photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
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Tiltepec, Oaxaca


30 August 1999



Section 1
Señor Antonio Jacinto Morales is a senior member of the community, and has seen a lot during his lifetime. He has watched the village being established and can remember life in the community before this. Also he has investigated (discussed earlier times) with his grandfathers and is going to tell us about the changes that have occurred throughout the years, things the young people don’t know about. So let’s listen to the voice of this elder.

Well, what was it like here, in Tiltepec, at the beginning? How was it founded? In the village people say there were two leaders who governed the community.
These two people... [unclear]

Once they had their position -the leaders- what did they do?
Well. Everybody in the community believed in them and consulted with them about their work, [for example] whether there would be a harvest or not. The Señora was the one who gave the word that there would be a harvest. Then they began to clear the land and when the yield was ready they took bags of corn [to her], because in those day there weren’t sacks like those they sell now.

Whom did they consult with first, Señor Antonio?
With the Señora, because the Señora was the person who always dealt with whatever matter.

Why was it always the Señora?
Because the Señora selected the new officials in the elections when it was towards the end of the year, and she was very attentive to the village. The Señor was called Sobrín and the other, the Señora, was called Yabnesi.

Was it them who said they were the leaders?
They were the highest authorities of this village. The Señora set the times of work; if someone wanted to start some work they went and told her. That’s how it was for everyone, men and women.

Do you know how many ciudadanos (citizens) there were at this time, Don Antonio?
Well, in those days there were a thousand ciudadanos and who knows how many inhabitants there were in total!
Section 2
How did these two people govern?
Well, they were a married couple but they didn’t live together, they lived on the edge of the village and one on either side. The Señora lived on the East side, where the sun rises, the name of the place is Yabrilo, and the Señor lived on the West side, where the sun sets. The place where the Señor lived is called Guerúha. And there are still the foundations of his house, where the Señor lived. Also the officials and elders went to ask the Señora for favours when it was three months to go before an election and she was the one who distributed the voting papers to each ciudadano.

Did she make the voting papers or was there another person who did it?
Probably, yes, that’s why she distributed them. On Election Day the officials took the petates (handcrafted rugs made from woven palm leaves) out of the church and spread them out in the middle of the ciudadanos.

When the elections finished did they give the people food?
No, the Señora retired straight away.

Why did they disappear?
They went because people laughed at her. She came to celebrate the election of new officials and when some young people saw her arriving at the agencia (community office) they said, “Here comes the person who peed on the church petate (palm leaf rug).” And that’s how the Señora got angry, turned around and left.

Well! And did the Señor stay for the election or not?
He didn’t stay because they both went.

Finally, when the Señora went, how many ciudadanos were there?
At that time there were more than a thousand ciudadanos, and inhabitants, well there were a lot.

I also heard a little bit about how this community Tiltepec was going to become a city because there were many inhabitants and people also came from other places. Why didn’t it become a city?
For the same reason: Señora Yabnesi left and it didn’t happen. Well, the elders and officials who wanted her to come back went asking for forgiveness but the Señora never wanted to come back with them and then they began... everybody said “Forgive us but we aren’t guilty, it was some boys saying bad things about you; they’re boys and don’t understand what they said.” They said it but it wasn’t possible to take it back.

When she left what happened in the community?
When she said goodbye she used an offensive word and said “Now you are many but later you will know that some will stay below the rocks that are above this village.” That’s how the village fell ill; they became sick with a serious illness.

After this… do you know more about the past, after the Señor left?
Well, there are many stories about Tiltepec, about why the village began to decline, [how] the number of ciudadanos decreased till there were just half the inhabitants, and [this] continued. There were very few ciudadanos when I became one, in 1958; maybe just 20.
Section 3
Really! Just because the Señora Yabnesi cursed the village, or was there another person who also cursed the village?
There was also a male witch who had a bad spirit. He was a man but he was jealous; he wasn’t good.

And what did this man do?
This jealous witch turned himself into vampires and bats and they began to suck blood from people by night. Many arrived and began to suck blood - some people died and some didn’t, but the young children couldn’t tolerate it, and then they died.

And why did this man bring jealousy into the village?
Well, this man was a bad spirit. He didn’t have a good spirit, to take care of the village, help or defend it, but the opposite. He killed many people; adults and children.

Why did this man move away, or go?
Well, they killed the witch because a man arrived who sees and knows, and he said to the people, “If you kill this man the bats will disappear so you can have peace, but if you don’t kill him, this man will finish you.” So they asked him, “What is the name of this jealousy in our village?” And the one who came here to advise said, “The envious one is called Valentin.” When they killed Valentin it got worse, but after that all the bats calmed down, and the village began to grow [in population] again.

And do you know which of the villages nearby bordered this village when it was
Well this village, Tiltepec, bordered with the village Osumacin at a place called Quiajhá Yobaha and at the border there is a stone horse.

What other villages did we border?
We bordered with a village called Atepec. Behind that hill there is a river that is called River Conejo (rabbit) and the border was on this river. Later the people from Ixtlán came and marked out a strip of land, so now we border with Ixtlán. Before we were adjoined Teotlaxco too.

Where was the border with Teotlaxco?
Well, there’s a hill that is called Pajarito (small bird) Hill and from there you go down until you arrive at Cajonos (canyons) river and from there you go along the river. The place where we join with our neighbouring village, that is Yovego, is there. These are old borders.

How come there are close neighbouring villages now?
Well, as always people have come here from different places. Some arrived and later others and that’s how Yagila was founded. Yagila covered a little land from Teotlaxco and a little of our land.

And how was the village Josaá founded?
In the same way, people arrived from other villages and rented the land. Later there were many so they stayed, establishing the village called Josaá.
Section 4
And the village Yagalaxi, where do these people come from? These people are our fellow villagers because people from Tiltepec went to work this land. They set up farms and planted chillies, cotton, Jícara trees (Crescentia alata, fruits are used to make certain drinks and as gourds to store seeds) and Cuchara trees (literally spoon tree, so-called due to the shape of its fruit, which is dried, cut in half and used as spoons; Crescentia cujete, family Bignoniaceae). So that’s how they established the village, because everything one plants grows on that land because it’s tierra caliente (literally hot lands; area or zone in the territory of Tiltepec with a hotter climate).
How long did it take for these people to establish the village?
It didn’t take long. The ones who had farms already stayed straightaway. Many worked there because the land is excellent and they had children; the entire family went to the farm, as it is remote. It’s about five hours by road but the men and women used to take a day. Once they had food, they were living well on the farms, they didn’t come back any more. That’s how the village was founded and now it’s a big village.

Now in these days there are documents; how did they protect themselves before?
Before there weren’t documents like now; now we have the resolución presidencial (legal recognition of land). What they made was a cloth that they called a “map” in their language or in their tongue, but in Spanish it’s called lienzo (literally, canvas, Lienzo de Tiltepec), because many words come from different languages.

With this they defended themselves (their ownership)?
That’s it, with this. This was their documentation, which was very valuable for defending their property and their borders in the forest, and the picture of the village church is on the lienzo. This meant that that they had a document of the community.

Who looked after the lienzo before?
Well, every year the person whose turn it was for the cargo (unpaid community position) of mayordomo (person responsible for arranging community festivals; cargo position) guarded it. They looked after [the document] very well so it wouldn’t get wet or dirty. Much later Alvais took it and left it in Oaxaca and there it is now. Well, it isn’t enough any more.

Why don’t they do the same as they used to do before? Before the person who kept the lienzo changed every year and now a single comisariado (community official) looks after it?
Well, they have just started appointing comisariados. What we do now was the government’s idea, everything was their idea. What we say is that he looks after our forest, this idea is new, well before there wasn’t a comisariado.

And then the village moved. Who decided the town should move?
Well, for this we say that we have to remember the dead and ask for answers from them - but they don’t remember. There was a man called Alberto Jiménez who was with my mother. He said to me “Plant corn in that place, it is flat, we will have corn”; and he said to me, “We will go up to that place, [because] it’s good and because where we are, below, is small, there’s no room. That place is very good and the sun is good.” And that’s how we went up first. All this land, where he has a house, where Señor David and Señor Jorge Hernández have a house, we cleared it all and we arrived first. Nobody had houses up here, everything was overgrown. Then the ciudadanos Sebastián Jerónimo and Señor Fidencio, or Gomercindo Montaño came up. They lived where the sports ground and agencia (community office) is. They changed houses. Like that they came up, one by one, they built houses and later everyone came up. Now they’ve made a centre [to the village] and we’re in the middle, the others went up further.
Section 5
Was it better when the village was down there below, or is it better for you here?
Where we are now is good for us, that’s why there are a lot of children now. Before it wasn’t so good because the children were dying from every type of disease. Before we used to say they had caballo (literally, horse) - now we call it a chest infection; they couldn’t breath well. Well, 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.

Where was the highest house in the village before?
Well, where Señor Casimiro is, and now he is below the village, the last house, when
everyone had moved up. And after that [caome] the agencia and the church, the school, and another village hall.

Did you lose some traditions when the village moved up?
No, we continue having the festivals here. Before there wasn’t sport, like here. Well in the festivals people play sports. We didn’t see this in the old village, there was just dancing when there was a village festival.

Did you always have festivals before?
Yes, four times a year. And now there are some people who say that there’s no reason to have the festivals any more. But our forefathers believed in the statues that are in the church and now the Catholic preachers have a church.

Where did the forefathers buy the statues?
They didn't buy them; they were the work of the Spanish. They made them in this community, a carpenter came with his tools and he made them.

Where did they bring the wood from?
From far away, because it is good wood, it’s cedar. And they made them one by one, because always when you start one you can only just manage to finish it.

Who came to set the date of the festival?
Well when everything was ready, I think that God had it ready. It was not that they just thought or imagined what name to give the statues, so I don’t know who came, probably the Spanish.

Señor Antonio. I’ve seen a map of the villages that are in Oaxaca and the patron saint of this village, Tiltepec, is called San José, is it true?
That’s what it was called before, José was the patron saint that’s why they said San José Tiltepec, like it is written on the map that is in Oaxaca. That was a long time ago, the patron saint changed much later, so now the name is San Miguel Tiltepec. That’s how it’s written now....