photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary










Tiltepec, Oaxaca


5 October 1999



Section 1
Señor Macedonio ***. Well I’ve come here to ask you about what our grandparents did. What do you know about the history of this community?
Well, just that there are many stories about our forefathers, about what work they did, how they supported themselves or what they did. Are you writing in Zapoteco?

Well, I’m going to translate it into Spanish and we’ll have everything written in a book so that our future generations can see our history.
The stories about what it was like - we didn’t see it. That is to say, we only saw it through our forefathers’ stories, when they began to work, how they had their clothes and other things they needed and they planted cotton. Well these are the grandparents’ stories about what happened. They planted cotton and they weeded it, they took care of it and made their clothes. Our grandparents did this work, well, they are real life stories.

Good. Do you know everything that these men did?
They worked when they didn’t have made clothes. They planted cotton, they prepared it, they made yarn, and they began to weave the fabric, they made trousers and shirts. As there wasn’t cloth then, they made it themselves – the cloth - and they made their clothes, shirts and trousers and the women made their skirts and blouses from [cotton] cloth too. After they planted the cotton, well, they had dedicated themselves to planting cotton from the start. Well they’re stories of how they lived, how they lived their lives, well - there’s nothing like real life.

And how did it happen, did someone come to show them how to make their clothes or did they start by themselves?
Well, when there wasn’t any cloth they looked for a way to prepare the cotton and they made what was like a bag. I saw the one the late Señora Josefa *** had – she was an old woman - when we were in the Pascua dance [at Christmas]. The father of Señora Josefa ***, Señor Matias, said that that’s what it’s called. He organised the dance and a friend took part who brought the lamb. There is still some of the cotton that they used and I saw it. Well in those days I was still a kid, like that child that’s called Sergio, or a little bigger, about 10 years old. That’s why I can remember. My brother Juventino, he carried the lamb in the dance and the Señora had a net that is called guehsha lén, it was very big. It was covered with skin and dried corn husks and had cloth inside. She put up two sticks in the form of a Y in the field and the Señora beat it so that the cotton would extend (stretch/lengthen?) and be prepared (as in a preparation). Her son said “That’s how we make yarn.” “And our clothes” said the Señora.
And she had outfits, traditional Tiltepec clothes and she made her own clothes, “That’s how we make the yarn,” she said. The Señora arranged the cotton and beat it for two days; the cotton became like cloth napkin and they put that on top of the jonote tree (heliocarpus species) bench. They made it into the shape of a little bull or like a dog and they put it on, my brother took it and danced and said he was a lamb. That’s what our grandparents did. Everyone was busy with the cotton: they made shirts, trousers, skirt, blouses and other things and later they let the cotton be lost, they didn’t take care of it, now there’s Poplin fabric (manufactured, synthetic cloth). They continued sewing clothes; they bought yarn like the people of Lachichina, Yagallo do. They make the fabric and buy the yarn, and that’s what happened with our forefathers, they planted cotton and it was their own idea.
Section 2
And when they started a dance in those days, who taught them how to do the borreguito (literally, little lamb) and the Pascua dance (Pascua is the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, preceded by Holy Week, and lasting from Resurrection Sunday to the following Saturday)?
Who knows who first started it? Maybe the man who took part in the Dance - and that’s how he knew how to sing the song, because the Dance has a song and the men of the Dance sing it. Señor Matías taught us how to dance and sing the little song: and that was how a dance is done, on Christmas night. After the “Birth of the baby Jesus” in the church they went for the dance and arrived at the church to present the dance, the people of the Dance danced inside the church. That’s how we used to do it, we also danced inside the church when we took part in the Dance. Señor Matías told us what the Dance of Pascua is. Well, the people of the community started first, that’s why he knew the Dance of Pascua very well.

And why have people forgotten this? Why don’t they do the dance any more?
Well, as we were saying, there isn’t anyone to do it anymore. Who says, let’s do it? People aren’t interested any more. We were still doing it with the late Gormercindo ***; in those days there were willing lads that said they would take part and teach it. Well, there was no one that mocked one. We practised it and there wasn’t one word of Spanish in the little song they used to sing. Well, the first couple had their place, a man and a woman and they were the first to speak when we entered the church, the pastor spoke, he said “He who takes delfina branches (Sapodilla, manilkara zapota?)” and they answered “He who takes the lamb.” And he said “Here I come, I bring the lamb” and then they began to sing the little song that Señor Matías sang and without instruments. We sang it later with wind instruments with the late Gomercindo *** and we could play the song on an instrument and then we did the Dance once with the late Gomercindo. Well, there aren’t any willing young men now to say that this is what we’re going to do. As I said, I can sing the song of the Dance.

Where did you go to get the dancers so that they would go to dance in the church on Christmas night?
Where the assigned organiser of the dance lived - we went to get them from there because they had the job of arranging the festival. We contributed panela (unrefined sugar) and tamales (traditional dish of ground maize with various fillings, wrapped in banana or corn leaves) and the women made atole (pre-Hispanic drink made from corn). It was given to everyone who went with the community band. Once everyone had finished their food and drinks, we, who were taking part in the dance, got dressed in the way (style) of the dance and they took us to the church, after the birth of the baby Jesus [ceremony?] had finished. Then we danced and sang, we men took rattles and the women took a thing that was like a wooden canoe which they held and moved and it made a sound. So that’s how it was for our forefathers, everything that they did.
Section 3
And at the hour that you presented the dance did the whole village go with you or were those who went [specially] selected?
Well, the whole village joined together all night, the dance carried on till about four or three in the morning.

What else was done after the dance?
Well, the dance was lost and some others organised themselves to do maromeros (a dance) and dance of guinche vijos. They do this, not everything’s lost. For example, during the year there’s a festival and they sometimes do a dance, but it’s not all the time in the festival because there aren’t volunteers.

How many used to take part in the dance?
Well, in the dance of Pascua, Christmas, well, we were 12 dancers, six men and six women - not to mention the pastors, they were about 14 or 18 - and also those that carried the branches and another with the lamb, they were three.

Did all the dancers have a name?
No, they didn’t have names, it was called the Dance of Pascua, the people ahead were called pastor, well there was one that they called “lamp lighter” and they gave him the turn to walk on the rope and then he went accompanied by the word when the man who first danced spoke. He said: “Brother pastor, in what road or river do we go?” Then the person who carried the branches said “Brother pastor, over there where the Saviour King was, we’ll go there.” Then the woman who was up at the front said, “Brother pastor our lamb won’t come”, and then the person at the end of the line said “Brother pastor I brought our lamb here.” And so they began to sing the song like the children who sing the national anthem. Everybody sang and after the song they began to dance to the rhythm.

How many sones (dances accompanied by a chorus) did they have to dance?
According to them they danced four or five, depending on what they wanted and after that there were three dances which are like sones, which we see now, and everybody danced in a style so that they spread out a bit and then they left and the dance finished.

Did people go when it finished?
They went and the band went to leave the instruments where they had gone to get them, at dawn.

They went at dawn?
Well it was about then, six in the morning, when the sun had risen and they had finished the Dance.
Section 4
So in the past they had a festival like that before Christmas and now they’ve forgotten it?
That’s how they had festivals before, they arranged the dance when the elders were still alive. They weren’t silent; they looked for a way to do things at Christmas.

And why don’t they do things like the elders did anymore?
Well there’s no spirit, they don’t get together for entertainment now and there’s some that say that we shouldn’t do it because it won’t be of any good to us, it won’t help us. Well, it’s not a matter of it helping us but of the enjoyment there is when there’s a festival of the Saints. For example, on January the 15th there was a celebration and they arranged a dance. Well, with how the uncultured people used to talk, the people don’t get together now.

Could you teach how to dance before?
Well I tried to, I organised two, three dance classes. When I was good I could teach people, it’s not possible now because I don’t see well enough to be able to teach the children.

Do you know how it begins and how to arrange it?
Well, I know how it is in walk[ing?] and how the children dance, how they turn so that a ring is made and how they cross, change partner and arrive back in their place.

What is the dance that you organised called?
Well, it isn’t really a real dance like the Dance of the Conquest and the dance is just, well it’s a simple dance. The dance of the Tehuana Mixe (originating from Tehuantepec in the Istmo region of Oaxaca; Mixe are people from the Mixe region of the Sierra Norte) is what we did before

Where did you learn the dance that you did?
Well, a music teacher came here and I liked learning the notes to be able to play instruments; I still couldn’t play then. Well, the teacher said “Here you are and you’re going to learn how to dance as well.” The teacher was from Solaga and was called Braulio. He taught us the Mixe dance and we did the teacher’s dance. So that’s how I adopted the sones (dance accompanied by a chorus) and when I could play an instrument I organised the dance that I’d learnt. Another of the dances that I organised not so long ago – when you lot were almost grown up- and the dance is called “The Little Flower”. I could also teach the dance called Tehuana [originating from Tehuantepec, in the Istmo region of Oaxaca] because...we did it once because there were many volunteers and a person called Francisco Hernández help me a lot in organising the dance because I had told him that we would do it. So I can do three types of dance. I could before but now my sight isn’t good.

And what did Señor Francisco do? You said that he helped you?
Well, he helped me in getting the children of the dance together. We taught in his house and he bought paraffin oil so we’d have light from the oil lamp during the nights we taught.
Section 5
What else did you do before?
Well umm, what I know, what I did, what comes to mind now; well I was also with the band and practised the son (dance accompanied by a chorus) of the dance.

For how many years were you in the band?
Just imagine, my friend, I was in the band for 25 years, I played the trumpet.

In which year did you start?
I joined the band in the year 1959, I began to play and I was still playing when we organised the last dance with Apolinar and your brother Agustín ***, when my son Marcelino was mayordomo (person responsible for arranging community festivals; cargo - mandatory unpaid community - position), I didn’t give up playing until then.

Can you play the flute, like those plastic ones they sell?
Well I try to play it. As I said, I don’t have any friends that play the drums to accompany me, I can play the flute but I gave it up. I didn’t continue because I didn’t have anyone to play with. But I played my flute before. When the band didn’t go to receive the new authorities we went with our flutes to receive them, when they arrive to fill their positions.

Did they come to ask the favour from you or did you go to receive the authorities voluntarily?
Well it was the decision of the authorities that were leaving, they notified us because they knew that one of us plays the flute and there was time. When I was topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) well, they told me that I would go with my flute and someone who played the drums to bring the new authorities so they would arrive at their position.

When they arrived at the veranda of the agencia (community office) did the authorities stay there?
Yes, well, then we began playing some songs that we knew, while they were there; they were reading their appointed positions and obligations. Also before there was still respect and they gave out mezcal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey, the agave, an aloe-like plant, about 1 metre high) for the ciudadanos (citizens), there was a party when the authorities arrived. We rested while they gave out cigarettes and mezcal and when they finished we began playing the songs that we knew again.

And when did you finish?
When it finished, when the gathering finished, we retired and left our flute and drum in their place, where they’re kept in the agencia; we left the drum there.

So, is that everything you did in those days?
That’s what I know and what I did.

How did it happen that the people forgot, that the people that played stopped going with the flute and drum?
Well, as always there wasn’t any enthusiasm, that’s why nobody goes to play the flute. The authorities are the ones that forgot the past too, because when a festival was coming up before, if one could play one went to play the flute in the bell tower and then the authorities went to leave a vessel of mezcal, or if not the two that were playing the flute and drum took it to the agencia. They’ve stopped that now because there’s no respect, not from the authority or anybody, everything has gone - the respect has been left behind.
Section 6
Did they play for all the festivals before?
Well, no, because there’s no one else that can play. We that could play went to play the instruments; then there wasn’t anybody who could play the flute anymore.

Did you stop playing the flute and begin with another instrument?
No, because I played the instrument and also the flute, well, it was then that I began to like enjoying myself. Well when I was a boy, I was about 15 or 16 years old when I began to give my servicio (cargo service) as a ciudadano, in the year ‘58, and I was 18 years old in 1960. Well at that time I was single and I was confident because I was a ciudadano, and I began to play the instrument and the flute and we played with the late Silverio ***; we used to spend time together. So that’s how I learnt to play the flute.

How old are you now?
Well, I’m 58 now.

And in what year were you born?
I was born in the year 1942

Is that everything you did?
Well yes, that’s what I did and I was very careful when I was grown up. Well that’s everything. That’s my story as an elder of the community, of this village San Miguel