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Dawn Housand's Writings

Dawn Housand has lived in Mexico for several years. She lives just southwest of Mexico City. There is a "newcomers club" in the area, a social club for Americans who have moved to the area. The club puts out a monthly newsletter, and Dawn has written several articles for the newsleter. The articles attempt to acquaint newcomers with the history of that area.

Below are some of Dawn's writings.


RACE DAY FOR THE TARAHUMARA

“Come on! Get up! We’re going to be late!”

The sun isn’t up yet, but the village is a hive of activity. Today is not just market day. It is to be the start of the tribal race, a race that will last for several days.

For the Rarámuri, the ancient people of the Barranca del Cobre and the Sierra Tarahumara, Race Day is the culmination of months of hard work and training. Teams from several villages and their families have come together. Two teams compete at a time, alternately kicking and chasing wooden balls around the race course until all members of one team have dropped from exhaustion or conceded. Many races have lasted for several days and nights.

The two cabeceros (team leaders) have been building their teams for weeks. As the day of the race nears, men from the nearest village begin to clear and ready the course, careful to remove only the largest of obstacles, leaving the way still a rugged and rocky trail. The course is approximately 2 to 5 kilometers in length.

The two chosen teams gather to prepare for the upcoming race. Spells and hexes are cast against the opposing team. Pinole, a cornmeal mixture thinned with water is prepared, and this will be the main source of nutrition for the team members.

The time for the race has come. The teams walk to an area that is not marked in any way, but appears to have been designated as the starting point. Suddenly, the balls are thrown into the air, a cry goes up, and the race is on! Each team has a spot along the route chosen as an “aid station.” The chosen medicine man waits with ointments, charms, and years of experience. Stones are lined up to represent laps completed by each team. Today’s race, it has been decided, will have 34 laps.

The track is lined with spectators and family members of each team. The runners will not stop for food and will only take that which is handed to them. As the sun moves across the sky, the teams become smaller and smaller as the older men tire or are injured. The younger, less experienced men and boys fall by the way. The teams have been at it for several hours, but there is no sign of any slowing down. Only the strongest runners continue.

As evening falls, the final runner on the losing team finally drops out. He has suffered too many injuries to his feet. Three runners on the other team remain. As they come to the aid station of their opponents, they raise a cry of victory and relief. The game balls are collected and given to the elder of the winning team for blessing and to be saved for the next race.

As the last rays of the sun color the hillsides, winners and losers alike gather together to rest, joke, and share the glow of a time well spent. The sound of a distant drum echoes the rhythm of running footfalls and another race day comes to an end.


THE POET KING NEZAHUALCOYOTL

The ancient poets of the Aztecs were considered to be writing the words of the gods. Laws, fables, morality, and history were written or sung by god-speakers. The poems of Nezahualcoyotl are unique in that his writings are among a small number which actually can be linked to a known author. Many of the translated works remain anonymous.

Nezahualcoyotl lived from 1402 to about 1472 and ruled the area in and around Texcoco. He was a learned man, interested in the sciences of time. He was a patron of the arts, devoted to insuring that all poets of all levels of life had a place to come to learn and share their poems. He founded an academy for the arts and sciences. In an effort to promote learning for all in the area, the great hall of this academy contained 3 thrones for the 3 neighboring kings of Acolhuacan, Mexico, and Tlacopa. Poets, philosophers, and even members of the military were encouraged to gather and share their poems, songs, or morality tales.

Legend tells of a time when the son-in-law of the king was brought before him to answer for a crime he had committed. The trial dragged on for years with no end in sight. There came a day when King Nezahualcoyotl called for his son-in-law to be sent forth. Thinking that this was to be his final day, the hapless young man composed a song to sing. In moving terms, he pleaded his innocence. The king was so moved by the beauty of the words and sentiment, that he forgave his son-in-law.

During his reign, Nezahualcoyotl tried to restore the Nahua culture to its lost greatness, but a moral and cultural revival. This was, unfortunately doomed to failure, even in the works of this great leader is reflected a pessimism with life. The essence of his thought is that the here and now is what is important:

The passing vanities of the world are like the green willow.
It falls before the axe,
Is uprooted by the wind,
Is scarred and saddened by age.

Life’s splendors are like flowers whose color and whose fate they share.
The beauty of flowers lasts only as long
As their unsullied blossoms
Gather and store
The precious pearls of dawn
And let them fall
in liquid dew.
But when the Lord of All
Causes the sun
To shine upon them, their beauty and their glory fade.

The reign of flowers is short.
In morning they boast
Of their beauty and strength
But by evening they mourn
For the downfall
Of their thrones
And the misfortunes
That lead to loss, poverty,
Death, and the grave.

In his efforts to preserve the living culture of his people, Nezahualcoyotl built aqueducts and temples, places of learning and of lawmaking. Even as his own thoughts were on the futility of it all, he urged his people to try and recapture the faded glory of their past:

All things on earth
Come to an end,
And in the midst,
Of the happiest life
Our breath fails
We falter
And fall to earth.

The translated psalms of Nezahualcoyotl are taken from “A Guide to Mexican Poetry,” by Irene Nicholson.


RAIN

TLALOC - The Rain God - a very ancient deity. Tlal is the combining form for earth, and Oc, the suffix. The suffix would be equal to the English suffix "ed," so that his name ought to be “earthed” or perhaps “Old Mud” an apt name for a chthonic deity.

The months from March to June seem to be the hottest and the dryest. Wildfires pop up on hillsides and ravines all across Mexico. Water rationing becomes a weekly occurrance, and I begin my annual rain dance. I admit it. I plead guilty. I love snow. The hotter and dryer it gets, the more I long for deep, cold drifts of the white stuff. But let’s be realistic. It’s not going to happen - not here, anyway. So, on some hot, dry day in March, I gaze up into that wonderful clear, blue sky with sweat dripping in my eyes, and I lift my fist to the heavens and cry out, “Rain, damn it! Rain!” Thus begins my rain dance. I scan the horizon for even the tiniest wisp of a cloud.

Come April, as I finish off my third pitcher of ice tea since morning, I look up at the still clear, cloudless sky and whisper, “Come on, please rain.” By May, the skies are no longer clear. The clouds roll in. The sky darkens and lightning flashes. And the clouds roll out. Still no rain.

In the evening, I gather up a quilt, a couple of pillows and my ever-present glass of iced tea, and I go out onto the patio. I spread out my quilt, drop the pillows and stretch out on my back in the cooling evening air. As I lay watching the changing patterns of the clouds overhead, I muse, “Maybe, just maybe, it might rain.”

In the month of May, the time for planting begins. There are rituals to be performed, prayers to be chanted, and offerings to be made. The farmer stands at the edge of his field and gazes across the freshly turned earth. All the signs bode well. As he lifts his hand up to shade his eyes from the bright hot sun, his lips move in silent supplication.

In the state of Guerrero, petitioners for rain gather at the ancient holy place called Oztotempa (“at the edge of the cave”) for the nightlong ceremony. While the men join in ritual dances, the women and children sing and pray. At four in the morning, offerings of mole, coffee, bread, and tamales are presented. Candles are lit and garlands of flowers a draped upon the altar. The chief priest steps forward and begins the ancient Nahuatl chant:

Accept what you are offered!
Let those who have come here rejoice in good crops.
May their seeds be blessed.
May no one return to his home without rain.
Bless us, keep misfortune from us, give us water.

Flower petals are thrown into the air to simulate rainfall.

In the other villages, the Pedidores de Lluvia (rain petitioners) and Graniceros (those who prevent hail) lead the procession up the side of Ixtaccihuatl mountain to special caves to pray and make offering of the fruits of the fields and arbors.

“Captain of the heavens, captain of the earth. Generous prince, captain of the moving clouds, accept these candles and keep the wind, the storm, the hail from ruining our fields.”

All the prayers for a successful growing season are offered up to Tlaloc, the god of rain. Huitzilopochtli might be the all-powerful leader-god, but without the blessings of the rain god, there would be no one to lead. Even at the main temples of the Plaza Mayor, the cry goes up: “Give us Rain!”

The prayer and chant were taken from "The Aztecs Then and Now," by Fernando Horcasitas.


IN THE LAND OF TIME

As we begin our lives in the twenty-first century, we are constantly reminded of how short a time we have been on this blue water planet. Holy books tell of the fast-approaching “End of Time.” The Christian Bible tells all in the Book of Revelation. Cults are springing up all around, claiming to be “in the know” as to just when the end of the world as we know it will come. There are programs on TV, articles in magazines, articles in scientific journals predicting how much time we have left on earth.

The fascination with time is not a new phenomenon. The ancient Toltecs developed a calendar system which was adopted by the Nahua, Mayan, and Zapotec cultures. The Nexiuhilpilitztli (binding of years) constisted of two separate cycles -- one of 52 years of 365 days each, and the second of 73 groups of 260 days each. It gets somewhat complicated here. The first was based on solar years. A solar year was made up of 18 periods of 20 days each, a “month.” There were five Nemontemi (unlucky days), as well. These five days were included in the “year” and overflowed the division of the time of 20 days. The grouping cycle of 73 years of 260 days was then subdivided into groups of 13 days. This was the “birth cycle.”

The 20-day cycle was based on the waxing and waning of the moon and was called Cempohualli. Each Cempohualli was subdivided into four groups of five days each. Each day in a “week” was denoted by a sign such as “house,” “snake,” “wind,” etc. These day names ran continuously regardless of the length of the year. The year itself was designated by the name of the middle day of the week in which it began. (Anyone ready for New Math?) Out of 20 day names, it was inevitable that the four most common, calli (house), tochtli (rabbit), acatl (reed), and tecpati (flint) should appear in sequence because of the frequency of these days in the solar year. Four years made up a year of the sun. On the Nemontemi (unlucky days), no work was done for obvious reasons.

Within a single cycle, there were smaller groupings. Thirteen years made up a Xiumalpilli (bundle) and four of these bundles, made up a Nexiuhilpilitztli (complete binding of the years.) The importance of the Binding of the Years was based on a fear that at the end of a 52-year grouping, time would stop and the world would end. This fear existed because of the belief that “A stated period of time had expired, a period which was regarded as fixed by divine command, and it had been ordained that on the completion of one of those series of 52 years, earthly time would cease and the universe be demolished.” This explanation was taken from "Myths of Mexico and Peru," by Lewis Spencer.

During the last days of the Nexiuhilpilitztli, there was a great deal of repenting, of fence-mending, and generally vowing to do better. The truly evil were truly scared. There was great ceremony to insure the binding of the years. Human sacrifice was made. A fire was built of wood on the still living chest of the human offering and the heart and body given up to the gods. As the morning of the first day of the 53rd year dawned, the people scanned the heavens in search of the Pleiades. As the planets of “hope” reached their zenith, sighs of relief were given. The celebrations began with each household lighting a torch from the sacrificial fire and carrying it home to rekindle the house fires which had been allowed to die out. The ceremony was completed, the planets had followed their natural path, the gods were happy. The world was safe for another season of time.

At the stroke of midnight on December 31, we celebrate with wine, good food, and friends. Fireworks light the night skies and song fills the air. We vow to try to do better -- lose weight, stop smoking, get along. Come sundown of the next day, we are back in the saddle again. A bidding farewell to the old year and a celebration of the new.

But wait, is that a clock I hear out in the hall, ticking away?

The Aztec calendar ends in the year 2012. Do you think that it might be a good time to revive an old custom? The time for Nexiuhilpilitztli draws near!


SERPENTS IN THE GARDEN

Towering high above the surrounding buildings of the metropolis that was ancient Mexico City stand the Teocallis, the legendary temples of the gods. These are not, in reality, actual covered buildings. They are "high places," great pyramids that rose level upon level to end in a final shrine at the summit. Housed inside are the images of the favored gods. The grandest of all the Teocallis was home to Huitzilopochtli, the war god. Built by King Ahuizotl, this high complex is surrounded by 4800 feet of wall that measures 375 feet by 300 feet. It rose six platforms into the tropical sky. The top of this structure holds two three-story tall towers. The Coetpantli (walls of serpents) keep watch at the base of the temple.

Huitzilopochtli has always been associated with the serpent. The name Huitzilopochtli means hummingbird. The serpent is held in deepest veneration as a symbol of wisdom and magic -- both necessary for success in war. The serpent also signifies lightening, an expression of the divine spear, the symbol of war-like power.

The mother of Huitzilopochtli was called Coatlantona (robe of serpents). Huitzilopochtli's image is often depicted surrounded by serpents and resting on serpent-shaped supports. His sceptre was a single snake, and his war drum was made of serpent skin.

Before Huitzilopochtli became a god (transcending all around him), he was a man, a traditional Nahuatl chief. Legend tells of the day when Huitzilopochtli beheld an eagle of great size and majesty perched on a cactus plant. Grasped in its talons was a huge serpent, and the eagle spread its wings to catch the rising sun. When Huitzilopochtli related this to the shaman of his tribe, the shaman saw it as a good omen and advised the leader to build his city on this spot.

Around 1325 AD, the Aztecs fled to the area around the Lake of Tezcuco. Forty years earlier, one of their priests had offered up a local prince called Copal as a sacrifice to the gods. Upon the spot where the royal prisoner had been slain, a nopal plant sprang from an earth-filled crevice. On a certain day, a priest of high rank was passing by when an eagle of great size flew down and perched on the nopal plant. In its talons was a serpent. Beholding this good omen, the priest lept into a nearby pool where he came face to face with the god of waters, Tlaloc. Tlaloc, seeing that the priest was of good heart and devotion, gave his permission for a community to be established on this spot.

Today, the eagle with a serpent grasped in its talons is the national emblem of Mexico, a symbol of the valiant struggle for freedom by the Mexican peoples.


DECEMBER 12th

December is a month filled with excitement, holidays, and special events everywhere in Mexico. On December 12, the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is honored. This is a time of pilgrimages. People from all over Mexico make their way to the Basilica. They come on foot, by bicycle and by bus. Millions come, by whatever means available. On December 12, 1531, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a Nahuatl campesino, as he was making his way to Sunday Mass. He heard a wondrous chant and stopped to listen. Above him, he saw something that shone like the sun. In the center was a most beautiful lady. She approached him and told him that he was to build a temple for her on this spot. This spot, as it turns out, was over the ruins of a previous local goddess.

Juan Diego made his way to the home of Fray Juan de Zummáraga, a local prelate, and tried to convince him of what he had see. After several trips back and forth, the Virgin told Juan Diego to climb a nearby hill where he would find a beautiful rose bush. He gathered the fresh flowers in his cape and brought them back to the home of Fray Zumárraga. When Juan Diego opened the cape he had carried the roses in, instead of flowers, there was imprinted an image of the Virgin. This cape, with the image undimmed, exists to this day.

There have been many tests conducted to prove or disprove the reality of the image. Within the Catholic Church, the story of the vision and the continued existence of the cape and its image are considered a miracle.


CHARRERIA, CHARRO, CHARREADA

A man, standing on the back of his horse, flourishes a rope in intricate patterns and casts it over the head of a running steer. His horse remains perfectly still as he drops to the saddle, secures the rope around the oversized saddle horn & gradually plays it out to stop the steer. Charreria celebrates an equestrian tradition whose beginning can be traced to 16th century Spain but which has developed into a unique & complicated form of horsemanship. The style of horsemanship is charro; the arena, a lienzo; the actual competition, charreadas.

The charreada is based on the dominance of rider over animal & has evolved from skills necessary in the management of large cattle ranches. During competitions, time is not of the essence. Finesse & attention to detail are the bottom line -- from the clothing of the riders to the tack of their horse. Minutes are taken instead of seconds to complete an event that involves in rope flourishes and complicated spins & maneuvers on horse back.

A charro (rider) in a tailored shirt with a butterfly tie, tight chaps over pants decorated with embroidered designs, low cut botinas, embossed waist-length suede jacket, & wide-brimmed sombrero salutes the judges as he spurs his horse & the event begins. There is no prize given for the fastest roping time or the fastest time in any event. There are no prizes given at all during the events of a Charreada. A charro competes purely for love of tradition & for the prestige accorded to superior performance.

The day is bright & sunny. Brightly colored flags snap in the brisk wind. Hammers ring as stands go up to offer food & drink. Mariachis wander, practicing their songs. The crowd arrives in a festive mood, chatting and waving to friends & neighbors. Excitement is high. Many families have traveled miles to see sons, brothers, uncles, & friends compete in the day’s events. There is a small admission fee to be paid for entry to the grandstand. This fee is solely for the maintenance of the lienzo (arena area). It also helps support the charro teams. The teams, in turn, must pay association dues, which helps provide the special costumes & tack for their horses. They also spilt the costs of animal stock rental for the events.

The burst of trumpets announces the grand entry parade & the beginning of the charreada. Vendors call out their offerings of food & drink; families & friends visit, and children, often dressed in miniature charro costumes, play in the grandstands or perch on the rails of the arena fence. As the desfile (grand parade) goes on, members of the community who hold official titles wave & call out to the crowd. Association officers, the local Queen and her court, and visiting dignitaries ride by on proud strutting horses arrayed in elaborate tack. Designated riders carry the national flags as well as the banners of the competing associations and teams. The riders fan out to the sides of the arena and salute the audience & judges before the national anthem and the traditional charro anthem, “March of the Zacatecas.” An arena steward, el mayoral, directs the movements of the riders & controls the progress of the events of the charreada.

With the exit of the desfile riders, the competition events begin. The cala is a reining event, and the best horse & rider of each team compete in a series of patterns, spins & sliding stops with multiple rotating spins. The second event is the piales en el lienzo, in which members of the competing teams attempt to rope the hind legs of a running mare and bring her to a gradual stop. The third event is the cola, or the tailing of a bull. This is a very ancient means of pulling a steer down without a rope.

The next event is one for las mujeres. We have all seen the beautiful mujeres & their stunning horses riding in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day. That is just a remote hint of the beauty and grandeur of the full display of the Escaramuza drill team riders. Although the escaramuza riding looks smooth and elegant, it requires athletic ability and strength. The members of the team, which has from 6 to 12 riders, perform intricate maneuvers at a full gallop.

Following the completion of the mujeres event is the jinete de novillos, or bull riding. The next event is the terna en el ruedo, or team roping, and the fancier the better. Control of the rope is the key to this event. This is the slowest event of the day, and it is a demonstration of intricate flourishes of the rope.

A series of events dealing with roping & riding of wild mares follow, showing skills necessary on a working ranch. The jinete de yegua (rides a wild mare), the manganas a pie and manganos a cabal (roping on foot and on horse back) and the final event of the day, the paso de la muerte (death leap) where the rider leaps from the back of his galloping horse onto the back of an unbroken (wild) horse.

With this final event, the riders of all the competing teams gather in a last parade, circling the arena to the cheers of the crowd.


THE MIRACLES OF SANTA PRISCA

Standing tall and stately in the center of the ancient Aztec city of Tlachco (which means "the place where ball is played"), the church of Santa Prisca celebrates the glory of God and of the Churrigueresque style of architecture, named for the Spanish architect Jose de Churriguera.

Built over a ten-year period, beginning in 1748, the church of Santa Prisca is the result of one man’s belief in God and great good fortune. Legend has it that in 1743 the Frenchman Jose de la Borda came to Mexico in search of his fortune. While on a ride around Tlachco (Taxco), his horse slipped on a stone and exposed traces of a rich silver vein. Borda vowed that what God had given to him he would return to God, and in 1748 he began building the remarkable church of Santa Prisca for his son, Manuel, a priest. The ten-year project was completely financed by profits from Borda’s silver mines. The masterminds behind the grand design were Spanish architects Diego Duran and Juan Caballero. The clock high above the ornate center entrance was constructed by clock master Isaac Rogers, who also made London’s Big Ben.

The earliest colonial architecture in Mexico usually followed strict classical European models. However, over time, the Mexican architects gradually developed a taste for the highly ornate, designing as they built rather than working from a completed plan. This style reached its peak in the 18th century. In 1785, less than 30 years after the completion of Santa Prisca, academics at the newly founded Academy of San Carlos for the study of art and architecture decided that the Churrigueresque style had become too arbitrary and confusing, and they effectively banned it from all new major commissions. Plans for destroying and replacing all Churrigueresque detail were abandoned before they reached Tlachco, and over 200 years later Santa Prisca still dominates the town.

Santa Prisca also features more than 50 works by Miguel Cabrera, an untrained Zapotec Indian. Above the doorway to the Chapel of the Indians is his interpretation of the martyrdom of the 13-year-old Santa Prisca who was unsuccessfully thrown to the lions by Emperor Claudius in 270 A.D.


HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU!

The wild, wild West began as the sunny south. The original "cowboys" were part of the world of the Spanish land grant period of Mexican history (1521-1821). As the number of mixed bloods (part Spanish, part Indian) grew, some mixtures were allowed to work with horses and, in time, to own horses. It was these mixed bloods who became the first cowboys (vaqueros).

The vaqueros wore high crown hats made of woven straw, loose pantaloons of softened deer skin, and chaps of goat skin. For protection from the varied elements, the serape was draped over the shoulder. Over time, adaptations and subtle changes evolved into a combination of the look of their Spanish overlords and their original, distinctive dress. In later decades, the woven hat evolved into the broad-brimmed sombrero of today. Saddles grew pommels, better suited for anchoring the lariat (lazo) that was used to rope the wild cattle native to the area. The heel of the boot became higher to keep it in the stirrup of the saddle.

The huge ranches (ranchos) of the Spanish grandees were located in the great Bajio Valley, between Mexico City and the dry Sonoran desert of the north. This area of Mexico was also home to tribes of Apache and Comanche Indians. The mixed bloods (mestizos), used as vaqueros on the ranches, became master horsemen and fierce fighters with guns and knives. The vast size of the ranches made it necessary for these men to be strong, independent, and loyal workers. There was a certain honor in protecting the property and livestock of their home land.

As time passed, bands of vaqueros traversed the lands of the cattle ranches of northern Mexico, looking for work. When they couldn't find any, they turned to rustling and banditry. The modern rodeo grew out of the love of horsemanship of the vaqueros. Downtime was spent honing skills. The vaqueros put on exhibitions of riding and roping, fighting bulls from horseback with long lances, racing alongside bulls and throwing them to the ground by their tails or horns. To the vaqueros, it was a case of “I can do anything better than you!" "No, you can't!" "Yes, I can!"

Acts of wild bravado were common during these exhibitions. The men who prospered as vaqueros, because of their fierce sense of independence and many specialized skills, became a strong and vital part of Mexico's history and growth.

The vaquero predates the "American" cowboy by 200 years.

An interesting aside: In 1838, at the request of Hawaii's Kamehameha III, Spanish-Mexican vaqueros went from California to Hawaii to teach Hawaiians how to manage the wild herds. The vaqueros became "paniolo," a word derived from "español" or "Spanish." The name was also given to the new Hawaiian cowboys. Paniolo music, dress, and arts are uniquely Hawaiian.

Central to paniolo heritage is an appreciation of nature, music, and the skills of artisans who created saddles, lau hala hats, featherwork, braided rope, flower lei and other items. Island cowboys favored ukulele and kika (guitar) music and songs written in Hawaiian. Though the cattle industry has declined, paniolo traditions remain popular in local culture today.


FAMILY TIES

For many in the expatriate community, family support is thousands of miles away, sometimes oceans away. In Mexico, family ties are only a quick phone call away, a call to your compadre or comadre and the stream of connections begins.

Historically in Mexico, personal rights based on equality and justice -- supported by fairly and efficiently enforced laws -- did not exist. This fundamental factor resulted in a society in which people had to depend on personal relations and connections. From the first years of the Spanish regime in Mexico in the 16th century, the compadrazgo/comadrazgo system, which had its origins in medieval times as a kinship ritual, became the core of Mexican society. These ties included a spiritual bond that made the compadres and comadres appointed god parents of new babies and responsible for influencing the upbringing and behavior of the child to become a good Catholic and a good citizen. “Padrinos” were expected to participate in all important events in the child’s life: baptism, confirmation, marriage, etc. If anything should happen to the parents, the compadre and comadre were expected to take the child and raise it as their own.

The compadres and comadres are usually chosen before the child is born. Before a desirable person could be approached, the person had to already have some kind of connection or relationship with the family. The ideal padrinos were on a higher social level. To be a padrino was a prestigious honor and was much sought after. Parents were often approached by couples wanting to be godparents before the baby was even born. The request to “give me your child” was not unusual. This custom is both a way of strengthening existing networks and gradually expanding them.

The god parenting system is still an important part of life in Mexico. Well-placed compadres, especially, take a personal interest in the welfare of their godchildren and become key figures in the network of connections that are vital to accomplishing things. A great deal of the corporate world in Mexico is run by 25 families, close relatives and people who have god parenting relationships.

Once the god parenting relationship is established, the father calls the godfather “compadre” at all times and the mother addresses the godmother as “comadre.” To the child, the godfather is its “padrino” and the godmother its “madrina.” Friends will also address each other as compadre or comadre, either as a sign of respect or as a bit of flattery. The god parenting is taken seriously, and the role of protector not only applies to the individual child, but to the family as a whole. In times of need, the compadre and the comadre can and will be there for whatever the need, be it financial support, moral support, or emotional support. Often, good friends may be asked to become the compadre of cerveza, or plastics such as plates, cups, etc, for a special Fiesta or important event.

Foreigners in Mexico are not generally eligible for formal godparent relationships, but it is possible to be adopted by older señores or señoras and be welcomed into the family.


IN THE BEGINNING

The history of the land enclosed roughly between the tropic of cancer and the border of what is today Honduras (known as ancient Mexico) has had a written chronicle extending over a period of some 4,000 years, from the middle of the third millennium B.C. until the collapse of the Aztec empire in the 16th century A.D. However, more than half of this written history is undecipherable by today’s archaeologists.

Many agree that the people of Mexico began to cultivate corn about 3,000 to 2,500 B.C. They originally filtered down in small groups from the frozen north, nomadic hunters clad in animal skins, armed with powerful bows and a need to survive. These Athapascan tribes came into the Americas by way of the land bridge connecting Asian to the North American continent. They came following game animals into Alaska and over centuries drifted into British Columbia and down into Mexico.

They then abandoned their nomadic life of hunting and gathering, formed villages, planted seeds from local plants near the villages, and began a culture based less on wandering and more on learning to create with the things around them. They learned to manufacture clay containers, to weave with vegetable fibers, with each clan discovering which plants or clay deposits were the most durable. All were decorated with pigments available, with stylized representations of the local flora and fauna. Only a few bits and pieces of these long lost first attempts of civilized life remain, just enough to tantalize, to hint at, to tease.

The permanent buildings which date from the same period give a clearer indication of the first attempts of communal life on the part of the first people of Mexico. The skeletal remains of the earliest people were found along side the bones of mammoths at Santa Anna Ixtapan and at Tepexpan on the central plateau. They probably lived between 15,000 and 10,000 B. C.

The weather was more humid then. The now semi-arid land of the north was home to lakes with quiet lagoons and marshy areas teaming with plants, game, and fish. Further north the drier land of cacti and brush scrub extended as far north as present day southwestern United States. This land is still the home of the wandering tribes of the Chichimeca who lived on the northern edges of what was to become the land of the Aztec empire. It was only after 200 years of effort that the Spanish were able to conquer these wild peoples. The first cultures of Mexico survived almost until the present day. There are still some remote areas, as in the Copper Canyon region, which harken back to the earliest beginnings of civilization


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