photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary










Tiltepec, Oaxaca


8 September 1999



Section 1
Emigdio, could you tell us your full name and your age please?
My name is Emigdio Gregorio and Iím 19 years old.

What do you do in your village, here in San Miguel Tiltepec?
Different things...whatever really, beans, corn, picking coffee and planting.

And as a young person what do you think about the life here [now] in comparison with the life of the older people? What have they told you about how it used to be? In what ways do you see it to be different to the life youíve led?
Well, my life has been a little different to how it was before. They say that money was very scarce before, coffee wasnít worth anything. Well, I think that thereís a little more money now. Well, corn almost isnít...people donít buy it as much as before. Before they planted more corn than they do now, itís almost nothing now. People donít go to buy things in the CONASUPO (government shops).

Now that there isnít the CONASUPO, what do people buy in the shop?
Well, some people buy sugar now and other things that one canít get here. Thatís what they go to buy.

San Miguel Tiltepec has a lot of stories. Have the adults told you many of these stories? How have you heard about these stories?
Well I almost...I almost, well, yes, a man has told me that before, when he was a small boy but itís that I can hardly remember what he told me at all, Iíve forgotten it now.

Were your first school teachers from here, from San Miguel?
No they were from other places, from Yagila, from Teotlasco, they came here from other places. Now thereís just Professor Abundio in the primary school.

Up to what year did you study?
I finished primary school.

Did you go to study the fourth and fifth year in Yagila?
No, I studied primary, up to fourth year here in the village and then fifth and sixth grade in Yagila.

And donít the teachers in Yagila know the stories from here, of Tiltepec?
I donít know if they know them, well, they donít have to know them.
Section 2
You were telling me back in your house that youíre going to plant soon, what are you thinking about planting?
Well...a little bit of coffee and corn and beans, I mean itís what one needs most of all in the house here. Thatís what Iím going to do, plant corn.

Are you living at home with your wife and family, with your brothers and your mother now?
Yes we live together but...I mean that I live at home with my mother and my brothers, weíre together, weíre not separated.

Are you thinking about building your own house later?
Yes I must...well to find over there [he evaded the question]

How long have you been married?
One year.

Youíre new to it then.

The young people in Tiltepec, what do they like to do? Like you and Gil, what do you like most of all?
Well, as Gil and I get on well we talk about the future so weíll be able to live a little better. We look for a way, what work we can do - like now that the coffee is going down and it doesnít have a good price; [we need] to see in what work we can earn a little more.

Donít you like to play basketball on the court?
Yes well, we like to go and play over on the court and to take part in games in other places.

Where else do you go to play basketball?
Well weíve sometimes gone to play in the villages the festivals. We go to take part over in Teotlasco, Yagavila, Zoogochi, Yagila. Once we went to San Juan Yaeť to play.

And how have you done, are you good?
Not very good. Itís that we hardly have anyone to teach us how to play well, to show us how to play the ball, to take it. Thatís what we need, someone to train us.

But when youíve take part, in Yaeť for example, have you won against other villages?
I mean, itís not for the winning, to have a place like that, no, not yet, later on, yes.

So you just take it as training at the moment?

So do the people from the other villages play well?
No, they play the same as us, itís just that they score goals. Itís that there are tall people and we canít reach the ball with them.
Section 3
And when you go to a festival nearby - for example Gil told me that you were going to a festival close to here - what do you do at the festivals?
Well at the festivals...lots of things, how can I tell you? There are the traditional dances and then we eat if weíre hungry, one has to visit people and they give you food. Thatís what they do; they give us, more than anything they give us mezcal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey, an aloe-like plant, about 1 metre high), chingre (traditional alcoholic drink made from fermented sugarcane), tepache (traditional Oaxacan alcoholic drink), thatís what they do.

Isnít there any normal dancing?
Yes, thereís dancing.

Do you dance with the girls?
Yes, sometimes. One goes there to dance with the girls.

And which is the best festival? Is there a special one thatís better than the rest? Does for example, Yagila have a better festival than Yovego? Is there a village that is distinguished for having good festivals?
Yes well...well the festivals of some villages thatÖ yes they do have good festivals. Iím not saying that theyíre the same, every village has its traditions that have always been, one canít have a festival like they do in Yagila, like they do in JosaŠ, theyíre theyíve always been done.

And of the villages that youíve been to, which did you like the best?
Well of all the villages I like, I mean one festival is not...itís that I like them all the same. When we go to play, well, then we go to the party and when we canít go to play...I mean we go together to get to see it.

On the 29th youíre going to have a festival in San Miguel. What do you do at this festival, more or less?
Well in this festival they have...thereís dancing, then they do...(?) because thereíre no traditional dances.

Why donít you have traditional dances here?
Well, itís because there arenít young people who want to take part and thereís no teacher to teach the dances. Thatís why there wonít be any. When the authority... the Festival Committee goes to see the teacher, there are the traditional dances and the festival is more fun but they havenít gone to see the teacher that teaches the dances yet. Thatís why there wonít be traditional dancing.

But thereís been traditional dancing on other occasions?
Yes, thereís been traditional dancing on other occasions.

And does the dance have a name or is it whatever the teacher decides?
Yes, it has a name, I mean that... there are many traditional dances that...I mean the teacher says that weíll see, and then says what weíll do, and then we do it.

But are the dances traditional to here, to El Rincůn (region in central Mexico), or to Oaxaca, or are they from the north for example?
Well, I think that theyíre from El Rincůn.
Section 4
Can you tell me what these dances are like? How do the people dress? Are they men and women?
Well, there are dances and women but Iíve seen them in other places, I donít know the name of the dances.

Do they dress in any special way?
Yes, they wear...but I canít tell you what they wear.

Why canít you?
Itís that I canít remember what they wear. For example, in the dance that is the dance of Los Negritos (the black people) they wear black and I donít remember howÖWell they put on masks. I canít remember what they have in their hands, they hold something thatís like a rattle and it makes a sound.

What is it made of, wood?
I donít know what itís made of but Iíve heard it and they have it in their hands and it makes a sound when they move it. It was like bits of wood, one they had like this.

But they are just men that dance this, arenít they?
Yes itís just men. The traditional dance that we had here once, I took part, is called Guanchinene.

Just a moment, this is very important. What did you say itís called?

And what is it about, does it tell a story? Because sometimes there are stories within a dance - whatís this dance about?
Well there are...two girls take part, one is like the mother of a baby and the other is like the grandmother, then the grandfather and father of the baby come. The dancing starts right at the beginning; just the dancers dance. Then almost in the middle of the dance, I mean of the son (dance accompanied by a chorus) of the baby, well, the baby dances with the one whoís the father and when all that has finished the grandfather dances with the baby and the grandmother too. Well, after that we say that the baby will go, they take it to where they got it from, they go and leave it and thatís the end. They finish the dance and the dancers go to rest.

So is it just the story of the baby: that it faces the world and identifies with its parents and grandparents or does it involve another story?
Well I donít know why they call it Guanchinene but...well Iíd say that they call it Guanchinene because they have the baby. Well, I donít know if...what the reasons for the other things are, or if there is another story involved.

And out of the village, on your land, what do you like to do apart from sowing the land? I donít know, maybe going to the forest to hunt, or staying on the farm making your sugar mill, what do you like doing?
Going hunting in the forest and getting to know places that I havenít been to before, to know more or less what the land is like. Going further than...than my eyes have seen and, getting to know what a place is like, if itís good for working. Getting to know many places here, the land.
Section 5
To hunt, what do you like to hunt most of all?
Well, just what I find here, in the forest. Itís not that I like to hunt one thing alone, because to find what one is looking for, I mean you can go and say: Iím going to get such and such animal, but if you donít find it, you find a different animal and, well, thatís how it is. I go and I get what I find, if I donít find anything - well it doesnít matter, I didnít find anything and thatís how I come back. Itís not vital that I find something, Iíll go another day. I donít always expect to find an animal.

But of the animals that youíve hunted and youíve eaten, which do you like the most?
What the ones I like to eat the most...are deer, tepezcuintle (large nocturnal rodent) and armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). I almost never eat coati (raccoon-like mammal, Nasua narica), I hardly ever eat them.

Why donít you eat them?
I donít know. Because I donít like it, I donít like to eat it.

Doesnít it taste good?
Yes, some people say that itís delicious but for me doesnít taste good because it gets to a point when it becomes very skinny. It doesnít get fat again and it smells... it smells has some...they look like spots and theyíre what smell bad.

Where does it have the spots?
It has them in its armpit, it has them on its neck and where it bends like this [showing his arm]. I mean coatis (raccoon-like mammals, Nasua narica) smell, I donít like them, and its stock smells bad to me, like the smell of the coati when itís still whole. I donít eat it.

I havenít eaten it either. It was offered to me once but I didnít eat it because Iíve heard that its meat is very tough and it also has a strong flavour.
Well there are two types of coati: one that in Zapoteco they call dinsuyo and then in Spanish, I donít know if itís in Spanish or Zapoteco that itís called martha (type of coati, nocturnal long-tailed, raccoon-like mammal, Potos flavus).

Ah yes, I know what it is.
Its skin is yellowish and the other coati is like the one Iíve got there outside. Thatís called, well, most people call it yitsu tutsi because it has a long snout and this one isnít very tough, its meat that is. The one thatís called yutsi yu is tough.

And of the birds, have you eaten pheasant and wild turkey (Penelope purpurascens)? Well, tell me about the birds that you have eaten. People have told me about pheasant and Iíd really like to try it. I havenít eaten it yet but they say itís delicious. They also say that wild turkey is good. Of all the birds that youíve eaten which is the best?
Well, pheasant, wild turkey and pigeon, they are the ones that for me are good. Theyíre tasty, yes, but some people say that they eat eagle but I donít like to eat it.
Section 6
Youíve never eaten it or you think that itís not good?
Iíve never eaten it. Iíve seen them but I donít even kill them because why would I kill one if Iím not going to eat it?

And have you lived in San Miguel all your life? You havenít gone to live some where else?
Yes, Iíve been to Oaxaca but just for a while, it wasnít for long. I went for about a year, half a year, about three months.

And did you like it?
Well, to tell the truth, I didnít like the city because...nothing that one eats there fills you up like in this village - itís different.

The tortillas (maize-based flat bread) taste very different.
Yes, theyíre different, one doesnít fill up with the tortillas small and they donít have the same flavour as they do here. I donít know if theyíre corn tortillas or if they have different things.

Well Iím sure that they now have chemicals and lime[stone] and other things.
Yes well...they always use the lime for cooking the corn here so that the corn becomes nixtamal (corn dough), so that they can make the corn dough.

And why else didnít you like Oaxaca?
Because when one goes to work there they donít give you food when you want to eat, sometimes they give it to you very early and sometimes they give it to you later. Here I eat when Iím hungry: Iím not saying that because Iím working Iím not going to eat, Iím just resting, I always go to eat. In the city, if you work you earn your food; but if you donít work, well, you donít eat; you donít have money to buy food. When one works one has money to buy food and one can live. I mean, if one didnít have money I think youíd die of hunger there; if youíre hungry there people wonít give you food. Well I didnít like it that time and it was better that I came back here.

What work were you doing in Oaxaca?
Well I...I was working with a master bricklayer, I was helping him. I was his helper.

And what did you build?
We built a house...after that we went to pave the roads there in the city and we did that for about a month. Yes, round about, thatís the work we were doing there in Oaxaca. That has been the only work Iíve had that has paid me a little more, a little better.

And is your wife from here, from Tiltepec?
Yes, sheís from Tiltepec.
Section 7
Many people from Tiltepec get married with women from other places, why is that?
Well yes, I donít know why.

You married someone from Tiltepec.
Yes I married someone from here - but I think that I wasnít lucky enough to get one from a different place - from this village. I donít know how it is, I think that theyíre people that come to live here, I think that they like it because of the village, because everything grows on this land, what you plant grows, right? It produces; maybe thatís why they want to stay.

Yes, there are many people from other places, not just women but men too, right?
I donít...I think itís that the women, yes. There are more women than men because men donít come here to marry and then stay here; they come here with their families, they come here to work with their wives.

And how many brothers and sisters do you have?
Iíve got three.

Are they all women?
No, the other two are men like me, weíre all men.

Are you the youngest? [speaking to another in the room]
No, thatís my nephew, I donít know if you know my brother, Facundo and the otherís called EfraŪn.

No, I donít know either of them actually but I think that it was Facundo who was going to go with us with the [pack] animal to JosaŠ.
Heís going to go when you go, isnít he?

I think so, itís him who just went up there, who we said hello to.
The one that passed near by here, no, no, heís at the tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work) now.

And you know more or less all the land? Have you been to the Yagalaxi border?
Yes Iíve been to the border but just on the road, I mean I havenít gone through all the other villages, Iíve just been as far as there. Iíve gone there once.

Because Iíve gone down the road to Yagalaxi - well, I obviously didnít get to the border but itís very different. Can you see the difference between one place on a river and another?
Yes, yes, itís a different place there, itís not the same as here. Things grow over there that donít grow here. For example you can grow chilli there, which doesnít grow here. Thereís one chilli, I donít know what itís called, but in Zapoteco itís called kinyaga.

Could you repeat the name for us please?
Section 8
And there are different types of animals arenít there?
Yes, there are pheasant, deer, tepezcuintle (large nocturnal rodent), coati (raccoon-like mammal, Nasua narica), wild pig (Pecari tajacu) and some times thereís tapir (large, odd-toed mammal). I donít know if they are by the road or in the forest further up but they say that you can get tapir there, if you can see one.

Have you seen a tapir?
No I havenít.

Isnít it easy to see?
I havenít been, I didnít go when some people went to see them. Thatís why I donít know what theyíre like; Iíve just seen them in photographs.

Which of the big animals have you seen?
The big animals...which are the big animals?

Well, deer and jaguars.
Iíve seen a jaguar (Felis onca) but it was dead. When that...that what was his name, Roberto Bartolo, killed one, yes I saw one then.

Where did you see it?
In his house.

Ah, he had already taken it to his house, did he take the skin off?

But he didnít do anything with the meat, the meatís not eaten, is it?
You can eat the meat, yes, itís eaten.

Have you eaten it?

What do they say it tastes like?
Well...I donít know if itís good or if it has any special taste. I donít know.

Well I think that Iíve taken up a lot of your time, Iíll let you get on with your work in peace. Thank you very much Emigdio.
Well thank you very much for interviewing me.