A Defender of His People

Lord of the Sacred Mountain, The Legend of El Tepozteco

Directed by Bruce “Pacho” Lane
Researched by Albert Wahrhaftig
(57 minutes)

The Nahua indigenous community of Tepoztlán, in the valley of Morelos just south of Mexico City, is one of the most famous towns in Mexico. Because it is set along the base of a spectacular volcanic ridge—and because it is close to the city—it has become a popular tourist destination, as well a site for weekend homes for wealthy Mexico City residents. Before the tourist influx, it was extensively studied by two famous American anthropologists, Robert Redfield and Oscar Lewis, and others continue their work. Most recently it has become the New Age capital of Mexico, and a popular stopover on the backpacker trail. Amazingly, in spite of all these pressures, Tepoztlán has managed to maintain its own special identity.

The god Tepoztecatl
Monster swallows Tepoztec
Xochicalcatl swallows El Tepozteco

In fact, both the town’s popularity and its special identity have the same root: the god/hero Tepoztecatl or El Tepozteco. His pyramid sits atop the ridge, and is the main tourist attraction. And while the inhabitants of Tepoztlán (called “tepoztecos”) are officially Catholic, El Tepozteco is as present in their lives as Christ. As one tepozteco says, “When we are in trouble, we call on El Tepozteco, because he is our warrior spirit. But when it is time to pass on, we turn to the Almighty.”
A Defender of His People examines how the legend of El Tepozteco serves as a source of identity and a behavior model for the tepoztecos. El Tepozteco is not just a legendary figure: he is actively present in the lives of his people. His voice is heard in the wind, and when necessary he appears in person. He is credited with driving away a federal SWAT team, and on one occasion even wrote a letter asking the tepoztecos to care for the environment.

Procession w Tepozteco
El Tepozteco in procession.

Baptism of El Tepozteco

The film intertwines two narrative strands. In one strand, the tepoztecos themselves tell the story of El Tepozteco, and of their personal encounters with him. In the other strand, anthropologists describe how the role of El Tepozteco in the life of his community is essentially the same today as it was 500 years ago. As the story of El Tepozteco unfolds, the viewer gradually comes to realize that nothing has really changed—that El Tepozteco has given his people the strength to take what they like from successive invaders while holding fast to their identity as the children of a living god.

He Is Still With Us


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ISBN #: 978-1-891813-27-6
UPC: 736899902339

The Legend of El Tepozteco
Background on the Tepozteco Project

El Tepozteco, dios/héroe de Tepoztlán
The Legend of El Tepozteco (Spanish)

Mythico-religious Resonances of a Resistance Movement
A modern myth, the roots of resistance in Tepoztlán

Anales de Tepoztlán
A website for articles and Tepoztecan culture and society.

Legend of the Tepozteco: Popol Vuh and Catholic Mythology

Lesson Plan for A Defender of His People / El Tepozteco