spaniards arrived local people didn’t defend Mexico City: “They went with the Spaniards to attack Mexico City; they were indifferent to it.” His account ranges over the period of Spanish colonialism, the subsequent “Mochos War”, the “War of the Frenchmen” and the Mexican revolution.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Narrator’s work history. He made molinillos until age 30, then spent a few years as a labourer (roads and construction) in the region. He was offered a good job elsewhere but that would have meant neglecting his cargo service: “I told him no, that my duty was here, because I was born here and probably I would die here.” Making molinillos and wooden spoons – family occupation since his great-grandfather’s day. All made by hand until 1970 when the family paid a man from Mexico City to teach them to use a lathe. The work is a continuing source of employment for the extended family.
Section 2-3  Types/availability of wood. The teacher they employed taught them to use aile (“eagle wood”). Before, they worked “only with what was in our forest…but everything got used up, the hardwood got used up… It is true it gets renewed, but very slowly.” Exploitation of forest resources: “They burn the wood; they cut it down to plant what they want.” People who have creeks or rivers on their land are not interested in conserving water. People depend on communal land but the authorities neglect reforestation: “Everything comes from nature the comisariado [de bienes comunales] (official responsible for community property) should be the one who constantly makes us plant trees.” The future of molinillos work: “It is a source of work for many now. It is true that now a lot of young people are studying, but I don’t think all of them will get a different type of job.” Sales vary. “When it gets too hard [here] we go to other towns.”
Section 3  Las Animas – origin of the name dates from Spanish colonialism: “According to the information from here…[a priest] called the place Las Animas in order to get donations, to get people to come to Mass and all that…[and] made people believe that the animas (spirits) went their own way each Todos Santos (All Saints day), coming from somewhere and arriving here.”
Section 3-4  Ixtepeji history. Town founded between AD 1000 and 1100 but “nobody has any precise data”. By 1400, people “already cooperated with Montezuma there was a lot of gold in their land, that’s why Montezuma imposeda tax determining the quantity of gold they would pay him…” Local people’s anger about taxes meant that when the Spaniards arrived in Oaxaca (and came to Ixtepeji “because they knew there was gold here”), “[Zapotecs] went with the Spaniards to attack Mexico City; they were indifferent to it”. Ixtepeji’s name: originally from Zapoteco for town founded around a well”, which the colonisers then translated into Spanish. Development of the town: “The Aurora mine gave a lot of life to Ixtepeji, and the ones who came to improve the town were the Spaniards who worked at the mine.”
Section 5-6  Ethnic composition of Ixtepeji. Now only Zapotecos; Spaniards expelled during the revolution, when Zapotecos said, “Out, out, everybody!” Government backing of education after the revolution. People got together in groups of houses/farms to provide schooling for children, which led to the setting up of agencias (community offices).
Section 6  The “Mochos War”, when an indigenous people from another state attempted to conquer Ixtepeji and other ancient towns in Oaxaca. Long and complicated account of the “War of the Frenchmen”: Ixtepejians, under Porfirio Dia, defeated French invaders. Some graphic details about war: Those poor Frenchmen, the cuches (swine) of the town came to eat the dead bodies, in that creek. They were [piled] on top of each other like animals, soldiers were killed there, horses were killed, and all was left there for the animals to eat.” More conflict again in 1912 (and after). Seems to have involved Ixtepejians against federal forces (the account is confusing and difficult to follow). Peace agreement signed after 1920; no serious conflict since.