photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary










Tiltepec, Oaxaca


22 June 1999



Victoria is originally from Teococuilco de Maros Pťrez, Sierra Norte, Oaxaca

Section 1
DoŮa Vicky, good evening. How long have you been living in Tiltepec?
Iíve been living here in San Miguel Tiltepec for 21 years.

Before living in San Miguel, where did you live?
I lived in Tecocuilco, I was born in Tecocuilco, from there my father came here and we came to live here.

Right, and how many brothers and sisters do you have?
Weíre five, four women and one man.

And does your brother also work in the fields, here in San Miguel?
My brother is in Mexico City.

Of your family, who lives in Tiltepec?
My father, another sister and I, my other sisters are in Oaxaca, I think theyíre in Oaxaca.

So DoŮa Vicky, what do you think about the changes that have occurred in Tiltepec, from when you were a girl up to the present day?
Well...itís a little difficult for me because everything is changing, it was easier to support oneself before, everythingís going up now. Itís more difficult to support oneself.

How, what for example, Vicky?
Well one needs to work much more now, do more work to be able to support oneself. Even the crops produce very little now, they say that they gave much more before. They used to sow a little and they got a lot, and now we have to sow a lot to get anything.

And why do you think this is?
Well I think that itís because of the change in the weather, yes, itís because of the change in the weather, well, I donít know. I donít know why.

But have you always sown corn?
Weíve always sown corn, beans and coffee.

Is the cultivation of sugarcane as old as other things?
Yes, that too.
Section 2
How long has San Miguel Tiltepec had electricity?
For nine years, since nine years ago.

And how has electricity changed the life in Tiltepec?
Well yes, the electricity helps us because we can do our work by night now and we can do other things in the day. Before we had to do things early because later on one couldnít see and it wasnít possible. Before we just used firewood and pine to see and do things in the night.

How did you use the pine wood to do things at night?
Well, we went to find the pine, we split it and then lit it so that we could see to grind [corn] and cook at night.

And how long did the pine last?
Well, yes, it lasted but we had to get a lot so that it would last us a week, 15 days, using it in the nights.

But for example a candle lasts a long time, how long does a pine [firebrand] last?
Well almost a long as a candle, thatís if you make them big...a metre, a metre lasts the same time as candle.

And now that people donít use pine, does it stay in the country[side] without being used?
Well at the moment it stays out there, people donít use it now. Well, they do use it but very little. They used a lot before but just a little now because thereís electricity now and we now only use pine to light fires.

And the firewood you use for your stove, what type of wood is it?
Well, there are many types of firewood, there isnít just one sort. There are many types of firewood.

Iíve seen that the women are responsible for going to the country for firewood here in San Miguel. Do you prefer a specific type of firewood, how do you choose it?
Well, we take any type of firewood thatís dry; we take any type of wood as long as itís dry.

But isnít there a type of wood thatís better then others?
Well, just the liquidambar (sweetgum; Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel) family) and one other type of wood, I donít know whatís it called. Itís a yellow stick and reddish inside.

Does it light well?
Yes, that lights the best, oak is good too.

And do you have to walk far to find firewood now or is it the same as always?
Well I think that itís the same as before because everybody has their piece of land here, close to the village, and they cut little sticks that are dry to bring them back here.
Section 3
So everyone has their own land for firewood?
Yes, everyone has their own little piece near here especially for firewood.

And DoŮa Vicky do you remember how life was in Tiltepec when you were a girl? Was it similar to how it is now for your children?, no, I donít know what to tell you because I canít remember what it was like.

Since when have you had a school here, in Tiltepec?
Thereís been a school here since before I arrived. I went to school here from the first year, they already had a school and teachers had come here.

And has the school always been in the same place?
No, because it was down there before and when they moved the village, well the school moved up here too, now weíre up here.

And were there more children than there are now?
Well now there are...around 50 children just in the school I think, because it only goes from first to fourth grade and before, well, there were less.

Has the village been growing?
The village is growing because before it was smaller. There are more children and youths now, the village is bigger.

Now that your children are growing up and theyíre going to ask for some land, do you think that you have enough land?
Well, I suppose that it will be enough for them because it is a quantity of land.

How old are your girls?
The oldest is nine years old, the other is six, and the other is four, the baby is ten months old.

Your babyís going to walk soon.
Very soon, sheís only got about two months to go.

Weíll be seeing it soon. Have there been changes in the kitchen, DoŮa Vicky? Did you use to eat things that you donít eat anymore?
Well, I think that - yes, it has changed because now the people are eating eggs, meat, many things and canned sardines, all that. The old people say that they ate more beans and herbs before, they lived off that, and salsas (sauces) and avocados. That was their food, and mushrooms - of which thereís more than anything here. Everythingís changing now, theyíve forgotten about guias (local name for edible leaves of young plants) and mushrooms; now theyíre almost only eating meat.

And do you like meat or do you like the guias and mushrooms more?
Well I like the guias and mushrooms more because...well I think that they carry less disease than the meat. With meat, well, one doesnít know with the meat one buys. One doesnít know how the animal grew up, where it grew, who killed it, who brought it, what diseases it had, if it died well or alone, who knows?
Section 4
Iíve heard that the guias are delicious but Iíve never tried them. How does one prepare them?
Well...guias can be prepared in many ways. You can boil them, add salt, garlic and onion making a type of soup. There are other guias that you can boil, then you take them out of the water and squeeze them and put them in salsa (sauce). Or chayote guias (chayote is an edible fleshy plant rather like squash; sechium edule, Cucurbitaceae family), we wash them and remove the stalks and add them to beans, they can be eaten mixed up with beans. There are many types of guias and there are many ways to prepare them too.

But guia is only from the courgette, or...sorry, what does guia come from?
There are many guias: from courgette, from tŠmala (local variety of courgette; Cucurbitaceae family), from chayote, thereís guia of...huele de noche (Solanum dumetorum), hierba mora (Solanum nigrum - both edible plants of the Solanaceae family, including potatoes, peppers and nightshade), there are many types of guia. Thereís one we call kuan labrťdza (Zapotec name for ďshrimp herbĒ), thatís really good, itís good with everything and soup.

There are many plants that you use.
There are many plants. There are many types of plants and theyíre about at different times. Itís not just one month, they donít all appear at the same time, every plant has its time. We also eat the young leaves of the bean plant, we take the tender leaves and cook them and theyíre delicious too.

The same - with onion and garlic?
Yes, the same, theyíre cooked with onion, garlic and salt, and taste really good.

I fancy some of that now. Well, you have many plants that you eat because you also eat tepejilote (small palm, Chamaedorea tepejilote, with edible fruit that resembles a small corn cob). Apart from being very good and many people eating it, it can be prepared in many ways, canít it?
Yes, there are many ways to prepare it. We roast it in the fire or with that... they make it with amarillo (literally, yellow; traditional Oaxacan sauce or stew), they make it with stock or they just eat it with salsa. The children take it from the bucket and eat it just like that, without tortilla (maize-based flat bread).

They just peel it and thatís it?
Yes, they just eat it like that.

And you, how do you most like it?
Well Iíve only eaten it with salsa (sauce) or roasted on the embers.

Because Iíve also tried it with eggs, the other time in Gilís house I ate it with eggs and a tomato salsa (sauce), I think.
Yes itís also made with eggs, you make a type of...well, if one has the patience you cover every tepejilote with egg and make it like a... torta (flan, tart).
Section 5
Like what you call capeado.
Thatís right, like that.

And what other plants that taste good are there?
Well also the guia we call quelite de venado (edible herb of the convolvulaceae family; Ipomoea species) that is also very good to eat. The guia of tŠmala (local variety of courgette; Cucurbita species) is delicious.

Theyíre all plants, they arenít trees?
They arenít all plants, some are vines. Those that are plants are like little trees, but very little; theyíre not big trees.

And is there any type of bush meat you especially like? Of the animals there are here which is the best to eat?
Well the bush meat is, for example pigeon, squirrel, wild turkey (Penelope purpurascens), tepezcuintle (large nocturnal rodent) and armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). But well, it is about once a year because they donít go looking for them to kill. Itís just when thereís the opportunity, something is seen by chance, then we get the chance to eat it.

Which of these animals do you like the most?
Well... all the animals because one doesnít get to eat them often, when you eat them they taste delicious.

Iíve eaten bush meat, not here in Tiltepec but I do have my preferences, for example armadillo and tepezcuiltle.
Well Iíve enjoyed tepezcuintle, pigeon, temazate (a small deer; Mazama americana) and wild turkey, what we call ďmountain chickenĒ. Thatís what Iíve liked most of all.

Have you tried pheasant?
Yes Iíve tried it.

And what do you think?
Well it tastes better than wild turkey. Itís got a better flavour and the meat is tender.

People complain that these animals arenít as abundant as before.
Well, there arenít as many as before. I think that other people come that go after them to kill them; but people here in this village donít go after them, they just kill them when they chance to see them. I think that itís also because theyíve cleared the land round here. They are alive - itís not that there arenít any, there are some, but further away.

What animals have you seen and where have you mostly seen them? When you go to the corn fields or to collect firewood, roughly, where do you see the most animals?
Well when I go for firewood or to the corn, the only one that isnít afraid is the temazate. It lets itself be seen once in a while and you can see pigeons but what can one do to them? They are up high.
Section 6
Iíve been to other places in Oaxaca and Iíve hardly seen deer. Iíve seen coati (raccoon-like mammal, Nasua narica), tepezcuintles and other animals, but never deer in the abundance that there is here, in Tiltepec.
Yes, we see more because theyíre not afraid. Itís a very calm animal, itís not afraid of anything and it letís you get very close. One sometimes sees them one when one goes along the road.

Which animals are more difficult to see?
Well...for example the wild turkey (Penelope purpurascens), tepezcuintle, armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), well the armadillo is under ground and the tepezcuintle too, the wild turkey goes from tree to tree and at times it doesnít let itself be seen, like that, like it is and everything, one can see temazate (a small deer; Mazama americana) up close.

Do you remember that you told me about the chupa miel (literally, ďit absorbs honeyĒ; local name for a kind of bear?), last time?
Ahh yes, Iíve seen one but it was a while ago, about...nine years ago when I was going to get firewood with my brother-in-lawís wife. There it was between a hole and a tree, a dog we had with us went to get it out and there were three, there were three little ones in the hole. Just that once, I havenít seen them since then.

What other animals have you seen since then?
The...well squirrels, one just comes across squirrels, theyíre everywhere. They come to the fallow land just below here, Iíve seen a big one come here in the mornings. Iíve also seen pigeons close by.

And pigeons are big, are they big enough to eat?
They are...I think they are about half a kilo, theyíre not very big

It is shared out in little bits.
Yes little pieces for everyone, itís just that the meat is delicious.

And as far as the kitchen goes, do you like natural food or tinned food best?
Well I...I donít like sardines much, I eat very little of them. It can be bad for you too because sometimes theyíve gone off and the tins are inflated and whatís inside, well itís no good. We eat very little; we prefer beans, herbs and avocado.

Thereís a famous fish here in the River Cajones, whatís it called?
Bobo (probably mullet)?
Section 7
Yes, bobo, they say that this fish is very good, Iíve never tried it. What do you think about it?
Yes, itís very good but itís also very difficult to go and get it. Every year in the hot season, well one can only get the fish at this time of year because later the river is very deep and one canít catch them. Yes, itís delicious but itís difficult to catch.

Yes, they say itís very heavy too.
Yes, itís very heavy and as I said the river rises a lot at these times. They say that they can't stand on the river bank now, the riverís very swollen, itís very high.

But this fish bobo, about how much does it weigh? How many kilos does a good one of these fish weigh?
Well Iíve just seen it when he (her husband) has brought it, sometimes, yes, it weighs much would it be? The biggest weighs about three kilos, yes, because it is big.

And what is the rainy season like here, DoŮa Vicky?
Well itís not difficult for us, weíre used to it.

But it rains less than before.
Well, it continues the same, it has its time, because the rain returns and itís the same.

Have you noticed any difference in the rain between the years?
Well yes, there are years when it rains very little and years when it rains a lot.

There are many streams and rivers here in Tiltepec, has Tiltepec always had a lot of water?
Yes thereís always been water, lots of streams. Thereís always been water.

Where does all the water thatís in the springs that supply the village come from?
Well it comes from here, close to the village, they bring the water from just here. They come here from up there, the mountain...the mountain...I donít know what they call that mountain up there... Cerro Negro they call it, Cerro Negro (Black Mountain). The streams come from there.

And DoŮa Vicky, the men have their music band here in the village, I hear them practising for the festival. Do the women get together on their ownÖ I donít know, to do something else?
Well no, only for health, there are women groups that are for health, but not for other things like that, no, thereís nothing.

Iím very interested in tepejilote (small palm, Chamaedorea tepejilote, with edible fruit that resembles a small corn cob) now that Iím working with it. You were telling me that most of the people that go for the tepejilote are women.
Yes the majority are women and we get together to go, sometimes just three, four of us women get together and go to get tepejilote. I mean the men donít care about tepejilote because they are better off sowing their corn, weeding their coffee plantations, doing other work. So normally itís us women that go for tepejilote. The same with the mushrooms, there are more women than men in the places where the mushrooms are.
Section 8
So thatís how the work is divided up, while the men are working in the fields you [the women] go to gather tepejilote.
Yes, thatís how we do it here. I think that itís like a tradition of this village, the women are those that go for the tepejilote, go to get mushrooms and go to get guias. Well yes, we go there looking for firewood and all that, while the men are working.

Now that Iím working with tepejilote Iíve seen that the places are really horrible to get to.
Well isnít that the truth, yes theyíre horrible.

How do you get to these places without falling over?
Without falling over! Yes, you get a little bit of tepejilote for hundreds of cuts and bruises, for hundreds of cuts and bruises, yes itís very nasty. I donít believe that youíve been to the rocks. As we all know where they are now when we arrive at a place thatís not too bad, people have already been there and there arenít any left. Because we get there later we have to go where itís nasty. And... the rocks are nasty where you find tepejilote, you canít find it in nice places, itís mostly between streams and outcrops of rock; I mean tepejilote likes rocky places.

No, I havenít been to the rocks but Iíve been to steep places, itís bad enough like that, where the earth is loose and itís easy to fall.
Yes, because the land is very loose and the earth moves if one just stands up, one just has to go after them as far as one can, and little by little one goes along, grabbing on to the trees and plants, swaying along.

From wherever you can, like I doÖ
Yes, the truth is itís nasty and youíre not going to find tepejilotes in a nice place; they are very accident-prone places, very nasty.

About how much tepejilote do you collect every time you go?
Well, every time we go, well, one canít take animals up to where it is, so, well itís as much as we can manage to carry in our arms, what one can manage. I suppose about 20, 25 kilos, going up on all fours.

And how do you collect it?
Well we take a morralito (small knapsack, bag worn on the back), we take our bags too but we have to carry a morralito to be able to pick the tepejilote and put it in the morralito as we go along, even if itís just a little. Then one takes it out and puts it where one left the bag and then one goes a little lower. So thatís how it is, little by little, gathering it together until itís the size one can carry.

But how do you do it? Do you have a method for collecting it or do you just gather together what you see?
No, everyone who goes to get tepejilote knows that it has its time; they know when the tepejilote isnít good anymore. It grows and gets to a point when itís very full and itís at the point that itís no good. It has a green colour, itís not white any more, and then itís bitter.
Section 9
But the part of the tepejilote that one eats is covered by a green pod, how do you know that itís good?
Because the tip of the thing is already green, itís already very full and it doesnít have a tip any more. When the fruit inside is good itís about half, less than half the size, it still has a while to go before filling out the skin; thatís when is still good. Those that are very full, very fat, arenít... well one still takes some but they are green and bitter now. Also those that still donít have anything, that are very small and donít look at all fat yet. The pod is very thin and we donít pick those either. We leave them and just take what we think is good, we leave the rest to grow for the other people thatíll go in 15 days, 20 days time. Then itís good for other people to go and they also select and take what they think is good and they leave what isnít good for the...Well then the fruit begins appearing and gives the seeds, likewise they leave what isnít ready and within 15, 20 days other people arrive and they take it. So thatís how we collect tepejilote.

Do you have a special way of cutting them? Is there a risk of them going off if you cut them wrongly or is there not such a problem?
Only that one doesnít hang very heavily from the trees, because the roots are just stuck between the rocks; only that one doesnít up root the trees. One pulls on the fruit as one likes but not the plant. There are people who are careful not to pull up the plant and everything.

And how many tepejilotes do you take off one plant?
Well of what Iíve seen, only five or six tepejilotes are taken from a plant. Thatís what Iíve seen plants to have.

Before I went to a place where there were a lot of bitter tepejilotes, can you tell the difference between the bitter tepejilote and the normal tepejilote?
Yes, because that type is thinner. Itís thinner, even the leaves are thinner than those of the tepejilote that one eats. Yes, thereís a little difference.

And the fruit doesnít taste the same.
Well itís more bitter, the one that you said you saw is more bitter; the other has a sweeter flavour. It tastes sweeter and itís better.

And when youíve cut the tepejilote is it possible that you arrive at your houses and it turns out that some that you cut are no good?
No, itís all good because as we live here, where they are, we know more or less what type of tepejilote to pick. Theyíre all good; we donít get even one bad one.

And the mushrooms, DoŮa Vicky, when is it their season?
Well there are also many types of mushroom, the hongo del jonote (fungus of the jonote tree). They come when it rains a lot and grow on fallen jonotes, jonotes (Tilia mexicana, heliocarpus species) that are rotten, from branches that have broken off or when a tree is cut. Thatís where the hongos del jonote grows.
Section 10
Are they big brown mushrooms that are like a half-circle?
Theyíre white mushrooms.

The underside is brown.
No, theyíre white on top and underneath. Thereís another type of mushroom from another tree, from the changrarro (tree, Crecopia species), I think that it grows here. We call it yŠga yŠga or yŠga xŠla and itís brown, not white. Thereís another type of mushroom, the hongo amarillo (yellow mushroom) and thatís delicious but theyíre only about in June and July, when it rains. There must be some down there now, for example. I think that theyíve gone looking for them but I havenít been able to look for them.

And these, how many do you get? Do you get many kilos or just a few?
Well also what one can carry because with these mushrooms one cooks them and leaves them to boil for as long as two, three days and then they wonít go off. If you leave just one in the bag in which you brought them, it rots. What one can manage to get, yes - because one can find a lot.

Very good DoŮa Vicky, thank you very much for this interview, I donít want to take up any more of your time now.
Youíre welcome.