By Xun Betan
Na’ba sbah te tseltal winik. Photo: Elizabeth Ruiz
Ta yuhil octubre, shachel a’tel sijomal; ta sbahbeyal ya yich’ pasel selab sok sk’altayel. Ta shahchel noviembre ay te stsajel sok sk’utel awal ixim yu’un ya yich’ ts’unel. Ay to mach’a ya sts’un ta shahchibal yuhil diciembre. Ta enero sok febrero yuhil yak’entayel. Ta yutil k’altik ay bayel ta chahp itaj ya yich’ ts’unel sok te stukel nax ya xch’iy mohel.
That is how the trensipal from Bachajon begins the story (+). He describes the second planting of maize (el maíz,) which in the Tseltal language we call “sijomal”. Planting begins in October with the preparation of the fields. In November the seeds are selected and at the end of the month and at the beginning of December the first seeds are planted. In the months of January and February, the fields are cleaned and tended to, then it is the time to plant and nurture along the other plants which grow amongst the corn and in the process enrich the soil with nutrients.
The “sijomal” maize is planted at the end of November and the beginning of December to take advantage of the winter rains which tend to fall in some parts of the jungle in Chiapas. Like every year, the farmers in the region prepare their fields and wait for the first big rain storm. The trensipal says how this year, the planting season changed a lot and the rain arrived late and the harvest that year of the habil k’altik (as we’d say in Tseltal) had very little corn and some parts of fields were completely dry. Now, for the “sijomal” many people don’t plant until the month of December because of the lack of rain. The drastic changes in the climate are greatly affecting the production of maize. So we pray and hold rituals to ask for the health and bountiful harvest from the plants, as part of the field, as part of our foods, just as our ancestors did.
Rituals are ways communities maintain a relationship with Mother Earth, harmonising the production of our food while also nurturing community life. On the other hand there are projects which day after day invade the communities, bringing with them destruction of the natural habitat and community life. This is what has happened with the cattle project in the jungle and the planting of African Palm. Paying for the use of the environment, is just part of taking advantage of the natural resources, which leads to the devastation of the jungle, and then the campesinos are blamed, which later will lead to the giving of permission for the energy reform law on the part of Chiapas, the Pozo Petroleros. Some of this we’ve already mentioned in a EZLN communique where we described this serious problem and the same thing is being said by the indigenous party supporters.
This is how rituals are ways that unite and convoke indigenous communities to maintain on-going community relations. Far from thinking that spirituality is pointless or boring as has happened in some cases in other religions, spirituality embodies knowing, harmony and community. In this way spirituality is a way people systematise knowledge and create internal organisational structures, giving way to the calpules. Within these ranks are more traditional, organizational roles like capitanes, mardomas, and then trensipaletik. “Trensipaletik” are people recognized by their communities for having great knowledge and moral authority. Additionally there’s the deacons or j’abatineletik, who are servants of God’s word representing a local Mayan, Catholic spirituality.
On the other hand we have publicity from the religious sects and the new lines of Catholicism which pressure people to disassociate from their identity and land, encourage dependency and push people to merely be consumers of assistance projects and projects financed by the State. We have the planting of the African Palm in the jungle and other cases as examples. This same situation can also be seen in the new educational model; the use of green school uniforms in indigenous communities is discriminatory; and the school schedule takes children away not just from the land but their families for the whole day. (*) There’s also the school food programme and these same children don’t know what powders they are consuming and they’ll never know about fields and the planting season.
For some years now, the large expanse of the territory encompassed by the ejidos San Sebastián and San Jerónimo in Bachajón, along with the communal lands of Casa del Pueblo de Venustiano Carranza have been in the targets of developers and government who would like to seize it themselves. These cases, along with the dispossession of the campesinos in the Yucatan and in Quintana Roo, among others, show how the indigenous communities have been a hindrance to the System, which seeks in any way it can to banish people from their land. The murder of Berta Caceres is an example of the situation of elimination indigenous communities face and what happens when resisting big deadly projects. The constant murders of women, homophobia, kidnapping and disappearance of people is terrifying and is part of a model that generates terror.
Despite the situation of war started by the State against the indigenous people and the most poor, in the fields we still plant maize, squash, chili and various types of vegetables and fruits, these not only keep the communities alive, but big cities too. Even though the State tried to legalise the planting of genetically modified corn, many people refused to be silent and raised their voices to stop it. It’s the same thing with telecommunications law Article 23 which wanted to prohibit the use of indigenous languages in the national media, and thanks to action by Mardonio Carballo this was stopped. We hope the same will happen with other indigenous communities struggling to defend their land against large wind projects, mining, dams, highways, pipelines among others. Despite all of this we continue and will continue resisting to maintain our connection with Mother Earth.
The trensipal ended the conversation by saying that his corn plants had already begun to flower and in some places there were small ears of corn. When his plants have ears of corn, a ceremony will be held, just as his parents taught him, to thank Mother Earth because soon there’ll be corn to feed his family. It’s also noticeable that the various trees and flowers in the countryside have begun to bloom, these will feature in the celebrations of Semana Santa (Easter Week). This will be followed by habil k’altik, the agricultural year which begins in May with the feast of Santa Cruz. Meanwhile the colorin, peach, mangos , avocados, jocotes, the cuchunuk and lots more are beginning to give us snichimal ko’tantik.
Na’ba sbah te tseltal winik
Ma’yuk mach’a halbilbil yu’un, te tseltal winik bayel binti ya sna’
Te tseltal winik xchamet yo’tan ya yil te ek’etik sok spisil bintik ya xlaj sohl ta ch’ulchan,
sok nix te bintik nak’ajtik ta yut mamal nahbil…
K’alal ya sjak’ yo’tan, te tseltal ya xk’opoj ta stukel nax sok te yo’tane.
A Tseltal person knows a lot of things without anyone having taught them
Full of admiration contemplating the stars and all that happens in the sky.
Just like the inside of a well also hides things
When a Tseltal draws a breath, they speak alone with their hearts.
 Avelino Guzmán. a Tseltal Poet, translator and writer from Bachajón, Chiapas, 1975.
(+) trensipal – elder
(*) translator’s note: One way indigenous identity is proudly expressed is through wearing traditional clothing. The community believes it discriminatory to force children to wear school uniform. Zapatista schools, contrary to State schools, have no uniform.
Translated by the UK Zapatista Translation Service