photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary










Las Animas, Ixtepeji


25 September 2001



Section 1
It was 7 pm when I arrived at the house of Señor Julian Gomez Marquez (who is 76), to tell him that I wanted him to tell me about Ixtepeji’s history and natural resources. He received me in a very kind way. Darkness had fallen; that’s why he invited me to come in to an adobe (mud brick) building, which he told me was his kitchen, and where his wife was preparing coffee. We sat at the table where we began to talk.

Can you give us your name?
Julian Gomez Marquez

How old are you?
I am 76 years old

The place where you live?
Las Animas, Ixtepeji

What is your occupation?
Now, I only work in this way – carving wood for molinillos (wooden whisks for making chocolate drink). That is what I do now; before, I did several types of work. Among them, since the beginning, since I was a child, they taught me to make spoons and molinillos; that was my job until the age of 30 years old. After the age of 30, I went to work at El Papaloapan (district, named after one of the largest rivers in Mexico). I worked on roads, I know a little of that type of work. After that came the building of towers (torres), I also did that work for about a year. Fortunately I found a good job and I wouldn’t have left my work if it hadn’t been for the [need to take up the] cargo of regidor (an unpaid community position, with responsibility for supervising topiles and maintaining order in the community). Then the engineer who was in charge of the work was telling me to go [stay] with them instead of doing my servicio (cargo service), and I told him no, that my duty was here, because I was born here and probably I would die here. So from then I again dedicated myself to making molinillos.

I would like to know, if you can tell me, how did you get interested in working with the molinillos?
Yes, in the first place the hand-made molinillos and spoons have been worked on [in my family] since my great-grandfather’s time… My grandfather, after he came back from [taking?] the [shipment?], he returned to making spoons and molinillos. That was his job; that was his way of making a living. Between my grandfather, my uncle and my father, the three of them were dedicated to this job; they planted crops a little, but most of their life was spent on the spoons and the molinillos. Everything was made by hand and we got used to that; we continued with this until 1970. In 1970 – by necessity, from curiosity, for whatever reason you like – I then looked for a way to connect with the people who came here to sell from Mexico City. Fortunately, I found a good teacher who didn’t like being begged to teach; that’s why here at home we paid for a teacher, who came to teach the first details of making the molinillos on a lathe. From 1970 up till now, that has been our source [of employment].
Section 2
You and how many other people depend on the molinillo work?
In the first place, when I got the teacher who came to teach us, it was only my brothers and my brother-in-law Rufino. We were four married people, four families; but the children were growing, then my nephews learned to use the lathe. And so my sons, my son-in-law and so on, even [my son] Jesús - his brothers-in-law also know how to use a lathe. They do that for a living, they know [how to do it]. So we can say it is an important source [of income] for us, because besides maintaining the family, it gives work to all of us.

The wood that you work on [to make] the molinillos, what type is it? Where do you get it?
Now, we work more with aile (“eagle wood”); before, to make the molinillos, we used the wood of the madrono (Arbutus menziesii, native tree/shrub with many uses; Ericaceae family). But when the teacher came to teach us, he taught us to improve [by using] aile; now we only work the aile… In the beginning, [we worked] only with what was in our forest, that was enough; but everything got used up, the hardwood got used up… It is true it gets renewed, but very slowly. Then, when we have needed lots of wood we have gone to Macuiltianguis, the Macuiltianguis forest – it has helped us out, even though they charge for the wood, because it has to be removed from the forest.

Here, what belongs to Ixtepeji, do they also take out that wood or do they get it here in the forest?
Now they are getting the wood in the openings (las brechas), there behind the little trees; but since we are too many, we hardly get enough to maintain ourselves, since we can’t increase the production because of lack of wood. When we try to increase production, we have to get the wood from somewhere else.

Tell me, the wood - you said it was aile (“eagle wood”) - does it grow only in one place, or does it grow where there are different types of climate?
It is a cold-climate tree, so the main thing is that there is only water at the creeks; where there is water, that tree grows. The majority of us, we try to plant something (ie for food), [but] the ones who have the opportunity (the good fortune?) of having creeks or rivers on their land, they are not interested in growing the wood. They burn the wood; they cut it down to plant what they want. Then that’s why we can’t use all the wood; we only use [that growing] where there is what we call communal land, under technical supervision.
Section 3
Now do you have any kind of management for the plantation of aile trees, or do they reproduce just with the seeds of the same trees?
Well not that I know of, a renewal like this directly? No… Everything comes from nature really, like this. But the comisariado [de bienes comunales] (official responsible for community property) should be the one who constantly makes us plant trees; we would be available to do it if we could always have wood from there.

Do you think that the job of [making] molinillos can continue year after year, generation after generation, or it is going to be lost?
No, it will be difficult to lose because it is a source of life. It is a source of work for many now. It is true that now a lot of young people are studying, but I don’t think all of them will get a different job. We’ll have to see who remains working in the same thing, because it is not too rewarding, it doesn’t yield much – but it’s not terrible, either, what you earn.

After you make a molinillo, do you have a market to sell it in? Or do they come to buy it here?
No, we have to go out to sell it, but each producer has his own clients… So the molinillo [trade], it doesn’t make too much in these months of September or October, which are the months of more spending, so we have to be prepared to have enough stock for the fiestas. From there it varies, according to the circumstances. When it gets too hard we go to other towns. For example at El Istmo (the east of Oaxaca state) there is the opportunity to sell something, but we need to have clients; fortunately I have clients there… When [business] stops here we go around there; that’s how we maintain ourselves.

Yes, it is very interesting, what you just said. Now I want you to tell me a little bit more about why it is called Las Animas
Well, for this we need to begin, let’s say, at the beginning, because the town of Ixtepeji – we don’t know when it was founded, nor do we know since when people have passed through here… Because Las Animas was founded with [the building of] the road, the same route from that time to La Herradura. From there, when they came to conquer, they first arrived in that town. So that’s how things were then, no? According to the information from here, there was a priest’s house here. That priest was clever; he called the place Las Animas in order to get donations – to get people to come to Mass and all that. Then they made people believe that the animas (spirits) went by their own way each Todos Santos (All Saints Day), coming from somewhere and arriving here… The paths split and go to Ixtlan and to Ixtepeji. Here each anima got its own way, its own town; so they made the people believe that. Because of that, they called it Las Animas. Besides the name of Las Animas, I can also explain other names on the road to Ixtepeji, or in Ixtepeji’s territory.
Section 4
Yes, I would like you to tell me about Ixtepeji, everything you know about Ixtepeji.
Well, Ixtepeji, as I say, is an old town, according to what the old men say. What I know from a written book is insufficient as there are only small details. There was a teacher in Ixtlan, many years ago, who got data together, with the aim of recording the story; but the way our authorities work – sometimes they’re indifferent, and so they didn’t give clear data for writing down Ixtepeji’s history. So that book has more [about the] history of towns other than Ixtepeji, even though that man was from Ixtlan… Despite being so close they never gave him good data.
From what the people here – those from Ixtepeji – say, they know there was a lot of gold in their land, that’s why Montezuma imposed a toll, like…what should we call it?…a tax determining the quantity of gold they would pay him monthly. Then the post had to leave from here to [go to] Mexico City, to take the corresponding month’s taxes there. When that one came back, another prepared to leave, taking another [instalment of] gold tax. So they (the locals/Zapotecs) were very angry about the tax, and when the Spaniards came they didn’t defend [Mexico City] at all. They went with the Spaniards to attack Mexico City; they were indifferent to it. And for that reason, as soon as the Spaniards came to Oaxaca they came to Ixtepeji: for both reasons – because they were allies, and because they knew there was gold here.

Ixtepeji – do you know where that name comes from? Or what it means?
Well, lately they have come to some conclusions about the name, because in Zapoteco it is called Sii-Yela, which means “town founded around a well”. Then according to the old people, that land is by (close to?) Cruz Blanca – right down there, below. There was a lake there, there was a duck farm, they bred who knows how many aquatic animals to eat, and Ixtepeji was founded around the lake. When the first people came there, the place
[now] called Ixtepeji – from there (that time?) it was called Sii-Yela, which means “town around a well”.
But after that, when the Spaniards came, they named it in their language, in Castellano (Spanish); they called it Ixtepeji. And now it is said that it means perdonal (?), something like “town of perdonal”, I don’t know how else they describe it, but in reality I can’t really say what Ixtepeji means.

And can you remember – how much time has passed since Ixtepeji was founded? Or has anybody told you?
Well, people say they already cooperated with Montezuma, let’s say in about 1400. I suppose it must have been founded by the year 1100; I know it was after the year 1000, maybe, but nobody has any precise data.

In what ways do you think that Ixtepeji has evolved since that year you mention?
Well, it has developed a lot, but it has suffered a lot as well, because as good mountain men they liked machismo a lot, they were very brave back then. In all the revolutions in the state, they participated in all of them, because they liked to kill. That is the truth, that’s why they suffered all the wars there were. That’s why the town was better when the mine was good. The Aurora mine gave a lot of life to Ixtepeji, and the ones who came to improve the town were the Spaniards who worked at the mine. But where the mine was, they couldn’t live there. Then it was easier for them to live in Ixtepeji, or in San Pedro Nexicho, and to exploit the mine or do whatever their work was, but that’s how they improved the town.
Section 5
Well, Ixtepeji has, let’s say, incomers, [people] who arrived. Are there Spaniards [still] or are there only Zapotecos?
Now there are only Zapotecos, there is no heritage any more. Very long ago there was – there were – a lot of Spaniards, but because of the same revolution, because they were very brave, the Ixtepejians, that’s when they said, “Out, out, everybody!” The last Spaniard I met was Señor Luis de la Torre who married a lady named Zuniga. The lady lived by this area above Cebollal. That was the last Spaniard who was here; when he went the Spaniards were all gone.

And do you know how it was that the three agencias (community offices) left Ixtepeji?
Yes, they left for a lot of reasons. The first one is that the town was growing and each person went to work where it seemed best to them, because agriculture [seemed the best way of living for the Ixtepejians]… even those who stayed and the ones who went to the rancho (small farm), they went to do agriculture, to increase [their gain from] agriculture… That’s why each one was starting a rancho to do agriculture. But due to the government propositions, after the 1920 revolution (the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920), the [government] preference was for having schools. Because of that, they were getting together in groups of houses, groups of ranchos, to attend to the children, to give schooling to the children, and from there came the necessity of calling them agencias in order to have a system of government. That’s how the agencias were born. The first agencia was Tierra Colorada, the second one Yuvilia, and the third and last El Punto (literally, The Point). Now San Pedro Nexicho is an agencia that belongs to the Ixtepeji municipality, but it is a different town, because it governs itself, it has its own territory, but officially it is from Ixtepeji.

And do you know why each agencia has its own name?
More or less. Tierra Colorada (Coloured Earth) is [so called] because of the colour of the soil; Yuvilia is for a well that was in that place, which in Zapoteco is called Yoo-Vila – yoo means “well”, and in Spanish it is “Yuvilia”. Now El Punto is called El Punto because in the time of Juarez (former President of the Republic) and by the laws of Juarez, the law of adjudication came, and that law meant that some who were smarter than others got to win more land, and this road was the route to Herradura. All this segment of the road is the old way (route), and by (along?) this road there, Ixtepeji was inclined towards the locating of toll cabins or toll points to charge for the trip, exploiting the distance of many kilometres between places. At that time, there were leagues (terms of measurement); the land of Ixtepeji was so many leagues.
Then they located two toll cabins, one at El Estudiante and the other one here at El Punto, to charge for the trip. But they were obliged to keep a watch because there were many robbers, many bandits who attacked passers-by on foot. It was necessary to instal policemen to keep watch, and the reward for this was one cent at each toll point, and if somebody had animals he had to pay two cents. That’s why they called this place El Punto, because they recognised they had to pay here, at the paying point.
At El Estudiante they gave the name El Punto de Libertad (literally, The Point of Liberty) where the comisariado (office responsible for community property) was. It was a paying point too. It was called El Punto de la Libertad because it was even more dangerous at the ravine, but that is the place of Tlalixtac; and arriving at El Estudiante, they were happy because there was vigilance, there was authority, they felt safe – that’s why they called it Punto de La Libertad. But later they called it El Estudiante (The Student), because there was a student at the university, he was from here in the mountains, I don’t know which town he was from…But this student was drowned in the river, that’s why it is called El Estudiante; before, it was El Punto de la Libertad.
Section 6
Then the ones living at the agencias (community offices), are they legitimate Ixtepejians? Or are they from outside?
There is the odd one from outside, but 95% are Ixtepejians, even though some of them have brought women from outside; the rest married women from here.

Then can we say that the agencias were founded after the Revolution (the Mexican revolution of 1910)? Or were they founded first?
The ranchos were established long before, but they never had any organisation other than each one having their own way… Everyone depended on the Ixtepeji authority: the Ixtepeji authority appointed the comisariado of Tierra Colorada – that’s to say, El Estudiante – but they were rangers/wardens (guardamontes), that’s what they were called. They were the watchmen (vigilantes) of the road as much [as anything], as well as doing the job of rancheros (those who work on a farm), just because there was nothing else to watch [or do] other than to make sure people didn’t have fights, didn’t abuse their rights (to natural resources, grazing, etc?). That was all the rangers/wardens did. The police headquarters was here in El Punto, but they (the rangers/wardens?) were appointed by the municipality. They either appointed someone from a rancho or someone from Ixtepeji. They had to keep watch but they didn’t have the authority to make decisions or to do anything else, just to keep order.
And in Yuvilia, there were bigger ranchos with a lot of people, each one governing itself, until the schools came. Then they saw the necessity of having [a proper] authority; and as I said, the school was founded after the revolution. Now if there is enough time, or whatever, we could talk a bit about the revolution in which the Ixtepejians participated.

Yes, I’d like you to tell me.
Well in the first place, during the Mochos War - that’s what they called it – the mochos (one of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, who live in Chiapas state; also “reactionary”, “people who take religious beliefs too far”) were the believers who came here to conquer the Sierra but the Ixtepejians didn’t let them. The Ixtepejians together with other older towns – Lachatao, Ixtlan, and maybe Atepec – those towns united to defend themselves from the interference of the mochos. That was the first war of Ixtepeji. Just because they (the invaders) couldn’t go further [it was brought to an end?]. After that came the war with the French .
The Ixtepejians also actively participated in the war with the French. They were behind Porfirio Diaz, and who knows who else, but the main leader was Porfirio Diaz… They were there for six months, until there were orders to destroy the Frenchmen who came. They got the French out from the French government, because there were not only French people [in it] but allies as well; and they imposed their own government, but after six months there were other commands.
Then all those who were on the side of the state, they got rid of the government and they put their own government in place and all were in agreement with that. But the French didn’t agree with that, because the French, as the history says, were not at Miahuatlan. The Ixtepejians went to participate in the war of the Carbonera (charcoal); I am sure [about this] because the family my grandfather came from – my great-grandfather and his brothers-in-law – they went to the Carbonera war. In fact they said that Porfirio Diaz wanted to take them to Mexico City to present them to the President, as they were the ones who made the Carbonera war possible… But because they were afraid – or who knows why? – they deserted and came back by the forest. After three days they arrived here at the rancho. That was [what happened] in those two attacks.
But the French didn’t agree with that, they came here, here to this house – people said that the French stayed here after they were attacked, where the sawmill is, like there, at the old road. Maybe you noticed it at the sawmill – there is a clear area there, it is an old road… There a lot of French were killed. They said that at that time there were other laws, other customs. Those poor Frenchmen, the cuches (swine) of the town came to eat their dead bodies, in that creek. They were [piled] on top of each other like animals; soldiers were killed there, horses were killed, and everything was left there for the animals to eat. Since they couldn’t go in, they came back here, it was a big house – I think it was a priest’s house. At that time the priest didn’t govern here, but this house belonged to the Navarro family.
Now, that Navarro family worked so much, they produced a lot of corn – maybe this was virgin land, or who knows what – but the thing is that the big house, which was as much as 20 metres long, they said the attic was full of corn. It was there that the French brought down the corn to give to their horses; my great-grandfather said that the backyard, which the animals left behind them the next day when they left, was yellow from the corn. But the next day, they made an agreement with Ixtlán, with the towns. The older towns from the other side said, “Don’t defend it any more, let them through [if that’s what you want?]! Now we are going by (will look after?) ourselves.” They said it was a false call (the French were playing a trick?).
There, where they attacked them that day, they began to shoot as they retreated. Only two or three who had gone ahead retreated, not the ones who were victorious – they made it to the town. When they arrived at the town, they were shooting behind them to let them go and prevent harm being done to the town… And those men were neither going to rob nor to get anything from the town. They didn’t go after them.
But when they arrived at the hill, where the road is now, at the chapel, there were the ones from the other side; they forced them back by the road, by the road to those towns, the old road they came by – and they got to chase them away. Maybe they could have turned around at La Cumbre, because at the Petenera bend above the house of the late Fidencio, there they said that Captain Gallo was killed [defending the territory?]. He was the bravest [of men], and because of [the stand he took, resulting in?] his death the French didn’t risk pursuing; at that point they left them, and the people of the sierra returned. That’s the story of the war with the French.
After that war, peace came. But difficulty came [again] in 1912; that was the most recent [trouble] and where Ixtepeji was left alone, because afterwards Las Animas was divided from the Ixtepeji sierra; only Macuiltianguis, Annalco, Guelatao and another town that was [already] finished went with it. That town was San Antonio – it belonged to this agencia – but that one has gone, its inhabitants didn’t come back. The other towns did come back, and little by little those towns grew. But more towns were against Ixtepeji; that’s why Ixtepeji had its own story.
Ixtepeji tried to go and take Oaxaca, but it couldn’t. Maybe the destiny of the town was that way: soldiers came to attack it, but they couldn’t, because it defended itself anyway it could… But their mistake was that they did not show mercy. The attack that was here at El Cerezal - that was on June 12th 1912. If they had tried to spare the lives of the federal soldiers, who were soldiers in the state service, maybe they could have achieved more, but when they saw a federal they always killed him. With that behaviour they signed their own death sentence, because on June 12th there was the attack here at El Cerezal.
From there they looked for a way to surround it, during the first days of November. Then the people from Lachatao came – the ones from Atepec, the ones from Ixtlan – to attack Ixtepeji. They managed to repulse them, but while the federal forces were winning on the side of Zoquiapan – that’s why on one side of San Pedro, there they were still trying to defend the town. Even the Carrasco soldiers went to try and stop the federals, but they couldn’t because “here there is the bomb” – that was their password – and when they arrived at the Soture ridge, those from Lachatao answered them, those who were on the other side, by Reynoso, and ready to attack on two fronts to Ixtepeji, they couldn’t. That’s why the chiefs had to run away. Those who stayed behind were the most humble (the ordinary people), the most patient, but only to see in what way they could surrender the town; or they hid themselves, most of them just hid.
After two or three days of hiding, then they looked for a way to draw them out, by pardoning them. They weren’t going to kill them, or do anything [bad] like them (that?), they just wanted the guns. But they arrived at the stopping point, where the football camp is now… There they got everybody together. Once they were there they told them: “Now we are going to Oaxaca with the stronger men; the women and the elderly people are going to Xia.” And that’s how they divided them, making it worse for them. People said they took them to camp in the open land of Yatareni. There, all those who were going to Xia went to camp, to see how their church was burning, how the municipality was burning, so that they would learn from that; but since they were divided it was very bad. After that, they killed a lot of people. But it was the same Ixtepejans, the ones who changed to the other side with the other towns, because the town was divided – and that was eight years of fighting. That is the story of the wars up until 1920… Then they signed the peace [agreement]. Since then, there has not been anything [in the way of serious conflict].