photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary










Tiltepec, Oaxaca


1 June 1999



Section 1
Good morning Don Cecilio HernŠndez.
Good morning.

How are you?

Forgive me for taking up your time, Iíve come here hoping to talk with you.
Yes, of course.

Iíve come to talk with you about hunting, about how it was before and how it is now. Do the people who hunt in the forest have permission from the comisario (community official) or not?
Well, what happens here in this village, many people - not just us but also others, from Atepec - they came here to our forest and they established a village to which they gave the name Santa Maria La Luz. Thatís why in our forest, the comisario doesnít know about the people that are hunting on our land, because these people enter the forest when they feel like it, to hunt animals and cut down trees. We, from this community, should know why these people are doing this.
Well, for this letís talk about the past, like when I was still a boy. I was about 12 years old when the people arrived from Atepec. I saw them, I saw those that have already died, who came asking us for land to work and on one side they carried their rifles and on the other side they carried their catapults to kill birds that they saw and in their bags these people carried their hunting lamps to be able to hunt animals at night. Well, I think it was a sad and dangerous life for the animals at that time. And others brought things they called cerbatanas (blowpipes) which had the shape of a tube. What they did with these, well, they mixed a bit of mud and made little balls which they put in their mouths. Then they put the tube [in their mouths] and blew, and that was another way these people hunted birds.
Thatís why when these people from Atepec entered our territory, the decrease in wild animals that existed on Tiltepec land was seen straightaway. Before these people came - well, all that side was forest and there were many wild animals there. According to what people say one single person from La Luz managed to kill 25 tapirs (large, odd-toed mammals) and today Ė well, we donít know what these animals are like any more.

Because the people from La Luz killed them Ė the animals. Well, there used to be a lot.
Section 2
What types of animal were there before?
There was a lot of tapir, avestruz (ostrich) and wild turkey (Penelope purpurascens), they were seen before but arenít so many now, not like then. There were deer too. I remember that when they couldnít find anything on that hill where they are, they went over there onto our grassland. In those days the people from here didnít all have rifles, some had rifles, some did Ė however, almost all of them (the newcomers) had rifles, thatís why they reduced the number of animals quicker.

And is it their fault that there arenít a lot of animals anymore?
Well yes, theyíve killed them now and we, who are the owners of our forest, donít do as much [damage] as they do Ė because they go out for two or three days and they go looking for animals as far as is necessary to find them so that they can manage, but we donít go looking for them, we donít do it like that. So as everyone says, the animals are being killed off now.

You saw how it was before. Can you see that the forest has changed a lot? Do you think that it will ever return to how it was before, or not now?
Our mountains have changed, thatís why we have to see that itís changed and now our forest is being finished because of our people. There are some that cut down trees in any way they like nowadays - and others, well they work where they worked before. Now the people from Atepec have arrived here and they are just destroying our forest - and whatís going to happen to us now that theyíve come to kill the forest animals? Who knows where theyíve already gone, because when there were still big trees - before they cut them down - you could always see wild turkey, coati (raccoon-like mammal, Nasua narica), wild pig (Pecari tajacu)and tapir everywhere in our forest, which used to be dense. Now itís being finished off and if we want to [conserve], yes we can, but all the ciudadanos (citizens) and the comisariados (community officials) have to agree, they have to see what is happening to us so that in this way we can have the animals again, like before. And they will return, weíre not saying they wonít, but we have to see why they are disappearing. They go away because we scare them. They can return like they were before but we canít hunt them any more.

You were talking about where the tapir are now and that theyíre far away. Are they seen at all now?
Yes, thatís how it is with the tapir, because where we border with Yagalaxi, theyíre as far as that now. We donít go over there and nor do the people from Yagalaxi, thatís why they went there; they go where nobodyís going to scare them. And if we leave them alone like before, the animals like the tapir will return. But theyíve gone far away, yes - theyíve left the places where they were before.

Are they far away?
Yes, far away.

And what about the fish, how did people catch fish before. Was it different to now, to those who go to the river to get them now?
What happens now is that they are taking dynamite to the river. Well, there wasnít any of that before. Thereís a part where our forefathers went to find [fish], where they diverted the river and got the fish. They went to divert it and to get fish, in turns. As thereís dynamite now, they take that to put in the river. We donít realise whatís happening to us, if weíre in the right or wrong, because our forefathers knew very well how to do things with animals and fish. Yes, what they used to do to catch the fish, was divert a certain part of the river so that a little pool dried and the fish were there; from there they killed them. In those days there wasnít any dynamite, they didnít pollute the river, and also they only went to catch fish, nothing from other people. Every village has its own river and people took good care of their rivers and forests; and we Ė as we are living today Ė well, nobody knows what respect and fear is. Now they go into the mountains and rivers in any way they like, and they say that it belongs to us all. Thatís why they go in and destroy in any way they like, whether itís animals, fish or trees. In the case of the river, they now take dynamite to go to the river.
Section 3
Why do you think that it has changed so much? Like before, you were alive, you saw how the land was changing. You remember when dynamite began to arrive here, [the dynamite] with which they began reducing the amount of fish in the river.
Well, what happened to us the year the people from Atepec came - well, they began to finish off everything and that was when they began bringing dynamite and hooks too. When the people from Atepec arrived bringing dynamite they said, ďLetís go to the riverĒ and the people here were happy and went with them to fish. Like these people from Atepec, they are the ones that finished everything off, what used to be in our forest and river.

Because there werenít guns or dynamite in this village before, just a few had them. Well we couldnít get dynamite so easily then, the way it is now, thatís how it was for our forefathers. As they are from Atepec they know where to go to get it Ė the dynamite - and thatís why they came here to fish.

So do you believe that it is still possible to get the animals back like before? What do you think will happen later?
Well, to be able to look for a way that the animals can breed more. Well, now there are many government institutions where they have banned hunting and deforestation and we have to talk with these people to be able to split off a certain part of our territory for those from La Luz because itís their fault that we now donít have animals or forest where our forefathers had divided up a part. So then, like that, the people from La Luz will stop going into the forest to hunt, because now that we are together, well they are finishing off too much. Well, if we say so, it has to happen like this, because they are going to finish it off, because our grandchildren wonít know all the types of animals that exist in our territory. Thatís why I say we have to talk with the people from the government so that they make it for us how we want it. Of course the people from La Luz wonít be happy with it! Because they wonít be able to continue like before, no, because we are indigenous here and owners of our territory, because now we are sad because of whatís happening. The poor animals arenít guilty of anything and they kill them. Yes, we have the right to say how things have to be done so that the animals left can breed again. If we remain with our hands in our pockets (doing nothing), our children that come after us wonít even get to know what a wild turkey (Penelope purpurascens), a chachalaca (literally chatterbox; long-tailed, ground-dwelling bird, Ortalis vetula), a squirrel or a deer looks like. No, because weíre going to kill them all.
Section 4
Okay, could you tell me all the names of the animals that you know exist around our territory or used to exist? Even if itís just to have the name, to know it and to be able to say: no, well these animals used to exist on our land before.
Yes SeŮor, there are a lot of animals that exist on our land. No, no, we donít know them all very well ourselves, no. What one could do is put down traps and nets to catch them and see what there is.

Could you tell me the names of the animals that you know?
Yes, of course, I can tell you the animals that I know. The tapir is dying out, as you can see. The best is deer, temazate (a small deer; Mazama americana), wild pig (Pecari tajacu), coati (raccoon-like mammal, Nasua narica), martha (type of coati, nocturnal long-tailed, raccoon-like mammal, Potos flavus), armadillo, tepezcuintle (large nocturnal rodent), wild turkey, pheasant, chachalaca, partridge (Crypturellus), pigeon. Like the partridge with red feet isnít seen so much.

Are they lost already?
The tepezcuintle are being finished off, black and grey squirrels, grey pigeons; we have animals like foxes (grey fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus), skunks. We donít have a record of how many animals we have here. However, the big animals are more important to us - the deer and tapirs.

And tigers (Felis wiedii), pumas (Felis concolor)? Are there any ocelots?
There are some ocelots, they look like cats and they arenít seen anymore.

Really? Theyíve disappeared?
Yes, well, theyíve been lost.

Okay, weíre going to finish with hunting here, now letís talk about the forest. Well, what do you think if, in a given case, you have the opportunity to sell your forests - is it good or bad?
Well, there are always people who are interested in buying the wood, but in times gone by, when our forefathers were here, well, they werenít interested in selling the wood to get money. They were more concerned about looking after the forest; they didnít cut it down, they protected it, unlike us today. Everything has changed now because now weíre cutting down the old forests to be able to sow [crops], and in that way we are destroying our forest. They didnít do this [back] then; they only worked where there are overgrown fields now. If we decide to sell - itís possible, we donít say it isnít - but if we sell our forest weíre destroying it, and the earth is losing its power. Itíd be better if we looked for a place that can be cultivated again to be able to leave the forest higher up Ė if we sell it, then what will happen is like whatís happening now - we wouldnít have to worry about taking care and protecting our forest for the children that are coming. Well, we could say that we should finish it off straightaway so it gives us some good money, if other people have already come to buy our forest. But itís better that we continue like this, just with our forest, looking after the little we have left.
Section 5
And you, what do you think if someone sells the forest, is it good or bad?
Well, that would be a poor thing to do, because it doesnít grow back how it used to be. So weíre just clearing the forest to work, itíll take us years to recover again so that the same trees that we cut down grow again, not other ones. Yes, because selling it is very bad, itís better that we think about not destroying our forest anymore. We shouldnít kill so many trees that have existed for hundreds of years. If we cut them down, the same ones wonít grow back but different ones. Thatís how weíre killing the old trees, and thatís very bad.

Ah, yes, so you donít think that itís good to sell our forest?
No, because thereís no need to sell it and we, well, we support ourselves with the work we do. Selling it, yes, is good for the money butÖbut when one has it, well I think, I donít believe that the money can make it rain for us, like our forest does. Yes, because when thereís no rain for 15 to 20 days, well, then our forest becomes sad Ė as we do - for lack of water. But also we, the same men, make the rain go away. The plants wilt and then the leaves wilt, then the diseases come to make us ill, and we ask why! Itís because we cut down trees, thatís why weíre lacking water.

And about the water, what was it like before? In what way do you think our mountains are changing? Was there more rain than now and was there more forest? What was in the streams and lakes?
Well, one must regret and be afraid of everything because before, when I was still a boy, there was water everywhere. It rainedÖ it rained constantly. Near here, where itís called lachi dťidau, we had nothing less than gushing water before; now instead thereís no water at all. Everything is dry now. You can only get a taste of water from there because now the water is becoming very scarce.

Oh! So you do think about why water is becoming scarce?
Well, we donít all think the same because, well, we are killing our forest, we cut the trees, thatís why water is becoming scarce. I think that itís because of the deforestation that the rain has left us. Before, when I was still a boy, well there was a mist in the mountains almost all year but now it doesnít rain any more. Thatís why itís clear that water is scarce in the mountains. Weíre cutting down the trees close to the high mountains and thatís why water is scarce, thatís why there are fewer old trees, thatís whyÖwell, we donít know what else [it can be] because these trees help the land.

So, is that why water is becoming scarce?
No, weíre not saying that all this has been going on for a long time. Yes, just last year the water dried up because some people cut down trees very close to the mountain. Yes, because in my way of thinking we are finishing ourselves off by killing the forest.

So, what was it like before? Do you notice the changes in temperature? Before was it hotter than now or was it colder than now?
Yes, it has changed because before when I was a boy I used to go over there in tierra caliente (literally hot lands; area or zone in the territory of Tiltepec with a hotter climate), and it was very hot in the day and in the nights, yes. It was about 1980 when it began to feel cold down there Ė well, our forefathers said that it wasnít cold because they used to stay at their ranches without cover, but now we always have to take a blanket to cover ourselves up. Yes, itís changed.
Section 6
And can you imagine why these changes are occurring?
Yes, itís that we donít really know why. Maybe itís the world thatís changing, I donít know, or it could be because the year is finishing. Thatís just what I think.

So you say that the forefathers went to the ranches without blankets; itís changed a lot. So about the work that our forefathers did, what did they cultivate?
Well, what they worked before was corn, beans, sugarcane and chilli. Well, [as for] coffee, theyíve only just started cultivating it; before, people only harvested coffee for themselves. The work that they did was with chilli, corn, beans, sugarcane, they didnít sow much, but they still got good harvests because there was more respect for the land. They asked mother earth to give them a good harvest. Well, nowadays we sow a lot but we donít get harvests like we should any more, because we donít have respect for mother earth like before, when they had a lot of respect.

Are we saying that we donít know how to respect the earth like our forefathers did?
Yes, first our forefathers gave an offering to the land to be able to work it; now instead when it comes down to it, we are just laying hands on the earth [without caring for it]. Nowadays there are some people who say that the crop gives if it wants to give; if not, it doesnít.

Since you started working in the fields have you felt the changes that have occurred? Do you still harvest what you used to harvest before, or not anymore?
It doesnít produce any more for the very same reason - that they donít have respect for the land any more, because there werenít pests like there are now. Well, what we plant is half for these animals and half for us.

So, about the work you do, why are you doing it?
Like growing sugar cane, beans, corn, chilliÖ what happens is that there arenít resources to buy everything, thatís why we grow all this. Thatís why with only this in the world we sustain ourselves.

So, everything is for yourselves or do you sell it too?
Sell it? Well, I donít think that it would sell because everyone has the same work. Because there is the CONASUPO (government shops) now and everything that is produced in the country is sold in this shop; thatís why itís very difficult to sell, itís that one doesnít know who to sell it to.

About the coffee, in what year did you begin growing coffee?
Well they started with coffee in the Ď80s and everyone had started planting it by Ď84. Because before, in the Ď70s coffee wasnít cultivated Ė only a few planted it, until they began buying coffee over there in Yagila, until the road arrived. Not until then did they start planting the coffee plantations.