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Tiltepec, Oaxaca


April 1999



Section 1
Good morning DoŮa Eusebia, how are you? I apologise for taking up your time with this interview. Well SeŮora, what do you think about the changes and the traditions that have arisen in the festivals in this community?
Well yes - about the festivals, now they give rice and beans and they say that they have fulfilled their obligations with just this. Itís not like before, we had to go and buy a lot of meat when they killed bulls or if not, we looked for other things. They donít spend anything now.

Really, and do you know why this tradition was lost?
Itís that we donít know why. Well, what I say is that - the people whose turn it is to hold the cargos (unpaid community positions), theyíre the ones that have allowed all these traditions to become lost, because of the religion that has arrived here - the Evangelicals. Yes, itís them, theyíre losing the traditions. Then other people see this and say that itís possible to just do it like that (ie without keeping up traditions), thatís why the rest of the people donít do it. Well there are more Evangelicals now, people were together before, there werenít any [different religious] groups. When they call us in the agencia (community office) to give us the cargo of mayordomo (person responsible for arranging community festivals; cargo position), well, we have to go and look for help to be able to feed the dancers or musicians. The people that are given the cargo of mayordomo are obliged to take care of all the guests, the food, tepache (traditional Oaxacan alcoholic drink), mezcal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey, an aloe-like plant, about 1 metre high). First we have to go to see the musicians, taking with us a litre of mezcal out of respect.

And the candles that you mentioned, that were used before but not now?
Yes, we had to go and buy the wax in Talea by the kilo and then when we got back here we had to look for someone who knows how to make candles.

And how did you make them?
Well you make a circle of twigs and then tie on the candle strings and join them with wire to be able to stand them on the church altar and put tissue-paper bows on the base of some. The person whoís doing it takes a day to do 12 dozen candles.

When you went to leave the candles in the church, did you go with a band?
Yes, with a band and the candles. We had to give them drink and lunch if it was our turn and there wasnít a dance; if there was a dance we had to give food all day.
Section 2
Did more people take part in the traditional dances before than do now?
Yes, because they liked it more then and now theyíre too embarrassed - shy I think - because nobody takes part voluntarily. In all the festivals there were more dances than there are now.

Well, about the dancing, what do you think, why arenít there so many dances now?
Because they donít want to do it anymore. Itís because it embarrasses them now, thatís why I think; they are scared too. Well, before people used to go as far as Talea to buy the fabric and sandals.

Did you have to pay for all the clothes yourselves?
Yes, we all had to buy our own clothes for the dance.

And the people now are too embarrassed and scared to take part in the dances?
Yes, thatís it. They are afraid to ask their parents, because of the expense of the sandals and fabric, to make trousers for the men and skirts in the case of the women - thatís why it costs a lot of money. I think thatís why they donít take part anymore, and if they canít find someone here whoíll make it for us, well, we have to go all the way to Yagila.

Well, a lot of traditions have been lost. Do you think that the festivals you have now arenít the same as before because of the traditions that have been lost?
Yes, before there was more commitment, because before we gave food to everyone who came, unlike now when they just attend to those they know. Yes, well, it almost isnít a party for us anymore. The people who still have old families say that this and this have to be done Ė well, some take notice of them but others donít. Yes, because some people accept the job of mayordomo (person responsible for arranging community festivals; cargo position) now and they say that yes, they will buy some candles to leave in the church and then not a sound (ie nothing happens). For example, if today were vespers, no one would know if there would be a festival; everything would be silent.

Do you remember something of how the customs began to be forgotten?
Well I donít remember who was the first mayordomo who didnít call the band, but thatís how the traditions started being forgotten. It started with one and now there are many that donít do it.

Before did bands and dancers come from other places or was it just people from the community that arranged the festivals?
Just people from the community.

Yes, a lot has been lost; do you think that it still would be possible to recover the lost traditions or not anymore?
Well, that we donít know. Well, no, theyíre gone now. Now itís an effort just to get the musicians together to agree on something.
Section 3
And what do you think about the loss, I mean, do you feel good or bad about it?
Well for us Catholics, itís bad that we are losing the traditions, but for the Evangelicals, well, itís better for them, it suits them that all the traditions of a festival are lost. Yes, some young people listen to the Evangelicals [and] they refuse to cooperate in the festivals and cultural events.

Did people have more respect for the authorities before?
Before, one night before the arrival of the new authorities, the person whose turn it was to have the cargo (unpaid community position) of topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) had to prepare a pile of firewood because when the new authorities arrived they had to stay the night in the veranda of the agencia (community office) for 15 days, until the day of the festival of the 15th of January. Because before they went as far as IxtlŠn to receive their appointments and so we had to prepare the tortillas (maize-based flat bread) so that the topiles took them; it was like that for the father of my children.

Did these cargos involve more work before?
Yes, a lot more, because they had to go as far as IxtlŠn and sleep on the veranda of the agencia (community office).

Do you know why the traditions of the cargos were lost?
Well, who knows? I donít know, I can only think why, because I canít remember the year they stopped staying the night in the veranda of the agencia (community office). I think that it was when the municipal president of Ixtlan started giving out the appointments in Yagile; thatís how the authorities stopped staying the night in the veranda of the agencia. When the authorities got back from there, well they went straight to their houses, not the agencia, they said that the traditions arenít worth anything. Before, the authorities protected the village by going to the churches of other villages and leaving candles for their own village, so that in that way nothing bad would happen to the village or people when they attended the tequios (obligatory, unpaid community work). The person who received the cargo of agente (elected community head) had a big responsibility.

Okay - so the authorities were obliged to go to the other village churches to leave candles as protection for the inhabitants of the village of Tiltepec?
Well yes, thatís how it was. It was as if they were going to leave our insurance so that nothing bad would happen during the year of that authority, so we werenít struck by disease. Well, whenever they called a tequio the agente of the time left at 5 in the morning. They leave candles in the church to ask that nothing happens to his citizens. Well, I donít know if they still do like this or not, but when the father of my childrenÖ well, we always did it, we always went to leave candles in a church when there was a tequio. Yes, because everything is being lost - because before like that everyone in good health used to leave their houses and go to the tequio. Well they had to go so that nothing bad would happen to them, thatís why there was more respect.

Everything is forgotten isnít it? And is nobody trying to bring it back?
No, nobody.
Section 4
So about the festivals, did priests come to say the mass or was it just the people from the community?
Yes, priests came, one came from as far as San Juan Yaee. Well the person who had to go to bring him here had to take a horse for the Father to ride. No, well, now itís like this, the Father has his parish here in Yagavila. Yes, before they had to go as far as Yaee to bring him with a horse.

Ah! So the Father came from as far as there to say the mass.
Well yes, the Father came from there. And if the Father didnít come well the mass was done like that, simple. Children, umm, well [they] were baptised big - 5 to 10 years old - for the very reason that the Father couldnít come to do mass often.

So is that why there are children or people that arenít baptised?
Yes, well, before the priest or Father was paid. I had to do this with my kid Ė may he rest in peace, he died - 10 pesos from the parents and 10 pesos from the godmother too. If you worried about baptising them, you then have to go as far as the community San Juan Yagila. But first you have to look for people to be godmothers to go to baptise them, thatís how it was before, but now they make an effort to baptise their children.

Because the Father came often, right? Because the church was there below before, not over there where it is now, right?
Yes, thatís it. The festivals were celebrated down there before, where there are still parts of walls now.

So the church was very big, wasnít it?
Yes, thatís what they say but I didnít get to see it, well, because before, the traditions they had before, they were still going with the present church because the village has built three churches since it was founded. Before, when the church below was still being used, well, they still used the taper candles.

So how did they make the candles before?
With a pan or if not, those who had a big pot cut it in half so that it was like a little pot. They also had to look for someone who knew how to prepare candles to tell him to make as soon as one had the turn of mayordomo (person responsible for arranging community festivals; cargo position). Thatís how it was done before. Yes, it looked very pretty during matins when they prepared the candles. Yes, because there wasnít electric light like there is now; yes, because the candles were 2 metres high, from the ground.

As you got to see all the customs and traditions of the village I now think that youíve lost a lot.
Yes, because there used to be people who liked to put joy into the festivals, they taught the dances, got the young people together to begin rehearsing the dance with the late Chico and the late Silverio. They decided what type of dance they were going to put on for the festival Ė like now thereís the festival committee. Thatís how people did things before. They gave their support so that the traditions werenít lost like this, and after they died, well, no one learnt to do the same. They went to dance together every night to rehearse, the festivals were done with the dances very nicely then, unlike now when they donít do anything. They do it simply now, thatís how they celebrate the festivals now.
Section 5
So it was nicer before, wasnít it?
They donít even organise sports anymore. Now itís completely silent.

Okay, before, letís say our great-great grandparentís generation, have you heard anything about the festivals - if they organised them better that what you got to see in your time?
I think it was the same; they gave food to everyone who came to visit the house or village. They bought plenty just of the candles, fireworks, tepache (traditional Oaxacan alcoholic drink) and mescal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey, an aloe-like plant, about 1 metre high), nothing less than that put joy into the festivals before.

Well, you managed to live and do what isnít done now, so how do you feel now that it doesnít happen any more? Can you explain how things changed? For the things that were lost and no one can remember, did someone come to change it or did it have to happen?
Yes, a lot was lost because before they appointed a person that was given the name
kitchen mayordomo (person responsible for arranging community festivals; cargo position). What he had to do was put a jar of water on the agencia (community office) veranda during the festivals and the people that stayed in the agencia and every morning the kitchen mayordomo had to throw out the ash of the firewood Ė because they used to make a fire there in the agencia veranda. We still have to go and leave water and throw out the ashes; every morning we had to sweep the agencia veranda all year.

And did the job of ringing the bell come before that?
Yes, I think it was before that, yes - and they spent more because on All Saints Day they had to sacrifice a pig. No, well, now they do it with a piece of chicken, saying that theyíve
fulfilled their job. Well, when they killed the pig they tore it up into pieces, the skin and everything and gave it to the people.

And the musicians: were there many before?
Yes, there were a lot before.

And why did they become fewer?
They left; they donít like to play anymore I think.

And why?
Well, they are tired of going on with more jobs; itís hard work and a commitment because before they celebrated mass every Friday but not anymore.

And everything is lost now, what things did they do before and not now?
Just that, just that of the festivals, and the way of the cross every Friday until the exact day of Easter week And the night of Holy Saturday. Well the authority had to offer its little bottle of mezcal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey)in order to carry out their duty.
Section 6
So the authorities had more responsibility and work then?
The ciudadanos (citizens) demanded a lot from their authorities then.

So what was the Catholic law of entering a church, a holy or sacred place like?
Well, they used to put holy water in the entrance of the church and anyone who wanted could enter. Well, well, one has to put the tip of a finger in this water and with this one had to cross oneself. The men mainly had to take off hats if they wanted to go into a sacred place. And today, well, here in this village they enter a church like animals but they still have respect for other places but here in our village a lot of respect has been lost. Yes, itís because of the Evangelical religion, that religion is causing us to lose a lot of respect - customs and traditions and other things besides. Yes, for that same reason not everyone contributes to the festivals now, thatís why a good festival canít be organised. Well the only thing that I do now at times Ė when Iíve got a bit of spare money - I want the church to shine when there is a festival. Well, I send some one to buy flowers. Well, where does everything we need come from? Well, one has to go to church to ask for it, so it gives us what we need.