The 2001 Portada de Semillas in Tepoztlán
The place where copper is revered
Tepoztlán, with its eight barrios, is the main town in a municipality which bears the same name in the state of Morelos. The municipality consists of, in addition to the main town, several recently formed colonies and seven peripheral towns
The emblem which represents it consists of a hafted copper ax stuck into a mountain.
The name, Tepoztlán, comes from the Nahuatl"Tepuz-tlan", which means "place where there is abundant copper" or "where they revere copper."
The Mother of Fiestas in Tepoztlán
This time the Tepoztecans are opening the flowers of their hearts and sharing accounts of their town's most important annual festival by means of an archway (a portada) made from 64 different varieties of local seeds, each with its respective form, size and color. It appears to be an arch which sprouts from the earth, supported on one hand by beliefs and customs from the distant prehispanic past and on the other by those of Catholicism, the lights and shadows of our reality within a hymn to our traditions.
This Portada de Semillas (the seed-mosaic archway) of the parish of the Virgin of Nativity, is part of a spiral of traditions which are transformed and refashioned every year. There are voices in the streets which say that "the Tepoztecos are more into fiestas than they are into Catholicism" to the point where sometimes it seems that there aren't enough days for all the fiestas. Tepoztlán is a place as religious as the rest of the country, undergoing a transition in its fiestas, beliefs, and customs from agrarian to urban, from a medieval syncretism with prehispanic elements to capitalistic ones, in order to arrive, perhaps, someday at the simple essentials of human thought, with awareness of their own self consciousness and of nature, for both are united in life on earth.
There are those who think that the Portrada de Semillas is a "lovely mask" which preserves the contradictions of economic, social, and political inequality in our society. Those of us who are in the majority respect and tolerate the difference of religious opinions, the pagans, and the atheists within the social heterogeneity of Tepoztlán. The merchants in their local organizations have once again provided support, handing up the colors and sacredness, to offer to them to the sight of everyone whose eyes can penetrate into the interior of this handcrafted work.
Our collective ways are deeply rooted in our manner of thinking, feeling, and acting. Pride and dignity sustain our decisions to keep on being ourselves, building with and accepting everything of foreign origin which can benefit and enrich our culture. Collective effort comes from consciousness and willingness and is in opposition to the egotistical and individualistic interests which capitalism develops. Two lifestyles, one which came to us from far off, beating in our heart, and the other from the force of constant repetition in the mass media which infect our minds.
2) The Left Side of the Portada
This time we will commence our description of the Portada going upward on the left sider to descend on the right side for this is how we are accustomed to viewing things and conceiving of the unity of space and time.
2.1. The New Year
The Tepoztecans view the dawn of a new year as a fiesta with a necklace of months and days which humans call "time" in order to organize their daily activity and a night which they pass in sleep and dreaming. Thus in various languages, men and women greet their brothers and sisters with a "good morning" and a "good night". Later, with the advance of technology and science, the day was divided into morning and afternoon, then hours and minutes, seconds.
At 11:00 at night on December 31, most Tepoztecans go to mass. Afterwards they rapidly return to the porches and patios of their houses to await the tolling of the bells of the eight barrio churches and that of the parish of the Virgin of Nativity which announce the exit of the "old year" and the arrival of the "new year".
The final minutes of the "old year" are experienced intensely, recalling what had been done in every one of its days and that they shall never return because they pass along with the life of each one of us. In many faces there is anguish, a kind of fear, but also hope and joy.
Those in the patios gather about a hearth as though they were worshipping the god of primitive peoples. Sometimes we see the image of our inner self in the faces of others, and others in the starry sky which makes us feel like children. The old people predict from the appearance of the Milky Way how the coming year is going to be, from light that although distant reaches our eyes along with the rain of stars which always falls on this night.
In the late1920s, this celebration was constituted by two groups ("mandas"): the "Cerahpas" and the "Castillohpas". That is, after the 1910 Revolution, the people of Tepoztlán wanted peace and unity. For this reason, they gather to share mole verde, tamales, tepache, and conversation in the houses of the mayordomo/a who provides the offering of candles and the mayordomo/a who provides the castillo (tower full of fireworks). The candles are presented in the mayordomo's house and in the main church. The castillo explodes in bursts of colored lights in the atrium of the main church or in front of the little plaza at the entry to the "Escuadrón 201" school.
2.2. Los reyes
Next come the songs of the pastors guided by their three kings. Some of them carry on the point of a wooden shaft a many cornered star or, also, lanterns made of reeds covered with cellophane or tissue in many colors with a candle or a flashlight inside. Others carry a wooden staff which they strike against the ground to the rhythm of the guitars. Their songs derive from the 1930s and now are more a matter of folklore than of peasant substance as the population passes from rural to urban.
2.3. San Sebastian
This is followed by the profusion of bursts of color in the sky as fireworks explode in the sky at nine o'clock in the night and the Castile is ignited in this barrio.
The next day in the afternoon, the "tiznados" come down to the central plaza or the town square, jumping to the rhythm of the chinelo sones played by the hired band which goes before them. Before that, they smear themselves with black soot or grease.
To jump as a tiznado, a disguise isn't necessary. A couple of jugs of punch made from seasonal fruits and cane alcohol will make anyone of any gender or age into a dancer.
In this barrio fiesta and in others, we see the "torito" and other pyrotechnics. The little bulls arrive together with the Chinelos to the rhythm of the sones. The little bull is made of reeds covered with cardboard and is carried by a boy who chases through others of his age; it is full of little fireworks and pinwheels which change colors as they burn. Catherine wheels spiral into the air in a shower of sparks. Meanwhile from the top of the fireworks tower comes forth a whirlwind which climbs into space in a cascade of white lights on this joyful night.
2.4. The moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians)
This drama came to Tepoztlán in the 1930's when the majority of Tepoztecans had learned to speak Spanish. Among the first to organize it were don Bibiano Ayala. All the participants were country folk. The object was to convert them to Christianity, "demonstrating" that Christian beliefs were "truths" and not those of the Mohammedans. Their battle with oratory and with swords is fought over religious faith and its symbols.
The Christians put a skirt over their rolled up pants and a cape over their back. Both are blue. They use a white shirt and brown hat with two or three white and blue ostrich plumes stuck into it. In their left hand they carry a blue banner and in the right a long machete with which they wave up and down in their effort to impale the Moors. Both groups wear shoes and brown stockings.
The defenders of Mohammed dress in red with a light weight black cape. Some of them wear leather leggings, dark glasses, and a long abundant beard. Their voice is strong and grave. On their head a crown with stars and a moon, in the left hand a banner of red cloth and in the right a long machete. When they clash their machetes or strike them against some stones in the atrium of the church, sparks fly.
The organizers choose tall strong people to play the Moors, to be defeated one by one by the Christians who are weaker but who "fight" together. The "moros y crisrtianos" was disappearing among our people.
2.5. The brinco of the chinelos and Lent
Carnaval is part of the Lenten umbilical cord and therefore "Palm Sunday", "Holy Week" and "Easter Sunday" are shown as a Catholic entity. At the end of Carnaval, Lent commences with "Ash Wednesday" and with Fridays with abstinence from meat and sex. There follow fairs in honor of the crucified, each with its legend.
On "Palm Sunday" in Tepoztlan, the women carry a laurel branch wrapped in cedar, a palm whose leaves wave to the rhythm of their walk like little birds and butterflies, overshadowing the crucifixes, as though singing of the triumph of the beliefs of their religious faith. The natural flowers smile among the aromas of the branch. The festivity is of their love of Christ, but also for the fragrances of plants.
The procession of palms begins in the church of the barrio of the Holy Trinity where they carry on their backs the statue that represents Christ mounted on a burro at his entry to Jerusalem. Arriving at the parish church, the priest commences the journey through the processional square of the parish of the Virgin of Nativity. In columns on both sides of "Jerusalem" go women of all ages and children, carrying a lit candle in one hand and a "branch" in the other, and responding in chorus to the religious litanies. At times the brass band which goes behind "Jerusalem" is heard, and later the omnepoetic rhythm of the totonki-tamali of the prehispanic teponaxtle which is carried up ahead. The priest declaims the Biblical passages and blesses the branches with flower water.
Finally, "Jerusalem" is taken back to its barrio where fruit drinks are served to its companions. In this procession there are less people than in the procession out, perhaps because their religiosity also requires foods which they must prepare.
The "holy days", as among the rest of the population of the country, are Thursday and Friday although a large part of the citizens taken them as days for amusement. In there is the Christ of the Three Falls, Our Lord of the Lashes, and Our Crucified Lord, named for the various scenes of the Passion. In these days, the mayordomos and mayordomas cover the images of the saints with violet cloth and decorate their altars with citrus fruits and, on some of them, pennants of white and purple crepe paper. In the 50s of the twentieth century and before, during all the week one couldn't offend anyone with words of other actions, for that would be "to offend God." A few people dressed in mourningware; many of them fasted and passed the greater part of the days in the "big" church praying and meditating. In its atrium they represented the Passion of Christ with an enactment of the "Jews".
Today, candles are presented to the "Christs" of barrio Santo Cruz and Santo Domingo before bringing them with songs and prayers to the parish church. Friday is the most important day, because the majority of the population, if not all of them, participate: in the morning procession of "The Three Falls", at three in the afternoon, the Crucifixion, listening to the interpretation of the "seven words" and towards dark the procession of the "Santo entierro", of Dinmas and of la "Dolorosa". Men predominate among those accompanying the first two images and women with the third.
Behind the "Santo entierro" goes a group of musicians playing the "miserere", sad and monotonous, probably taught by Father Pedro Rojas Zuñiqa in the 1920s, alternating with a slow and sad song rising over the voices of the men. The musical instruments used are trombones, trumpets, coronets, and horns. The procession ends when the mayordomos anoint the simulated wounds of the "Santo entierro" with an unguent, which is then wiped off onto cotton which is divided among the abundant believers and people who request it.
On the Saturday of Glory, the priest celebrates mass at eleven in the night in the open air, as it was done in the first period of evangelization. The "sacred fire" is made to rain down in a play of fireworks from the bell tower which descends to a candelabrum where it lights the Easter candles, and from there the candles of the believers are lit as the parish bells chime "the resurrection of our Lord" instead of the wooden "matraca" which the men sound during holy Thursday and Friday.
Those who are Tepoztecans and those who are not balance their religiosity with the pleasure of jumping to the sones of the chinelos. To jump as a chinelo is to live as a Tepoztecan and a Morelian, because even the dying request that the sones of the chinelo be played at their funeral, and that someone or another imitate a bull fight so that death shall not be such a serious thing, for all life on earth is a joy. In the portada we see the banner of the "Comparsas Unidas" in the diversity of Tepoztlan. Thus ends this cycle of religious fiestas which are pagan in part.
2.6. The dancitas of San Pedro
In the series of Tepoztecan fiestas, San Pedro follows on the 28 of April with his lion at his side. At the end of the 1920's, the "danzas" arrived with their musical rhythms very near to those of the sones of the chinelos. The dancers are in two columns, turning to the left and to the right time after time. Afterward, they weave together ribbons the color of pomegranates, entering and leaving in circles with their ribbon stretched from the point of a seven foot pole to their hands while men at the center hold it up. The "pomegranate" in colors which is woven by the children's' steps and smiles could be the worship of the "flowering tree" of Tomoanchan, remaining in the Tepoztecan unconscious.
The boys and girls are dressed alike, a brilliant skirt which can be of different colors and a poplin shirt which is generally white, a flowered neckerchief with its knot at the front and its points passed through a ring. On their forehead a diadem of black, gold, or both, and behind a flower to which colored ribbons are attached. From it also three feathers rise vertically. They may be of different sizes and colors and sometimes they are the same as used on the headdress of a chinelo. In their hands they carry an arch of flowers or an wooden artifact in different geometric shapes which they use in their dance. For three days the children dressed like flowers dance in the courtyard at the entry to the church of San Pedro.
2.7. La Santa Cruz
Later comes the month of May when the faithful of barrio Santa Cruz celebrate. In the past they used to pray at and decorate with wreathes of "fragrant flowers of May" in whites, yellows, and reds, the "roadside crosses" and the springs. Now all the crosses are celebrated with more noise where there are construction projects.
This barrio is, both secularly and religiously, the most organized for coatéquitl (collective work): the maintenance of its cobblestone streets, cultivation of the "santo" [field whose harvest supports the barrio chapel], construction of pipelines for potable water, Saturday cleaning of the courtyard of the parish church of the Virgin of Nativity, and weeding the cemetery are all done in this manner.. They are the master fireworks makers of the region. Along the street in front of the church come the "arrieros" [muleteers] from San Miguel de Almayo to dance to sones played on guitars and violins while they distribute to the crowd presents of household goods. In return, the people of barrio Santa Cruz bring the brinco del chinelo to the patronal fiesta of San Miguel. There is also an interchange of gifts, of songs, of flowers, and, above all, of friendship.
In the lower part of the portada is a happy dog, one of those which are abundant here in the streets and the plaza, painted in white on rock walls since prehispanic epochs, and of which each Tepoatecan household has at least two, for they guard the house and the fields and accompany us day and night in the dreams of everyday life.
3)THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE PORTADA
3.1. The Jubileo
On the right side of the portada, where the arch descends, we have the Jubilee or celebration of the "Resurrection of Jesus Christ" by the priest and residents of some of the barrios. They have processions through the main streets and adorn the walls of their houses and the streets with real or crepe paper flowers and various geometric shapes, stringing them across the streets and their yards. At each corner of the central square near the church they place a table with flowers and a tablecloth where the priest can place the host. The men fire skyrockets to announce where the crowd is gathering and some of the mayordomos collect alms to pay for the band which livens up this long sung and musicalized walk.
Later there is the fiesta of the old Atenco barrio (place at the edge of the water), the celebration of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, a church with a graveyard accompanying it, just like the first church in all of Tepoztlan, in Teopantzolco/Teopantitla (place-joining-walls-god). The facade of the church is occasionally decorated with citolli, white flowers taken from the hearts of maguey plants.
3.2. The Virgin of Nativity and the national holidays
The calendar of Tepoztecan fiestas continues with those which are celebrated in September: the "Reto contra el Tepozteco", "María Natividad", the "national holidays" and the "eloteada."
The first two fiestas have to do with the evangelization and baptism of the legendary el Tepoztécatl. This is how the syncretism of prehispanic and European religions began. It may have roots in the distant past, but it seems that the dramatic work which is performed in Nahuatl and Spanish in the main plaza (it has always been this way) is the result of a reform and reevaluation of indigenous culture at the end of the 1910 Revolution. This syncretism has not ended, for the description and the narration of the Portada de Semillas are part of this process.
The "national holidays" is the celebration of the beginning of political independence in Mexico, even though the present governments continue handing the culture of our nation over to the capitalist empire on the pretext of globalization.
One can see in the portada an eagle sinking its claws into the depth of our Mexican and Tepoztecan essence, for the landscape of rocks and hills is a "nest of eagles." There is also a canon which is firing "justice, liberty and sovereignty" and it is in Chiacuasérnac (place of six hands) that according to tradition canons were cast from the time of the appearance of the Plan of Ayutla until the Juarez triumph over the French. The proof is in the blackening of one of Tepoztlan's largest caves and the mountains of ash which can still be seen. Chiacuasémac: a place forgotten and neglected by the entire pueblo.
On the 15th of September, the charter of independence is read. Horsemen on their mounts make a torchlight march through the main streets to the civic plaza. In the 1950s and before, the national fiestas were celebrated with a rodeo in the main plaza, horse races, and after the "Shout of Independence" a dance with live music. This night you don't have to eat because the "short arms" of many makes appear in the hands of men and some of the women; the mouths of the canons spurt fire and balls of every caliber; this is nothing more than a warning to unjust and corrupt governments.
The 16th of September is a fiesta to the rhythms of the brass band marches of the primary and secondary schools and, at times, gymnastic demonstrations equal to the "20th of November." The children, adolescents, and young people like to enter public school; the do so with the desire to show off more than with that of gaining a consciousness of the facts of our history. Only twice in the twentieth century did the students not march. They did so in place of their fathers, mothers, elders, and all the adults who wanted to participate. This happened in 1995 and 1996 when they marched with dignity, some of them dressed in white, as many as could, with shawls crossed in the fashion of a Zapatista guerilla, a red neckerchief in place, with their fist raised high and carrying a truncheon like a rifle, to express in chorus their rejection of the construction of a golf club. Their pacer was not rhythmic because many had not gone to school, but they were strong and their decision of pride in their Tepoztecan countrymen background could be seen in their faces. They marched because they would not accept the drug dealing state governor's threat to massacre the people; nor were they afraid to die for this and for their children. In the afternoon there are sports competitions in the public plaza. The youngsters launch balloons, great and small, made of tissue paper which rise, losing their colors in the intense blue sky, and ending up a point of light in the night over the highest lines of Tepoztan's mountains.
3.3. La tlashqueada
The "elotada" on the 28th of September is a remnant of love for that most important seed which gave life to the prehispanic cultures of Mexico, the fresh corn which climbs to the heights in the green stalks of the maize plant, which projects out in a smile of food among arms open to the sky. Those who plant traditional seeds with a coa, plow team, or tractor, and some of the small ranchers, are those who celebrate on this day, inviting their family, friends and compadres. They cut new corn in their field, shuck the outer husk, to place them at the fireside, with the silk facing up, so the steam from its green leaves will roast it and they will acquire the special taste of this fiesta.
Some people bring baskets of food to complement the corn -there must be an aperitif for making a toast! This drink possible once was pulque or tepache and afterwards was made with fruits in season, milk, and sugarcane alcohol. Most times they pass it around and when tuned up with good barbecue the begin to sing, with or without a guitar, and sometimes to dance to music from their cassettes. There is never a lack of declarations of love here and there, because the drink "gets the words out" and makes them valuable to those who join this gathering.
When the ears of corn are taken off the grill (made with dried branches from the bushes) they peal them hot and the majority of people eat them as they are while others add lime juice and salt; "this business of putting on mayonnaise is a citified custom." Two to four ears are enough for a person because "they are very filling."
They come back from the elotada not just happy but embraced by their spouses and compadres. The baskets and carrying bags return full of ears of corn, both cooked and raw in their husks. You can swipe a few ears wherever you can to have a tlashqueada up on a hill or mountain. It used to be a general tradition, not to mention obligatory, because it was part of the religiosity connected to corn. It was a love of the earthly paradise.. There were bunches of flowers with their different smells and colors to be seen all around, and even the wild animals came close to the hearths to eat up the left overs, although the dogs barked at them.
From this mound of flowers, the countryfolk, without knowing from how long ago, chose a flower that is fragrant with honey and September: the yellow pericón, with which they make crosses to place on the four corners and the center of their fields so that the devil in the form of wind in these days won't blow down the corn stalks which often then won't produce mature ears.
In addition, they take a nice branch of it to make more crosses and place them above the windows and doors of their house to ward off evil. This image is associated with St. Michael the Archangel who has Satan under his feet, face upwards, in the form of a dragon, defeated, because the next day is the celebration of this personage. The people of the neighborhood and barrio which bears that name place from the entry to the churchyard to the chapel's door branches of pericón made into spirals. This flower is becoming scarce because the curanderos gather them to remedy some digestive illnesses.
For children, it is a day of play. School is out and their own teacher takes them to the tlashqueada. Sometimes they stop for a soak in one of the pools which are frequent along the length of the two arroyos which start at Axihtla (water navel place) and from chalchitépetl (hill of the precious stones), both of them crossing the Valley of tepoztlan and joining at Tlaltepetlapa (place of mat, stones and earth) to go on to the barrios of Santiago Tepetlapa (place of stone mat)and the Valley of Amilcingo, to later head for the Balsas River in Yautepec.
The "tlashqueada" was one of the most important fiestas for the peasant farmers, and is disappearing along with them.
3.4 The Days of the Dead
After the abundance of the fruit of the fields comes the "Day of the Dead", or better said the gathering of the Tepoztecos with their deceased, offering them what they have harvested from their fields. On the 31st of October they "wait for" the "little ones", and the 1st of November for the "adults." Death comes with our very lives and at every moment knocks on the doors of our times. Although we are not used to it, we still play with it in the form of little skulls of sugar and of chocolate.
Certainly on the altar of the saints will be placed an offering which originally was only of foods from the fields but which industrialization has enriched. Both natural and processed foods are offered along with drinks, flowers, candles, incense and other items used by those who are remembered on this date. On these days and nights, cone chats with the dead. The Tepoztecos say that the spirits of the dead come near with the pealing of the bells which begin to "toll the dead" from the first minutes of October 18 in all of the barrios.
This night, one has to offer candles and nobody sleeps in the "big room" where the women place offerings because death might carry them off. There have been cases of this, say the grandparents. These nights, those who have disappeared appear in the dreams of the living. The cemetery appears to be the home of the living and the dead seem to live in the houses of the living.
Death as part of life includes us all and because of that, we all celebrate it. The children, adolescents, and young people ask for "an alm for my skull" which is made of a hollow gourd and expresses in its carved face the most diverse allusions to death, or "an alm for my dead" made of reed and covered with white tissues with black ribs, both of them with a burning candle inside. The people of the household who are in good humor answer them "a switch for your butt" or "may this be your fate soon" at the same time as they give them candy, cookies, chewing gum, money, and eight days later they give them more fruit than sweets. All night, groups of youngsters roam the streets of Tepoztlan dressed like dead people who dance with the living with music from harmonicas, guitars, gourds, drums of cassettes. But as Tepoztlan urbanizes, a US-style Halloween has made an appearance even though the residents and the municipal government as the general public to not use costumes of that celebration in the streets of Tepoztlan.
Tepoztecan families divide up the offering on the 2nd of November after going sleepily to morning mass. Visitors are offered a plate of red mole or green moles with white bean tamales wrapped in totomoxtle leaves or green corn leaves, as a recollection that we are the men of corn in the ancient legend. In the afternoon, visits to the cemetery where loved ones are buried. There they eat, drink, chat, and pray and allow a tear or two for relatives who have become dust and memories. Other visitors serenade their deceased with trios, and even bands of musicians.
Thus the dead in Tepoztlan: the speak, they eat, and they are off.
3.5. December Fiestas
The cycle of fiestas in Tepoztlan ends in December by celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe, who was substituted for Tonanzin (our little mother); this is when groups of children go to visit their little Indian mothers, because they go to sing the xochipitzahua (pretty flower) in the churches which have images of this Virgin. In the actuality of society, the Guadalupana is duplicated in our Mexican mothers and grandmothers who forgive all that their children have done.
Later there are the posadas and the Nativity when there is a squandering of supposed gratifications given to workers by their bosses and the government. They splurge their entire Christmas bonus on sales that the mass media advertise in the fiestas that multiply and are divided up into all the social classes. In this fiesta there are tons of piñatas and songs from the children.
In their joining at the top, the two parts of the portada de semillas are crowned by the presence of the Virgin of Nativity who seems to be watching over the expanse of fiestas and the mountains which surround the Valley of Tepoztlan, some of which in their heights extend into prehispanic pyramids which are beyond being sacred. Today, this fiesta aims to unite Tepoztecans in all their diversity.
Along with the rest of humanity, Tepoztecos continue to celebrate "new years." Here, some fiestas are dying, others are appearing or are being transformed. But the span of our lives shall never return, because it is fleeing every moment, from dream to dream, from memory to memory, until it ends up as dust which will return to the flowers and to a song to life.
lnocencio V. Rodríguez Flores
September 8, 2001
Design and Drawing
Arturo Demesa Ortiz
Inocenclo V. Rodriguez Flores
Area tianquixtil, área mercado,
área artesanos lado norte, área presidencia
H. Ayuntamiento 2000 - 2003
Gluing of seeds
Comerciantes semifijos y voluntarios
We thank all those who made this
mural possible: children, youngsters, and adults.