Anales de Tepoztlán

Journal of Latin American Lore 6:1 (1980), 129-150

Tepoztlan Reconsidered


University of New Mexico

The pueblo of Tepoztlán in Morelos, Mexico, remains a classic case in ethnology even if many anthropologists have lost interest because of its "overexposure" in the literature. As is well known, this pueblo was first studied in the late 1920s by Robert Redfield, who published a brief account of its social structure and ceremonial life (1930). It was restudied by Oscar Lewis and a large field staff in the 1940s. Lewis's major monograph (1951) contains lengthy treatments of ethnohistorical, economic, and psychological issues. His later publications include a description of a typical day in a Tepoztecan household (1959) and a rich life history of the head of that household, Pedro Martinez (1964). Lewis also published a case study (1960) which included some data collected during the mid-1950s.

As is also well known, Redfield and Lewis differed considerably in their interpretations of the quality of life in the pueblo. Lewis argued that Redfield had neglected the darker side of village life, especially the poverty, political conflict, and domestic strife that play so large a part in Lewis's account. In The Little Community, Redfield modestly accepted many of Lewis's criticisms, adding, however, "The hidden question behind my book is, 'What do these people enjoy? The hidden question behind Dr. Lewis's book is, 'What do these people suffer from?'" (1955:136). 1 think this is just. But more important, Redfield continued, a restudy makes it possible to combine contrasting descriptions "into a combined viewpoint of the protean and unattainable absolute reality."

I had been fortunate to study with Redfield for a brief period just before his death, and the idea of restudying Tepoztlán greatly appealed to me. Twenty years had passed since Lewis had done the major part of his research, and although many colleagues responded to my plans with comments such as "What, again?" I believed that a third viewpoint might be useful. As Redfield observed, "there is no one ultimate and utterly objective account of a human whole. Each account, if it preserves the human quality at all, is a created product in which the human qualities of the creator-the outside viewer and describer-are one ingredient" (1955:136-137). My goal was not to reconcile or to decide between the Redfield and the Lewis accounts, but rather to add another perspective to our understanding of the community and its place in Mexican society, using some modes of analysis that had not previously been employed.

After several months of preliminary studies, in January 1970 1 moved into a house two blocks above the plaza which I occupied until the following August.1. In those eight months I carried out participant observation and interviewing throughout the pueblo, concentrating my efforts in the new barrio of San José (see below). The Mexican Census of 1970 and the publication of Manuel Avila's comparative study of economic and agricultural development in Tepoztlán (1969) freed me to concentrate on other topics. Before turning to my studies of myth and symbolism, I shall give some idea of recent changes in the pueblo.

General Observations

The population of Tepoztián has grown from roughly 2,500 in 1930 to well over 6,000 in 1970, and this population is now more diverse than at any time in the past. Immigrant families from Guerrero and Michoacán as well as in-married spouses from elsewhere in Morelos and the state of Mexico now make up a sizable minority. A cosmopolitan colony of artists and writers also lives in Tepoztlán, and over two dozen wealthy Mexican families maintain luxurious vacation homes in the village. Itinerant students and "hippies" were a frequent sight in 1970, the former en route to classes in Puebla or Cuernavaca, the latter usually in quest of the "magic mushrooms" said to be available to the south.

TepoztIán is a place of great physical beauty. Pure water and mild climate are among its attractions to tourists and anthropologists alike.The appearance of the village is little changed from Lewis's description (1951:3-35) except for the large, high-walled vacation homes and some new public facilities. The Posada Tepozteco, an attractive hotel for tourists, now stands on the site where the Redfields lived in 1927. The outdoor market on Wednesdays still operates much as they saw it, but the Sunday market is much more tourist oriented. Around the plaza are found several new commercial establishments catering to residents and tourists: a row of restaurants, shops selling clothing and curios, barber shops, tortillerías, and so forth. In 1970, two medical doctors were practicing in Tepoztián, and a community health clinic provided irregular services for children and expectant mothers.

Also near the plaza were the attractive jardín de niños, the primary school, and the new secundaria which attracts students from surrounding communities. In all of these schools the standardized educational program of the federal government was carried out with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Students at all levels participate in patriotic exercises on the fiestas patrias, learning the values of Mexican nationalism along with the history and geography of their country.

As Avila demonstrates (1969:109-115), the economy of Tepoztlán has undergone increasing commercialization in the agricultural sector, where mechanization, irrigation, and the use of fertilizers are now common. Cash crops, which were originally introduced by outsiders, especially tomatoes and gladiolas, are now extensively cultivated by local farmers, frequently replacing the staple crops. Some men continue to cultivate maize and beans on hillside plots of communal land using slash-and-burn techniques; but the increasing availability of wage labor in the surrounding area has attracted many Tepoztecans, young and old, who might otherwise have to use this means of subsistence. Since the mid-1950s, bus service has increased the opportunities for villagers to travel to day jobs in Cuernavaca and elsewhere. In particular, a new munitions factory about 20 kilometers west of Tepoztlán offers regular employment to many former peasants. This has reduced the pressure on agricultural land; water for both agricultural and domestic purposes continues to be in short supply, however.

The construction of houses and facilities for visitors, as well as jobs supplying and servicing them, has brought additional income to the pueblo. But when the visitors occupy former orchards or farm plots, and when they fill their swimming pools during the dry season, it is hardly surprising that their presence is resented. Some part-time residents, however, act as cultural brokers for the community, providing information, assistance, and influence as required.

Many of the changes in Tepoztlán over the last fifty years can be summarized under the heading of "modernization." The construction of the Cuernavaca-Tepoztlán road in 1935-1936 (described by Lewis) opened the door to a flow of people, ideas, and technological innovations which continue to change the community in quite predictable ways. But this is not the whole story, and the richness of background data on Tepoztlán enables us to see that modernization is not a simple linear process but one which generates counter forces and which necessarily proceeds in terms of the preexisting social structure (Bock 1969).

Since the early 1960s I believe there has been widespread disillusionment in Tepoztlán with the process and byproducts of modernization. The Revolution, development programs, education, and so forth, have not produced a more satisfying life for the majority. Corruption, stagnation, and frustration have been more widespread than dedication, progress, or liberation. Yet unlike many similar communities in Mexico or other lands, Tepoztlán had retained enough of its traditional peasant structure to make possible a reliance on local economic, personal, and symbolic resources. Thus, while Oscar Lewis accurately reported the changes that had occurred between 1930 and 1955, 1 think he failed to realize the latent strength of the traditional social system. Starting in the mid-50s, this system began to reassert itself.

Certainly, many "modern" trends have continued or even accelerated. The first music I heard in Tepoztlán was an American rock-and-roll band blaring from a jukebox in the plaza. Yet after living in the pueblo for several months I realized that many traditional musical forms were still vital, being performed regularly and learned by the new generation.2. There has been some syncretism and much compartmentalization of cultures. But a creative response to the contemporary situation has also taken place which uses old forms in new ways.

These observations are intended to give the reader an idea of the present state of the community. It was not my intention to conduct a complete "restudy" of the pueblo, but rather to examine a few topics that interested me and to reconsider the community in the light of recent changes. The following sections illustrate what some new modes of analysis can show us about a much-studied peasant community as its people attempt to find their way in the "modern world."

The Birth of a Barrio

The term barrio has a variety of meanings in anthropological studies, ranging from the unilineal descent groups that Nutini (1968) found in Tlaxcala to the rather amorphous neighborhoods or "Chicano ghettos" of many urban studies. In Tepoztlán, and perhaps the rest of Morelos, the barrio is today an agamous residential unit having primarily ritual functions (see Ingham 1971:617-622). This section examines the origin and development of a new barrio in Tepoztlán in the hope of throwing further light on the social organization of the pueblo.

In the ideal case, persons who live within the boundaries of a given barrio also "belong to" or, better, "cooperate with" that barrio in sponsoring ritual activities, especially the fiesta of the barrio's patron saint. Yet one may be "in but not of" a barrio: residents may belong to a different barrio, and some families refuse to participate in any barrio activities. As Redfield observed:

Membership in the barrio is attested by the important fact of payment of the offering . . . at the time of the fiesta of the santo of the barrio, and it is so perpetuated in the cases of individuals belonging to barrios other than those in which they live. . . . By this same ceremonial payment the fact that the people living in the Santa Cruz enclave within San Miguel [N.B.] belong to Santa Cruz is annually revived at the fiesta of Santa Cruz. [1930:74]

Redfield describes the highly ritualized ways in which each year's "installment [sic] of the perpetual pledge" is collected. He also implies that the funds for maintaining each barrio chapel are derived from a milpa del santo-a cornfield which is worked communally by the male members of the barrio.

According to Oscar Lewis, by the mid-1940s the communal lands of several barrios were simply rented to tenants with the barrio's share of the proceeds used for chapel maintenance. Membership was "primarily determined by the ownership of a house site in a barrio and the payment of the tax for the upkeep of the barrio" (Lewis 1951:23, emphasis added). The contrast between a "perpetual pledge" and a "tax" is hardly accidental, for Redfield viewed barrio membership as rewarding whereas Lewis saw it as onerous.

When Redfield studied the community in 1926-1927 there were seven functioning barrios. He believed that these were all of considerable antiquity and cited a Nahuatl relación concerning "seven hills, seven wells and seven stony hillsides" (1930:72) as referring to the topographic relations among the barrios (which are arranged along a steep downward slope from west to east). Redfield theorized that these seven barrios were remnants of pre-Columbian calpultin (1930:76). Lewis (1951:19-20) questioned this interpretation, suggesting that the barrio structure is a result of a Spanish attempt to concentrate the local populations; however, the argument for some association of the ancient neighborhoods with kinship groups has been revived by John Ingham (1971; see also Carrasco 1964).

The barrios vary in size from barely a dozen to nearly two hundred households. Lewis demonstrated that the two smallest barrios (San Pedro and San Sebastián) are also the youngest, and that boundaries of the large barrios have changed little in the last 150 years (1951:22). The four largest barrios cluster around the central plaza, but the plaza itself is not thought of as belonging to any of them (see fig. 1.) Although the population of Tepoztlán nearly doubled between the time of Redfield's study and that of Lewis, the barrios appear to have maintained their relative sizes, as shown in table 1.

Table 1

Reported Sizes of Seven Tepoztecan Barrios according to
Redfield (1927) and Lewis (1944)

Barrio Number of Houses (1927) Number of House Sites (1944)
Santo Domingo 174 174
San Miguel 150


La Santisima 175(a) 139
Santa Cruz 100 67 (large); 29 (small)
Los Reyes 65(a) 37
San Sebastián 14 34
San Pedro 35(a) 19

(a)These are almost surely overestimates, and the figures in the 1927 column for San Sebastián and San Pedro may be reversed. Some variation may also be a result of differing definitions of sitios (house sites).



The anomalous case in table I is what Lewis called "Santa Cruz (small)." This is the unit that Redfield referred to as "the Santa Cruz enclave within San Miguel." He also described it as a "whole block of houses, geographically in San Miguel [which] belong to the barrio of Santa Cruz, although almost at the opposite end of the town" (1930:70). Redfield seems to have included these houses in his single census figure for Santa Cruz

No investigator has been able to discover why the "Santa Cruz enclave" existed where it did. Several informants told me of a belief that the original inhabitants of this area came to Tepoztlán from a nearby ruin called Tlaxomolco- possibly a pre-Hispanic settlement (see Lewis 1951:21). Of course this does not explain its affiliation with Santa Cruz. The duties of families residing in the "enclave" included payment of the annual pledge and other forms of "cooperation" with Santa Cruz. Even today many residents of the new barrio, San José feel a close connection with the older barrio. Each year on the two major fiestas of Santa Cruz, a large procession from San José travels up the steep half-mile to the Santa Cruz chapel carrying offerings of candies and flowers. Why then did San José seek a separate identity?

Agitation for separation from Santa Cruz began in the first decade of this century, but before the process could go very far the Mexican Revolution intervened. By the middle 1940s conditions were once again ripe (Lewis 1951:23). Many of the older residents were opposed to separation: they expected that the formation of a new barrio would be expensive and time consuming, and argued that there were too few residents to make it succeed. Following is my reconstruction of the course of events.

A miraculous image of Saint Joseph (San José) had been housed for several generations in the parish church on the central plaza where it was cared for and honored on each March 19 by two mayordomos selected from various barrios.3 In 1945, six of the young men most interested in separation (hereafter referred to as the "founders") approached the mayordomos to ask if they might take over responsibility for the saint. The mayordomos agreed and instructed the founders in the proper ways to "honor the saint" (festejar el santo). The founders thus presented their neighbors (los vecinos) with a fait accompli.

At first the older people refused to join in, and the earliest fiestas were staged with the cooperation of only about ten households. Starting in 1946, each of the founders took a turn as mayordomo. The image of San José was brought in procession to the neighborhood and returned to the main church after the fiesta. The emphasis of these fiestas was upon alegría (gaiety, merrymaking): a jaripeo (rodeo) was staged and local musicians performed. This was a good strategy for involving the neighborhood in the fiesta; but soon the founders decided that "other things were more important."

The population of the locality had gradually grown and by 1955 the vecinos (neighbors) had begun to think of themselves as hijos del barrio (children of the barrio). In that year a man from the barrio of Santo Domingo donated a small lot near the center of the locality to be used for a barrio chapel (see fig. 1). During the following year, plans for a small chapel were drawn up by one of the founders who was a master carpenter, and in 1956 construction began. Materials, or money to purchase them, were contributed by members of the barrio with help from others in the pueblo.

In addition to the material gifts (of money, bells, and building materials), many of which came from outside the barrio, vows of cooperation were received from the barrio of Santa Cruz and from a barrio in the pueblo of Milpa Alta, D.F. These vows involve reciprocal participation in fiestas. The visitors usually arrive on the first day of the fiesta and march in procession to the chapel with gifts of flowers and candles; in return they are housed, fed, and honored by the residents of the barrio (fig. 2). Interpueblo relations in the ritual sphere constitute one way in which regional integration is achieved in Morelos, for during such ritual visits, information is transmitted about economic opportunities and potential spouses.

The band is an extremely important and potentially expensive component of any fiesta. Local musicians may play for a few pesos or even as part of a vow to the saint, but since 1950 the mayordomos of San José have used imported musicians. The band's fee ranges from 2,000 pesos up to 5,000 or 6,000 depending on its size, reputation, and the distance from which it comes. In addition to the fee, the ten to twenty musicians must be housed, fed, and "entertained" with beer or soft drinks while they are playing. At some point, the band will usually perform outside the home of each mayordomo where they will be entertained as a group. (At the important fiestas of the large central barrios, it is not unusual to have two imported bands, often playing simultaneously!) The function of this conspicuous musical display is not unlike that of the slit gongs of New Guinea: they "sound the renown" of the community and of its "big men" (see Oliver 1955:379-386). The combination of loud music and exploding rockets makes it possible to locate the barrio (and often the household) where a fiesta is taking place from nearly any point in the pueblo.

The cost of a three-day fiesta such as the one I witnessed in San José during 1970 is considerable. Former mayordomos estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 pesos would be spent on public displays: the band is the largest single item (4,500 pesos in 1970), but the priest must also be paid for the Mass, and having three priests is most prestigious. Then there are the flowers, candles, several hundred cohetones (large rockets), and materials for the chapel and a platform for the band. A local group who performed the dance of the Moros at this fiesta did so to fulfill a vow and thus were not paid (fig. 3).


If these expenses were divided evenly among the 75 houses of San José each household would contribute a minimum of 200 pesos-the equivalent of a man's wages for one week. But the public costs are not evenly distributed, for many households on the same sitio (house site) contribute as units, and some families cannot or will not cooperate. The second and third mayordomos go from house to house on Sundays throughout the year soliciting a few pesos for the coming fiesta, but the final responsibility for these expenses falls upon the first mayordomo.

San José does have a milpa del santo, despite Lewis's contention that the institution was in decline. This cornfield was donated by a barrio resident who remains its legal owner and pays any taxes on the land. In the traditional pattern, work is done cooperatively: the first mayordomo supervises the men of the barrio in planting, weeding, harvesting, and shelling the maize; the grain is then sold and the proceeds are used to maintain the chapel or to help pay the musicians at the fiesta. Those who do not actually work in the milpa are expected to send food, cigarettes, or drinks to the workers.

In addition to the public expenses, most families have private expenses of various kinds: the women prepare the traditional fiesta foods (red mole sauce with chicken, served with rice, tortillas, and beans) for the family, for guests from other barrios, and occasionally for visiting pilgrims. New clothes are purchased, houses repaired and decorated, flowers brought to the chapel, and large quantities of alcoholic beverages consumed by the men. If these expenses are included we may estimate that the hijos del barrio invest roughly 20,000 pesos ($1600) each year to honor their santo. In a barrio as poor as San José this is a considerable undertaking, but it is not too much to pay for the protection of a miraculous patron. As one informant responded when I asked about the consequences should the fiesta be omitted one year: "How would you feel if it was your birthday and nobody remembered?"

If we now ask why the separation took place when and as it did, we may offer four different kinds of explanations. First of all, conceptually, we are clearly dealing with the replication of a structure which is familiar to the community and the region (Vogt 1965). Given the anomalous nature of the "enclave" where residence and ritual participation were divided, we can see the creation of San José as an attempt to resolve this "cognitive dissonance" by recreating the normal pattern in a new area. The available santo provided a convenient focus for these efforts; in a sense, once the decision was made to honor San José the other events followed as a matter of course. But this is obviously not the whole story.

Viewed politically, it is possible to see the creation of San José as a compromise which resolved an incipient conflict. There is a traditional rivalry between the barrios of San Miguel (where Redfield located the Santa Cruz "enclave") and Santo Domingo (where Lewis placed it). The barrio affiliation of marginal land is subject to negotiation. I believe that the claim of San Miguel to the locality was well established, so a possible alternative to the creation of a new barrio in the 1940s was incorporation of the "enclave" into San Miguel. However, Santo Domingo would not have relished this prospect which would have given its traditional rival an advantage in size and population (see table 1). It is significant that the man who donated the lot for the San José chapel was himself from Santo Domingo, and that the new barrio has adopted the animal symbol of Santo Domingo, the toad (sapo), a designation which refers, in part, to "living near the water."

From a demographic-ecological point of view we should note that the constant population growth since the Revolution would seem to make inevitable some segmentation of residential units. Table 1 shows that the apparent relative sizes of the barrios have been maintained by keeping the number of named house sites constant, while subdividing them for practical purposes. But the increasing demand for living space and water has put serious stress on this arrangement. When San José was formed, the "enclave" that Redfield shows as a single large block was enlarged by first five and later by two more small blocks, all from the sparsely settled eastern end of San Miguel. The new barrio was then able to attract a dozen or so more households owing to the availability of inexpensive land and a good water supply, These material factors are important; but they do not explain why settlement of this locality came only after the creation of the new barrio and despite the investment required to establish its ritual identity.

Our first three explanations, then, must be supplemented by a symbolic viewpoint which reminds us of the main nonmaterial resource that San José offers to new and ambitious families: in this barrio it is still possible to join a unit that is forging its own cultural identity and to earn traditional kinds of prestige within its ritual organization at a cost that is low relative to the other barrios. Analysis of occupations and household composition in San José suggests that many families are coming to the barrio to make a "new life" in the same way that many American families once moved to Levittown (Gans 1967). But the cultural resources of Tepoztlán insure that, as the barrio builds its reputation and forges its alliances, visible and audible symbols of its unity come immediately to mind.

By selecting one of the available animal emblems, the people of San José became “toads,” allying themselves with Santo Domingo in opposition to the rest of the pueblo. The six animal emblems (analyzed below) are used to establish and maintain ties within and among barrios. Together with the image of the santo, flowers, candles, music, fireworks, and ritual foods, these symbols are systematically manipulated by Tepoztecans to communicate messages about relationships (see Leach 1965 264-278; Bateson 1972-206).

Tepoztzlán is certainly not the homogeneous, isolated, and happy folk society that Redfield allegedly described, but neither is it the fragmented, individualistic pueblo that Oscar Lewis perceived. It is a place with a strong sense of community organized around traditional symbols - symbols that are still potent enough to generate a replication of its ancient barrio structure, and whose other attributes will be explored in the following sections.

Blessing the Pericón

An even better example of symbolic processes in Tepoztlán may be seen in connecteion with the flower known as pericón. Lewis tells us that September 28 is the “Day of the Blessing of the Pericón” which is

celebrated in the parish church and cornfields: This is an outing day forTepoztecans who go out into the cornfields to roast fresh corn and placecrosses of blessed pericón at the four corners of the milppas. Similar crosses are also placed in the homes, for it is believed that on this night the demons are loose, and theevil winds blow hard. [Lewis 1951:461; compare p. 140; also Lewis 1960:30-31]

To understandthese practices we must view them within their proper context. The flower called pericón in Tepoztlán (teyatli in Nahuatl) is a species of marigold (Tagetes lucida) which bears deep yellow flowers in the early fall. It is closely related to the flor de muerto (Tagetes erecta) which is associated with the Day of the Dead (November 1). Pericón, however, grows in swampy areas where crops cannot be planted. It is particularly abundant in late September when the rainy season is drawing to an end and the young corn is beginning to reach maturity, although it is still two months before the regular maize harvest begins.

The “outing” on September 28 is indeed a festive one. Family groups go together to their fields to roast and eat the young ears (elotes). They gather the pericón which they make into garlands to adorn themselves and their animals. Some of the flowers are fashioned into crosses which are then set up in the four corners of the milpas. (As one informant pointed out, the flower itself appears cruciform when seen from above.) It is also usual on this day to visit los ranchos where cows are kept and to be received there with ponche de leche, a particularly delicious and potent drink made of warm milk, sugar, spices, and grain alcohol. The "joke of the day" is for the family to come home soaking wet, for it is believed that it always rains on this day. Nevertheless, it is expected that the crosses of pericón will protect the fields against heavy rains or winds, and the flowers that are taken home are expected to guard against rains, winds, and earthquake. By burning the dried flowers, one can drive away excessive rains (which must end soon if the harvest is to succeed) and high winds (which could ruin the corn or take tiles off the roof).

We should notice that the flowers used in the milpas are not "blessed," nor are the flowers taken home for protection usually submitted for priestly attention. Apparently it is only in Tepoztlán that these flowers are associated with the Church at all, and this is probably due to the occurrence the following day, September 29, of the important fiesta of the barrio of San Miguel. Exclusively pericón is used to decorate the tall stakes set up in front of the barrio chapel, and it is here-not at the parish church-that the benediction is said. Other events of this fiesta include a special Mass, music played by two imported bands, rockets, and an elaborate fireworks display (torito de noche). The traditional foods for this occasion include mole verde served with tamales.

We may recall that San Miguel (Saint Michael, Archangel) is closely associated with the expulsion of Satan from heaven. One informant from San Miguel barrio suggested that the Devil dislikes pericón because he "fell across" a field of those flowers on his way to Hell. This may help to account for Lewis's "demons," but I strongly suspect that the other uses of pericón have a pre-Hispanic origin.

Elsewhere in Morelos, the gathering of the pericón may take place a day or two earlier, and there is no benediction. For example, in Santiago (a small village within the municipio of Tepoztlán) the flowers are gathered on the 28th of September, but there is no association with San Miguel or with the Church; the crosses are tied directly to the corn stalk just above the ear. And here I learned that dried flowers of pericón are thrown onto the fire because their smoke drives away clouds that threaten hail which might damage crops and houses. Only in Santiago was I offered a translation of the Nahuatl term for these flowers: teyatli means "little stones of water." This, I believe, is the original significance of the flower, and its other symbolic meanings have grown around this core.4.

My Santiago informant had no ideas about the meaning of the word pericón; his only association was with the small parrot, perico. I would be pleased to discover a derivation from the archaic Spanish term for hail, pedrisco; however, linguists to whom I have suggested this are highly skeptical. It may be significant that the Aztec month called Tlaxochimaco (offering of flowers) was the time when "The people went into the country to gather flowers and decorated the temple of Uitzilopochtli" (Soustelle 1970:246). Perhaps, in some areas, the great Aztec war god was identified with San Miguel in his martial aspect.

The flowers of the pericón are also used in a "tea" for treating chills (frío) and for the illness known locally as muina or mohina ("displeasure," but possibly also a nominalization of mohino, "moody"). The herb must be powerful, for only two flowers need be added to a liter of water and the whole boiled down by one third. It is "good for the stomach." According to Redfield, muina is very common: "'It is when one has become very angry. One may even get so angry one cannot get over it but dies. Many things may cause it.' . . . The remedies are various quieting drinks" (1930:16 1). Lewis describes it as

an illness caused by anger, in which aggression is apparently turned inward against the self. The symptoms . . . are loss of appetite, inability to take food, vomiting, loss of weight, and very often death. Muina is a fairly common condition and occurs among members of both sexes, primarily among adults but sometimes even among children. It may be caused by insult, humiliation, bad luck, or any other frustration which arouses anger. [ 1951:2951

This description fits well with Lewis's characterization of the typical personality in Tepoztlán, and also with the orthodox Freudian interpretation of severe depression, mourning, and melancholia (Fenichel 1945: 392-400). What interests me, however, is the use of pericón as a "quieting drink" in the context of the belief that this flower is effective in quieting angry manifestations of nature such as rain, wind, and hail. The yellow flower of the pericón is a multivocal symbol, relating corn, hail, and the human body to one another in a complex manner which has been further enriched in Tepoztián by its association with San Miguel.

Lévi-Strauss In Tepoztlán

There is one other area where symbolic processes are today at work in Tepoztlán, expressing the relationships among groups in a way to delight any structuralist's heart. The eight contemporary barrios of Tepoztlán are divided by the people into those "above" (los de arriba) and those "below" (los de abajo), depending upon whether their chapels are uphill (west) or downhill (east) from the main road that bisects the village. (This same road leads northward to the ancient temple of El Tepozteco.) Figure 4 shows the eight barrios divided into those "above" and those "below," together with their six animal emblems.

Figure 4. Barrio animal symbolism in Tepoztlán

The relationship between barrio and animal is one-to-one in four cases, and two-to-one in two cases: San Sebastián and Santa Cruz (both "above") share the bassarisk, whereas Santo Domingo and San José ("below") share the appellation of toad. By taking the toad as a symbol, San José (the new barrio) filled out the symmetry of the pattern. Because each represents two barrios, I have placed toads and bassarisks opposite one another in figure 4.

The reader may also have noticed that the six emblematic animals belong to quite distinct biological orders: above we have a true mammal, a worm (actually a moth larva), and a marsupial; below, an amphibian, an insect, and a reptile. In figure 4, 1 have set the maguey worms opposite the ants since both are invertebrates; however, these species also share the attribute of being "many." This attribute is stated explicitly concerning the ants: "The people of La Santisima are called ants because there are so many of them; they run over the ground like ants and get into all sorts of affairs" (Redfield 1930:81). These two barrios are "many" in another sense: La Santisima Trinidad is the barrio of the Holy Trinity, while Los Reyes are the Three Kings of the Nativity story. I believe that this shared "triple" quality serves to mediate the opposition between above and below.

There are other ways in which this opposition may be mediated. One of these, discussed above, is the ritual bond between San José and its "parent barrio," Santa Cruz: each assists at the other's fiesta. Another is a territorial mediation in that the barrios of La Santísima and San Miguel both have small sections above the main road, although their chapels and population centers are below it. Within each of the above/ below divisions there are further features that join or oppose pairs of barrios. As we saw earlier, Santo Domingo and San Miguel engage in a traditional rivalry. Finally, Los Reyes and San Pedro are the two smallest barrios, yet they are opposed as rich/poor in popular thought (and probably also in fact).

With the exception of the new barrio of San José the barrios above and below also divide the ritual year between them: the major fiestas of the barrios "above" all fall between January and May (the dry season), whereas those "below" celebrate their main fiestas between June and September (the rainy season). San José with its patron saint's day in March, does not fit; one might predict that the new barrio will be brought into line over a number of generations, perhaps by the development of an alternative fiesta. There are no barrio fiestas whatever between October Ist and January Ist; however, the village-wide celebrations for the Day of the Dead, for Christmas, and for the patron of the entire pueblo all fall during this period (see fig. 5). The Lenten season is likewise free of barrio fiestas although, as we shall see, the symbolism of the Carnival involves barrio oppositions and alliances.

Figure 6 shows the oppositions symbolized by the six animals. The bassarisk (cacomixt1e) is said to live "up under the rocks," the toads "nearest the water," and the ants beneath the ground, while the lizards are characterized as "quick (lijero)" (Redfield 1930:82). The opossum/lizard pair, respectively nocturnal and diurnal, may also represent an opposition between night and day. The above/below distinction corresponds to a further opposition between the dry hills (cerros) found above the pueblo and the fertile irrigated land (milpas) found only at the lower elevations. One might speculatethatthis is generalized to the opposition betgween nature and culture. If so, the central plaza with its government, church, and market structures could be seen as mediating this basic opposition.

The principal contemporary use of animal symbolism is in connection with the Carnival for which the barrios organize competing dancing groups known as comparsas. Redfield and Lewis agreed on the increasing secularization and commercialization of the Carnival. This has continued to the present. Carnaval has become big business, both for individual participants and for the municipal government which controls the concessions. There is a small midway with mechanical rides and many stalls selling local food or curios. Each night in 1970there was a secular dance with a pair of big bands from el D.F. But the most distinctive aspect of the Tepoztecan Carnival is still the leaping dance of the Chinelos. The costumes and dancing of these “mysterious” figures have been describedby both Redfield (1930:109-112) and Lewis (1951:458-459) .5
Each individual dancer is responsible for his own costume which, as Lewis notes, has become “more costly and elaborate with each passing year” (1951:458). The comparsas are now partly subsidized by the municipal government; each group is responsible for hiring its musicials (about a dozen local brass, reed, and percussion players) and for preparing the dancers. The budget of each comparsa may be as high as that of a major fiesta (estimated at about 30,000 persos). The men in charge of finances are bound by an official regulation; this is the only community responsibility in Tepoztlán that I have heard referred to as a cargo.

On the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in 1970 three comparsas performed in the central plaza. (The same groups performed again the afternoon of Easter Sunday, though with somewhat reduced numbers.) My interest here is limited to the use of animal emblems to represent barrios. Each company of dancers included one person carrying a flag prepared especially for the occasion, and each flag utilized the animal of the originating barrio, as follows:

  1. Anahuac: This comparsa is made up of Santo Domingo plus the new barrio of San José. The flag showed an animal with a human torso, but with the brown spotted head and hands of a toad (sapo), wearing a crown and carrying a golden cup. The flag was blue with silver letters spelling out "Anahuac, Tepoztlán, Morelos, February 8, 1970"
  2. Union y Paz: This is the comparsa of San Miguel which now joins for financial reasons with San Sebastián. The flag depicted a small lizard (lagartijia) on a yellow background, a man in a sombrero, and the name "Union y Paz."
  3. América Central: This is the comparsa of La Santísima which joins with Santa Cruz and Los Reyes. The white flag labeled "Central America" showed three enormous ants (hormigas) enjoying a three-layer cake labeled "Carnaval 1970." To one side was a large bag of money and a man holding a banner labeled "Cuernavaca" looking on sadly.
In each case, only the name of the comparsa itself was inscribed on the flag, but to people of the pueblo, the animal symbols clearly indicated the dominant barrio in each group. The first comparsa is the only one made up of barrios sharing a common emblem. Since San José was formerly considered by some to be part of San Miguel, this use of the "toad" reaffirms its alliance with San Miguel's ancient rival, Santo Domingo. The toad symbolizes nearness to water., and it is interesting to note that the Nahuatl name of the Aztec Empire and of the comparsa means "near the water" (Tylor 1861).

The territory of San Miguel crosses over the line between "above" and "below," although it belongs to the latter division. Its upper portion adjoins San Sebastián which presently cooperates in its comparsa organization. The dominance of San Miguel is symbolically represented by the lizard on the flag. Perhaps the attempt to bridge the above/below opposition is also reflected in the name "Union y Paz," unity and peace.

The third comparsa also consists of barrios from above and below. Besides the humorous and commercial themes shown in the flag, I find confirmation of my analysis in the three ants and three layers of cake that represent the alliance of three barrios, including that of the Three Kings and the Holy Trinity. The name "Central America" is also a suitable symbol for an alliance among small, independent units. (One informant thought that the tiny barrio of San Pedro had also joined America Central; if so, this would complete the pattern of associations between barrios and comparsas.)


I have tried to show that certain symbolic processes are still very much at work within the pueblo of Tepoztlán as the people use traditional categories and oppositions to understand and to encode their new experiences. Images of the saints, flowers, and animals are still very potent symbols in this peasant community; compared to them, "modernization" and even "nationalism" are myths of limited power (see Hunt 1977).

Oscar Lewis was probably correct in his view of Tepoztlán in the 1940s as a community increasingly oriented toward the larger society; but "modernization" is not necessarily a linear process. As Carlos Fuentes has written, "Las promesas de la modernidad mexicana en el siglo XIX-- liberalismo y el positivismo-se complieron a expensas de los lazos comunitarios, del derecho, de la dignidad y de la cultura de la población campesina e indígena M país" (1975:11). 1 believe that for many Tepoztecans who have become disillusioned with the aftermath of their Revolution there has been a turning back toward the community, an investment of time and money in barrio and pueblo affairs, and a rebirth of those satisfactions that accompany personal participation in a Little Tradition with vital, creative symbols.


1. Fieldwork in Mexico was carried on during a sabbatical leave from the University of New Mexico and with the assistance of a Faculty Research Grant for equipment. Some of the material in this article was previously presented at meetings of the American Anthropological Association in 1972 and 1974. 1 wish to thank Drs. Harry W. Basehart, Larissa de Lomnitz, and Fernando Cámara Barbacho for their comments.

2. Traditional musical forms observed and recorded during 1969-1970 included: chirimia and teponazt1i played on the roof of a barrio chapel the night before a fiesta; flageolet and small hand drum used to accompany the dance of the Moros; small wind ensemble accompanying ritual dance at fiesta of San Pedro; similar ensembles playing for the dance of the Chinelos at Carnival and Easter; church bells used to signal services, fiestas, and life-cycle events; a cappella hymns and carols sung during Mass and at the posadas; serenades (such as Las Mañanitas) sung to honor individuals; and a great variety of ballads sung by one or two men with guitars. Also recorded were the large visiting bands of ten to twenty pieces, described below.

3.According to Lewis (1951:459), this image was kept in the chapel of Santa Cruz barrio. I was not able to confirm this, but it is possible that both locations were used at different times.

4.In neighboring Tlaxcala, conjuradores perform ceremonies at midsummer in which crosses made of palm leaf are fastened to a larger cross and set up in the cornfields "to assure rain for them and to protect them from hail" (Schwerin 1963:206). In Jalisco, to the north, the flower we know as Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is used in similar ways. The erection of crosslike monuments in the corners of fields and near houses is, of course, very common in Mayan areas.

5.Redfield was not able to account for the common name of the leaping dancers; in a moment of weakness he suggested that the term Chinelo might be derived from chino meaning “Chinese” or, more generally, “foreigner.” This notion, together with other equally speculative ones, was used by Henrietta Mertz in her incrediblebook Gods from the Far East where we may read that “The history of the dance was lost in antiquity before the time of the Conquest,” but that the name and other mysterious facts about the Chinelos “point to a definite Chinese influence” (1972:86-86)~ However, Dr. Fernando Cámara Barbacho recently informed me of an interesting discovery that he made: at the Carnival in Brussels there appear groups of leaping dancers costumed in the elaborate robes and masks of the Tepoztecan Chinelos; their names - punchinelos, or “clowns.”


Avila, Manuel
1969 Tradition and Growth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bateson, Gregory
1972 Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine.

Bock, Philip K., ed.
1969 Peasants in the Modern World. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Campos de Garcia, Margarita
1973 Escuela y comunidad de Tepetlaoxtoc. Mexico: Sep/Setentas.

Carrasco, Pedro
1964 "Family Structure of Sixteenth -Century Tepoztlán." In R.A. Manners, ed.,
Process and Pattern in Culture. Chicago: Aldine. Pp. 185-210.

Fenichel, Otto
1945 The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. New York: Norton.

Fox, Robin
1973 Encounter with Anthropology. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Fuentes, Carlos
1975 Tiempo mexicano. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz.

Gans, Herbert J.
1967 The Levittowners. New York: Random House.

Hunt, Eva
1977 The Transformation of the Hummingbird. Ithaca, N.Y.
: Cornell University Press.

Ingham, John M.
1971 "Time and Space in Ancient Mexico: The Symbolic Dimensions of Clanship."
Man 6:615-629.

Leach, E. R.
1965 Political Systems of Highland Burma. Boston: Beacon Press.

Lewis, Oscar
1951 Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlán Restudied. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

1959 Five Families. New York: Basic Books.

1960 Tepoztlán, Village in Mexico. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

1964 Pedro Martinez. New York: Random House.

Mertz, Henriette
1972 Gods from the Far East. New York: Ballantine.

Nutini, Hugo
1968 San Bernardino Contla. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Oliver, Douglas
1955 A Solomon Island Society. Boston: Beacon Press.

Redfield, Robert
1930 Tepoztlán, a Mexican Village. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1941 The Folk Culture of Yucatan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1955 The Little Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1956 Peasant Society and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schwerin, Karl H.
1963 "Ceremonies Concerned with Hail and Rain in Tlaxcala." Journal of American
Folklore 76:206-215.

Soustelle, J.
1970 Daily Life of the Aztecs. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Tylor, Edward B.
1861 Anahuac. London.

Vogt, Evon Z.
1965 "Structural and Conceptual Replication in Zinacantan Culture." American Anthropologist 67:342-353.