Anales de Tepoztlán

La Portada de Semillas in Tepoztlán in 1994



September 1994


Tepoztlan, mountains of rocks sewn with pyramids, clothed in jade and turquoise, where sacred trees like the amate climb in snakelike knots, which speak to us of the grandeurs of the past, while copal incense aromatizes the temples of the gods and the homes of our dead with boughs of flowers with the fragrance of our people's beliefs.

Today, on the 8th of September, as in past years, we celebrate the baptism in Axihtla of a prehispanic tlatoani, el Tepoztecatl, in the birth of a new mestiza culture, an act represented by the Virgin of Nativity holding an infant in her left arm while she amuses him with the fingers of her right hand. Today, as last year, with seeds and colors from the Tepoztecan landscape, we wish with pleasure to offer our heart through our hand joined in the collective work of children, young people and adults, of men and women, of many afternoons and parts of the nights of the last three weeks.

The portada contains Tepoztecan history and Christian faith. It reads from left to right and from below upwards to the arch. After several discussions, designs, and consultations, we decided on the theme of THE LEGEND OF EL TEPOZTECO which, through the centuries past, has lost none of its emotion and without ceasing to be a legend bears much historical information and, above all, exemplifies DIGNITY AND THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERTY AND JUSTICE.

"The legend of El Tepozteco" used in this text and in the portada was written by don Bernardino Verzaluce. Don Pablo Gonzalez Casanova (a priest) obtained a copy of the manuscript from the hands of don Genaro Veraluce, son of don Bernardino. The legend, in the excellence of its Nahuatl and for the information it contains, is one of the richest.

Through spending time sifting through our cultural roots and our unique manner of being Tepoztecos, we are beginning to remake our history. Hopefully we are not encountering it too late to rescue it, to restore archaeological zones and care for the rock paintings left principally by the Tolteca-chichimecas. If, in 1895, our ancestors who were fewer and with less resources restored the pyramid and with the pieces found there created a museum, today we are more and with greater resources. We must organize to initiate these tasks and reaffirm the identity of our roots. Hopefully we shall not be conquered, as some have been, by violence, egoism, the desire for power and money. We do not reject foreign culture, but more so do we feel our own. We are not closed to receiving influences from the cultures of today; they will aid us in understanding ourselves and communicating better as a community, and will enrich our own as well.

The evangelization of Tepoztlan perhaps took place at first at the temple of Teopantzolco, near Axihtla, and later in the open chapel, and finally within the church dedicated to the Virgin of Nativity. Later on in the churches of the barrios of the "jumping frog" (Santo Domingo) and of the "ants" (La Santisima), in the communities of Tepetlapa, of Amatitlan, Xocotitlan, Tlacotenco, Zacatepec, Teneshtitla, and Ixcatepec, whose symbols in the codices and on the portada are a square painted as though on a woven mat or roll of paper, tied in the center, with respectively a hill with a fruit tree, a hill with a thicket, a hill with grass, a white rock, and a hill where a cotton-white wind emerges. During the Colonial period additional churches were constructed in the barrio of the "badgers" (Santa Cruz), of the "maguey worms" (the Kings"), of the "lion" (San Pedro), of the "scorpion" (San Sebastian), of the "leaf" (San Jose) and in the new colonies.

This fiesta has been celebrated since the slow but steady substitution of the prehispanic gods by the Christian ones. There is nothing wrong with believing in something; what is difficult is to tolerate and respect the beliefs of others, above all when they are representative of the religion of a society which says and promises some things and, when in power, does the opposite. Beautiful it is to live in harmony with society, with nature, and with our heart, so long as we know how to listen to them.

Large image(185k) at 150 dpi for printing

On the left side of the portada we see a waterfall cascading in waves in the current of which a maiden bathes and at that moment is impregnated through the flower that arises at her forehead by the beak of a red hummingbird. The sun watches her with excitement and extends its triangular rays of colorin seed.

All of this takes place at Axihtla (the water-navel place) near oldest cypress in all of Tepoztlan, while in the gully legends are murmured between the rocks and the September flowers. The god of wind (Ehecatl) comes down, twisted around like the form of Quetzalcoatl's breastplate, to admire such beauty. She barely notices her pregnancy with the son of the sun or of the wind, it doesn't matter which. Many of the prehispanic gods were conceived by a feather, a bird, a song, a precious stone, or other objects which were then valued in that worldview, although, since all gods of all religions, their origin is not human.

At birth, El Tepozteco, sinful and shameful according to medieval Spanish belief, was thrown onto an anthill by women bribed with fine food in order to be eaten by the ants, but these, instead of injuring him, nourished him. These ants were an important item in prehispanic diet and even today, and possibly for this reason have a distinguished position in the creation of people, of the sun, and of the moon in Teotihuacan.

Afterwards, they abandoned him among the spines of a maguey plant. Seeing him the next day, they saw how the spines of Mayahuel leaned towards him like breasts which nursed him with their sap, and the maguey has no lesser role in Nahuatl mythology because it is a bountiful plant for people in arid zones where it multiplies like rabbits and is used to make sandals, clothes, roofing, to eat, to hang up objects, and for other things. The spines are used to puncture the ears in rites of blood sacrifice and the fermented liquid produced hallucinations for priests and elders who were allowed to drink only three cups within rituals. A priestly Quetzalcoatl lost his virtue because of pulque through the trickery of Tezcatlipoca.

The Florentine Codex teaches us that "when the Indians had dried and cooked their corn, they got drunk and danced invoking this devil" which today might correspond to the fiesta of "finishing" the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash. Meanwhile the maguey worm on the portada watches the infant in the arms of Mayahuel and also at the end of the waterfall, offering the infant to the two old people.

As nothing had happened to the infant, they carried him along with his mother who built a little house where he was left, and a man carried him to the edge of a gully. In the same way that Moses was saved, he was found by an old man who was gathering wood while his wife did her washing and El Tepozteco came to call them "grandparents." The old man shouted and was answered only by the wind; he whistled and only the happiness in his heart answered. It wasn't long ago that the local people communicated in this way. The little box with the infant within was carried to their house where, surprised by this gift, they gave thanks to "Our Lady, the Mother of our People."

The grandparents pretended that they had given birth and carried out the activities as a woman should with the members of their family, in the form of coatequitl (communal work), up to the point of taking a sweat bath in order to resume household activities. But the child grew into a youngster and asked his grandfather for the clothes of a hunter, for his sandals, his arrows, and his quiver, to be able to go about the countryside and the streets. He thanked his grandfather with an embrace and said "so long as I live....I will love you and look after you when you are ill. I shall give both you and grandmother a fine funeral." He asked his grandfather what he would like to eat and shooting an arrow towards the sun, rabbits, deer, squirrels, and birds fell down. So he was a shaman, a hunter of suns, of moons in mythology, and of small animals. The grandparents were surprised by this youngster and said, "Perhaps he is a son of the Air".

Back then, the giant at Xochicalco ate people and demanded old men. In the mosaic he is represented by the two plumed serpents in the center of the arch. The old man began to become sad.

The messengers of the giant came to his house and "he went out to greet them and invite them into his house." "We didn't want to take you away because we too have children, but what would you have us do? The same thing has to happen to all of us, so we have to feed our master." The old man asked only that they await the arrival of his son. He searched his mind and listened to his heart to know how to say farewell without worrying his wife. On his arrival, El Tepoztecatl encountered his grandmother dejected and crying and then looked for his grandfather to ask if it were true. "Grandfather! Don't worry, nor be sad! (...) you aren't going anywhere. I shall go in your place..." And this he said to the Xochicalco's men who permitted it, and he asked his grandparents to be at Cozcatzingo (place of gem stones or necklace) to watch for black smoke which would announce his defeat or white for his triumph, as when a new Pope is named, or for visual communication over long distances. On the road to Xochicalco he turned some of the messengers into rocks (Texcatepec, Texihuitetl, Tlamatepec). At Tecuescontitla (a place inhabited for 2000 years or more with at least six preclassic pyramids in ruins and in danger of being completely destroyed by urban expansion) they stopped to rest near the site where blades of flint and obsidian are made and he put some into his carrying bag. The ancient inhabitants of this "place of the mounds" were warriors who fought with arrows and lances. At Temamatlac, he bathed and, son of the wind that he was, made himself think in order to pass through the hill called Tepexitl. "He drew a dove in the stones of the mound called Chichizcatlan". As they went along he named the places they passed (Acayhocan, Zacatechm, Tlacotzinco, Tlatlapancan, Calamatlan.)

All of the previous paragraph is rich in traditions, in Nahuatl toponymy and in archaeology. The Xochicalcatl eating old people is a symbol of the domination and demand for tribute of the King of that place over the ancient "lords" of that period and their people. Since then our community has been keen to defend its cultural identity and its land without losing sight of the fact that there actually are those who are capable of selling them out for a plate of beans.

On arrival at Xochicalco, the giant scolded his messengers for being land and not bringing an old man. He ordered them to put El Tepozteco into a great cooking pot, but he turned into a fish, into a snake, and then into a rooster which crowed but wouldn't cook. They put him in an oven and he transformed himself into a hawk, a rabbit, a coyote, a wolf, and a tiger while the giant drooled with hunger and then ordered that he be brought to him to ask him "Who are you, boy?" El Tepozteco answered "I am El Tepoztecatl (...) I have come to rescue all our peoples. And now that you know my name and where I am from, tell me what you want." Then asking that he not be chewed up, El Tepozteco jumped into the giant's mouth and was swallowed whole. In the giant's belly, he took out his obsidian blades and began to cut through the giant's gut while the giant writhed in pain on the ground. Thus we see him swallowing El Tepozteco, the warrior, on the left side of the portada's arch and on the right El Tepozteco emerging victorious from the monster's jaws. Die in order to be born was the way they understood life to be.

Once the giant was dead, a rising column of white smoke appeared and the "grandparents" were happy and returned to their home to await El Tepozteco. The legendary Tepozteco is a youth who fights with the weapons of his time against submitting to the Lord Xochicalco and on winning liberates some peoples, but possibly conquers others.

The legend says that on passing Cuernavaca on his return from Xochicalco, at a great party he poured mole over his elegant clothes "because you only know how to appreciate clothes, not the person who wears them" because when before he came to the party ragged and travel-worn they didn't invite him to eat.

At this party he wanted to play the teponaztle, but they wouldn't let him, so he changed into a whirlwind, one of the forms in which the wind presents itself, and took away the drum. The rhythm of the teponaztle and the drum itself has been guarded in the hearts of many Tepoztecans for hundreds of years, until the late 1920's when there was a reevaluation of indigenous culture. Then the elders of the town allowed it to be seen and played, above all to the children. The teponaztle continues to be played at the offering to El Tepozteco late in the night on the eve of the fiesta for the patron saint of a barrio. Later it was passed, in turn, to the mayordomos of the barrios. Now to safeguard this relic, the symbol of the Tepoztecan's pride and fight for liberty, the teponaztle only appears triumphantly in ceremony each 8th of September.

Furious, the Cuernavacans chased El Tepozteco, but when he reached a place he would play the teponaztle as he did at Cuapechco, at Cuacumetla, Cozcatzingo, Conectepec, until he reached the "Hill of the Air" from which his father, the Wind, had come. The largest area of caves in Tepoztlan is in this hill, which, like a slithering black serpent, with its tail to the north and its open jaws to the south, swallows the lovely Valley of Tepoztlan. Within it, like a tattoo, in relief carving with the hunched back of an old man and the beak of a bird, this gods lives together with other prehispanic gods.

On the right side of the portada is the scene of "El Reto del Tepozteco" (the annual drama depicting El Tepozteco, his power, and his conversion to Christianity). In the four corners of the pyramid, from below to the top and from left to right are the warriors from Cuernavaca, Tlayacapan, Oaxtepec and Yuatepec whose shields bear their respective symbols (trees, earth-nose-place, hill with a guaje tree, and hill with a plant of pericon or perhaps of blue maize).El Tepozteco is above the pyramid, wearing the nose ornament of a pulque god. Near his head is a copper ax; in his left hand his shield and in the right his baton of command. The four "kingdoms" possibly waged war against El Tepozteco in prehispanic times and this was taken advantage of by the Dominicans in order to evangelize the natives. El Tepozteco invites these vassals to convert to Christianity, to worship the Virgin Mary, and they reject his easy acceptance of gods foreign to their beliefs. El Tepozteco vigorously reminds them that he defeated them in past times and that he took the teponaztle away from the Lord of Cuernavaca while, at the same time, they begin to hear its rhythm.

At the base of the pyramid can be seen the teponaztle which our grandfather El Tepozteco won, whose rhythm unwinds in an "Olmecoid" dancer with a flowery branch in his left hand and a rattle held high in the right. For them, song, dance, and poetry are the flowers of life. The rhythms of dance and of victory are heard in the "toto-nki, toto-nki, toto-nki, tama-yi, tama-yi, tama-yi" or in the "tom-tom, tom-tom, tom-tom and three lighter strokes" each September 8th or each year, in the main plaza, for the ears of all the people, so that they shall not forget their contract with history. "El Reto" has been performed possibly from the end of the last century, interrupted by the Zapatista revolution. Although a piece of evangelization, it is never exhibited in any part of the main church.

A final reflection has to do with the figures at the center of the upper part, for on one side we have the plumed serpent swallowing El Tepozteco, but he is spit out, victorious, and above is the Virgin of the Nativity, copied from the facade of the church dedicated to her. Perhaps in historic times a Quetzalcoatl was born in Xochiatlaco ("the flowery gully"), near Coacalco ("place-house-serpent) which at the beginning of this century appeared to be an unfounded assertion, but the comments of Cesar Sainz in his QUETZALCOATL made us doubt this, and later came the discovery in ceramic of Tlahuizcalpantecutli (Lord of the Dawn) and later a rock painting with feathers which fly at the sides of its contours, which leave the earth going toward the heavens, beneath the gaze of the duality of the life and death of man, with one hand between the two figures, with an influence perhaps of the Toltec, Xochicalca or Teotihuacaneca cultures. Such was its virtue and veneration prehispanically and in the early colonial period that the Dominican friars had to make up that he was a giant, a monster, or a serpent, when actually he represented man's accomplishments in communal labor (coatequitl) and in agricultural production through Coatequimmilla. Today, the Virgin Mary is above that and nearer to us is the god of Money which corrupts many people who supposedly should be the heirs of the plumed serpent: prudent, tolerant, just, and humble with their lessors.

"Now you have heard what I have told you about the story of the birth and triumph of our Tepoztecatl, and so as I have told you, you must tell it to your children, so that they shall not forget the story of our grandfather,El Tepoztecatl". We say only that we have tried to be faithful to this legend and to our fiesta.

For all our brother Tepoztecans,
To all who love the cultural roots of Mexico,
These are our words,
To go on being Mexicans.

To all those who fight, though poor,
For justice and the democracy and human dignity,
Which is so much in crisis in our time.

We also remember our dead,
Who no longer are, who no longer speak,
But who spoke from the heights of their culture
That we might inherit this grandeur
Now in ruins
Because of the people's neglect.

"I suffer,
Only for men".
But I am made happy by
This awakening of Tepoztecan unity
In the barrios, communities, and colonies.

September 8, 1994

Alfredo Martínez Rojas
Rafael Carillo Campos

Bertha Quiroz
Verónica Villamil
María Flores
Simón Rojas
Cecilia Cortés
Ignacio Campos
Lorena Medina
Antonia Sedano
Arturo Sedano
Jesús García
Clemente Noriega
Socorro Murillo
Mario Flores
Adelfa Demesa

Inocencio V. Rodriguez F.

Arturo Demesa Oriz

Adriana Mora
Mayra Conde
Oscar Villamil
Eleazar Ayala
Isaías Ayala


González Casanoava, Pablo. TEPOZTECATL (Ciclo Legendario)

González de Lima, Oswaldo. EL MAGUEY Y EL PULQUE EN LOS CODICES MEXICANOS. Segunda Edición. México. Fondo de Cultura Económica. 1978

Rocha Garza, Jorge Luis. "Fotocopias y apuntes de códices".