Journal Excerpts- October 31, 1971-5th Visit (15 pages)


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Journal Excerpts- October 31, 1971-5th Visit (15 pages)
Series Title:
Series 1: Mayan Women in Chan Kom
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Elmendorf, Mary L. (Mary Lindsay)
Publication Date:

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
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All rights reserved by the submitter.
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Full Text
October 31, 1971--5th Visit

I drove in from the highway to the plaza of Chan Kom in

eight minutes, a far cry from the two and a half hour walk

or drive over rough stones which it had been before. "The

road falta planchar--lacks ironing," said the boy caretaker

as we turned on to the new highway; and it did get rough as

we got nearer to Chan Kom. But it's a straight highway, cut

through jungle and rock, and built up about six feet in many

places with rough stone dynamited from the boulders. In some

places, though, it's wide enough only for one car.

On arriving, I walked around the plaza greeting my old

friends. Everyone was busy. I felt like I was back years ago

in Cuatla, doing the CARE movie, "The World Our Hands Can Make."

Then we tried to stage what it would be like for officials to

come in. Now it was real. Everyone was getting ready for the

fiesta, and more importantly, for the official opening of the

highway. I saw Humberto. "People are bringing cloth, just like

your dress, Senora, and selling it here. It's very cheap. And

they'll be bringing other things too." And there, right on the

plaza, was a bright red truck with a table out back, loaded with

cheap yard goods and odds and ends. Walt Rostow's idea of

stimulating the material desires of people so they would be

'motivated' towards 'development' seemed to have materialized.

For a while the garish material will be sold for less than the

lovely white poplin which the women now use to make their huipiles

-- 2 --

which they decorate so beautifully. Then the prices will rise.

I could feel immediately that the lovely, peaceful rhythm

which I had known in Chan Kom before had gone. Part of it was

the excitement of the coming fiesta, part of it was the road.

There was great hustling and bustling. A new sidewalk had been

built in front of Aurelio and Atala's house, and my old bathing

place in their storeroom was now a sewing room with a new

cement floor. The front room of their house was being tiled.

Humberto's house also had a new sidewalk, and brilliant red

oil paint was being carefully applied to the scraped surface

of the walls, rimmed with a bright yellow border. He later

added a pink door with a green stripe up the middle. Bartola's

house had just been painted two shades of green, and a ladder

was leaning up against Juanita's house where her husband and

son were painting. It was yellow on the top and pink on the

bottoms and next door their relatives were painting theirs

pink on the top and yellow on the bottom. The painting, scraping,

plastering, and so on continued for days. The night of November

1st which I had expected to be a religious celebration was a

painting session which lasted until morning, with Humberto,

Alipio, and Bartola's sons finishing Bartola's house and Don Eus'

new store. They looked so odd in the moonlight with their

ladders and brushes.

Everything was being put in order for the governor. Quin-

tiliano had Bartola's son make him a new door for his house, and A

-- 3 --

has made his patio into a front entrance. Now I can't look

through the open patio to see him having a happy evening meal

with his family. Atala and Aurelio asked me what color I

would paint their house if it were mine. I laughingly told

them that I would have a Casa Blanca--like President Nixon.

They were amused and pleased, and in fact Aurelio asked what

color I would paint the balcony and doors. In all honesty

I said that I would stain it natural since the wood was so

beautiful. Much to my surprise they went to Valladolid to

buy varnish, and stained most of the door, with only one bright

green stripe down the middle. Even the church had a new tile

floor. "They were a donation, you know, Senora," the priest

said. "Don Eus asked the diputado for them, and here they are.

I laid them myself."

Along with all the outside activity there was a great deal

of indoor activity as well. Everyone was in movement, and

people went from one house to another as everyone seemed to be

helping everyone else out in the preparations. "Dona Antonia

is prestada to Don Catalino for the Pib," little Serafina told

me. And the first night we were there &Us took us along with

her to watch the preparation of the famous relleno negro. I'll

never forget the sight of Antonia judiciously throwing spices

into the three bubbling pots that evening. One had a pig's head

floating in it, the middle one had a whole chicken whose feet

kept coming to the top, and the third seemed to be a mixture of

pork and chicken. Antonia would come and go with her herbs,

and the three men remained, each carefully stirring one of the

pots, like a witch's brew in the dark by firelight.

The next morning was the ceremonial opening of the Pib.

(Pib means earth oven, which is always built in bright red earth.)

The pots had been buried there and cooked away all night long.

We watched them take out the first serving. It was like thick

gravy, dark grey in color. It was so thick because of the

special masa--cornmeal--which had been added the night before.

The first portion was put into a ceremonial gourd supported by

a braided rope basket, a chuyub, made by Dona Ninfa. The man

who had been prestado for the other part of the ceremony took

it over to a tree on the edge of the woods and hung it there.

Mayan prayers were said.* Then the three pots were taken into

the house where we'd eaten dinner the night before. The largest

one was placed on a decorated table in front of the house altar.

This table had flowers tied at the four corners, and a very

elaborate floral wreath had been made to fit around the pot and

arch above it. They were purple clover, flowers. There were

four candles on the table also, and a plate of tortillas was

put in the center. There were also four bottles of rum, and

cigarettes which were later taken out of the package and put on

a plate with matches. The night before when we were there,

four white candles tied with beautiful flowers were ceremoniously

attached with henequen by the men and placed on the table. The

Mayan cross on the altar had also been decorated wfh the purple

At least the feeling I had as I watched was one of religious intensity--

hwcJ 1 (-

-- 5 --

flowers. There was a statue of a saint--perhaps Fatima--on

theetable, fte im leaning on a coke bottle propped up with a


After the relleno negro was put on the table, four chairs

were put facing the altar. They had been decorated with flowers

tied to their backs. A basket was sitting beside the altar

in which the rum and coke were kept, and there was much confused

pouring from bottle to bottle, always ending in four bottles.

"The people used to drink only rum," one woman told me, "but now

they drink highballs (jaibols) made with rum and coke. It's

very good."

The man in charge, Don Sebastian, pours liquor from the

bottle, divides it into four parts, drinks some, puts one bottle

in his pocket, looks out the door, and then goes out of the

house into the woods. There was a whistle. The other men took

the decorated candles from the altar and followed him. I think

they went to the place where theyhung the gourd earlier, but I

could find no traces. This activity was clearly for men only.

They had more drinks out there, and probably Mayan prayers. They

came back with an empty bottle, smoking. Then the four chairs

were put together, and the hand washing ceremony started.

Dona Antonia sat in the corner, still in charge of the relleno

negro. The other women were sitting in a circle in one corner

of the room, all but one dressed in 4 huipil5., They were all busy

making tortillas, chatting and eating.

-- 6 --

The young couple who were hosting the relleno negro We-re-

relatives of Marcelina, the mid-wife, and Catalino, the bone-

setter. Marcelina was also sister of the shaman, Gregorio,

who performed the loh casa I saw at the house of Rogerio

Carwik. She works as housekeeper for the priest when he is in

town. (Is this why she told me that preventing children from

being conceived is a pecado, a sin? Did the priest "hire" her

to learn something of her brother's craft, or is that just

coincidence?) When Marcelina and Catalino arrived with the

young couple, there was great excitement and they were formally

greeted as if they had been gone for years. People poked me

and pointed at them. "You should take their picture," they said.

It was an indication of the holiness of this ceremony that

in the early morning the men had taken corn to the molina to be

ground. It was special corn, new and white, which the women

weren't allowed to carry or grind. It made very fine nixtemal

and beautiful white tortillas. I offered the men a ride back

from the molino in my car, to see if the stricture against women

extended that far. They hastily accepted.

I had really gone to see the Festival of the Dead, and kept

being torn between observing all of the hand-washing and Pib

ceremonies, and wanting to know what was happening in the church,

at the home altars, or in the woods. Much to my surprise, I

found that Dona Antonia's sister and daughter had sung the evening

prayers, and were back to sing the morning mass for Dona Hilaria,

Don Eus' first wife. They were in the kitchen helping make

-- 7 --

tortillas, along with Bartola and her daughter. There was

great movement from one kitchen to another, with even Atala,

whom I had never seen in anyone else's house, coming in to

help Antonia. (Don Eus was in Merida at the time. She would

not have come, I am sure, with him in the house.) Eusebia

was often over helping Atala to thread her sewing machine.

One afternoon I suddenly felt my eyes watering as if the room

had been filled with cut onions. "Don't worry," I was told,

"Antonia has just begun to 'quemar chile'--burn the chile."

The chiles are put on a metal griddle over an open fire, and

after they cook are run through the molino to make a special

sauce for the bar-b-que. She was making this for Eusebia, as

Quintiliano was offering a special bar-b-que of a bull on the

12th. Juanita's husband, Eusebio, was making candles for Dona

Arcena who was offering the first gremio.

Maria seemed to be more at home and less involved with the

preparations for the fiesta. With the business of the molina,

she probably had to stay close to home almost all the time

since it seemed to be going steadily from four in the morning

until six at night. She locked it several mornings so she could

go to mass, and the people just had to wait.

For October 31st the home altars were set up with candles,

flowers and jicaras, the gourd bowls. They were set up with

lak, the pottery bowls and offerings of food for November 1st.

-- 8 -

There were white candles for October 31st, and black candles

for November 1st. As in most parts of Mexico, there is a very

real difference here between the day of the dead children--a

happy event--and the day of the dead adults, Alooe'ewLr I sk.

Antonia told us there would be no cemetery ceremony on

either night, but there was no time for us to check and make

sure. Driving into Piste to make a phone call, we saw the

many lighted candles in the cemetery at Xcualup. During this

whole week people were going to various homes to say rezas--

prayers for the dead. "The souls of the dead stay here for

eight days," I was told. Eusebia invited me to go with her to

the house of Don Santiago, where she and Juanita led a beautiful

reza together. Only the women and young girls were there.

We could see the little children playing outside in the sunlight

through the slats in the house. Don Santiago arrived just as

the prayers and singing ended, as the atole and cornmeal bread

baked specially in the pib was offered to the guests. The cere-

mony had been for his first wife who had died, and it was his

second wife who had arranged it with Eusebia. Eusebia and Juanita

seemed even closer than last time I was there. Juanita is more

self-assured, sings beautifully, and is looking so mature that

I wonder how much longer she will remain on the sidelines at the


By November fifth I realized that with all the gremios,

the pib, the masses, the novenas, and the general preparations

-- 9

that I had very few quiet conversations with my key women.

There were constant interruptions, even in the kitchens, with

people always coming and going to church or to someone else's

house. That Friday I went to breakfast early, determined to

find some quiet time and later to visit the partera. I found

Honoria rebuilding the side-board of her house. She is not

very close to many women in Chan Kom, and I have noticed that

she does a lot of the heavy work that the other women never
-o have to do. Pots and pans and clay water jugs were scattered

over her floor in great confusion. She was trying to cut a new

forked log--a ten inch thick one--and started hacking at it

with a machete. Then she called Mario to help her. He seems

to be spending more and more time with his mother now. Always

he used to slip in quietly in the evening for short visits,

but now he seems to be called in often for special jobs, and

stays longer. I watched him playing happily in the hammock

with his little brother Dario. He often eats meals at home now,

and I overheard Honoria offer him a peso to help her cut new

sticks for the wall. Alipio seems completely unconcerned that

his wife does so much of the heavy work. I asked Honoria why

Humberto helped Maria to do all this and Alipio didn't seem to

help her. "He is tired. He works on the highway all day and

when he comes home he is tired."

Antonia's kitchen was in complete disorder and breakfast

was a confused time. Don Eus was away in Merida, so everything

-- 10

was being rearranged. Dresses were being brought out and tried

on. According to Atala and Eusebia, most of everyone's clothing

is purchased every other year at fiesta time. I heard many

animated conversations about shoes, huipiles and cloth. But

just as I began getting into a real conversation, we were inter-

rupted again. It was Juanita's little boy. "Senora, my sister

Marcelina is very sick and my mother asks if you would please

take her to Valladolid." I learned that she had a severe pain

in her side, and was vomiting violently. So I immediately

agreed to take them to Valladolid. Maria broke into agitated

Mayan, using more energy than I had seen in her before. I

later found that she was telling them to take Marcelina to the

clinic in Xochenpich where she had gone, that they would be

very good to her there and let her stay if she needed to. I

was surprised at Maria's sudden burst of energy and involvement.

She is usually so reticent, coming and going quietly on the

edge of things. The gmbo interviews had to be postponed. I

packed film and letters to be mailed, picked up Marcelina, her

husband Marciano, her baby boy, and Maria Isabel, her husband's

sister, and set off for Xochenpich as they had asked. Marcelina

looked terrible. Pallid, frightened, her dress wet with milk

as she was a nursing mother, she looked so nauseated that I gave

her a paper bag to hold. But qhe held out until we got to

Xochenpich, vomiting violently several times as soon as we got

out of the car.

Ruth, the nurse, examined her briefly at first and said

she thought Marcelina had a gall bladder infection. She suggested

-- 11 --

that the family stay in the guest house until the could come

to check her more thoroughly. She gave Marcelina an injection

to calm her and stop the nausea. I was glad that Maria had

suggested taking Marcelina here, because now they knew where

the clinic was and in the future could meet Dr. Estrella.

He is taking over the clinic this year, and is interested in

setting up a branch clinic in Chan Kom if possible, and at

least in informing more people about it. He is the Mayan-

speaking doctor who was trained in birth control methods, and

I have great hopes that he will be able to help the women of

Chan Kom. I feel that if we could get a group discussion on

the techniques of birth control and general gynecological

information, the women would be very receptive to change.

I learned on that trip that my Presbyterian missionary

friends were preparing to leave Mexico. Appnar.ently the

American Presbyterians were pulling out so that the Mexican

Presbyterians could take over their school and mission. It

seemed like a step in the right direction.

On the way back I stopped to get gas in Piste and brought

fresh bread, still warm from the Pat's oven. "Will you tell

the Ceme's they're eating bread baked by the Pats?" Eliazar

asked me. "Now that you know where it's going, do you want to

add some veneno?" I countered. "They would blame you, Senora,"

they laughed. "You would have the culpa--blame." "You mean

I would be a pulyab," I said, having just learned the Mayan

-- 12 -

word for witch. There was more laughter, and then we talked

seriously of Chan Kom and my long interview with Don Epiphanio.

They were curious. "What did he say about us?" "Well, he

talked of the times long ago when you were all friends." The

heavy-set older man said, "The Ceme's seem like friends, but

watch out. Don't trust them." And he told me about their

days of religious disagreements. "They wanted us all to be

Catholics," he said indignantly. But just the day before Don

Epiphanio had told me, "The Pats wanted us all to be Protestants."

I reminded them of the fiesta. "Why don't you all come back and

smoke a peace pipe together?" And when the elder people were

not around, Eliazar told me that he did hope to get in for part

of the fiesta now that the road was open. (His young wife, co w o. Cce

incidentally, t**a** at the Presbyterian school, although she

still wears the medallion of the Virgin of Guadalupe around her

neck. She told me that she wanted to take it off but had nothing

to put in its place. That seemed unconvincing to me, but no

one seemed to mind that she wore it.)

Early the next morning a boy on bicycle came in with a message.

Don Eus had just gotten off the bus up at the juncture of the

highway. Could one of us please go pick him up? Susan picked

him up. She found him walking in from the highway, pulling two

heavy bags with his hands and another in his mouth. Alipio had

driven out with her, but when they reached Don Eus, she said,

"Alipio wouldn't even speak to his father, who was hot and sweaty

and tired. Alipio got out of the car, opened the door, and

ushered Don Eus into the back seat with his packs without saying

-- 13 --

a word." She mentioned the news of the governor's arrival

the next day. "Yes, I heard in a car in a radio from Merida,

so I hurried back. And I want you to receive the governor,

take him by the arm, and lead him to the platform." Later

there was a formal request that Susie and I both take parts

in the governor's arrival. I made it clear that we would be

glad to do anything to help, but it was their ceremony, and

we shouldn't be the ones to receive him. But Don Eus said

that he wanted it to show up in the papers in Merida, so that

people would know that Americans came to Chan Kom.

In the meantime, I had been distributing bread to Atala,

Bartola, Eusebia, Maria, Honoria, everyone except Arcena who

makes her own. I didn't tell anyone where it came from, and

they all commented on how delicious it was.

We went to Don Eus' for a talk. Upon arriving I felt

a great excitement in the air. Aurelio was sitting very near

Don Eus, who was lying in a hammock. Betog the tailor, secre-

tary of the president municipal, was nearby. The three men

were in deep discussion, intense, leaning in toward each other.

They welcomed us with unusual warmth. "We have just been talking,"

said Don Eus, "and we want you, Susie, to abrazar--embrace--the

governor.when he arrives. We want him to know that Americans

respect Chan Kom and come to visit. We want him to know that

you, Senora Maria, are doing work like the Carnegie Foundation.

We want you to take a film of it all, and record what I say,

and what the governor and all the autoridades say." They con-

tinued their talk, so we found places to sit inconspicuously,

but it took a while to disappear into the background.

After a while the planning was going strong again. Eusebio,

Juanita's husband, joined the group and soon the mood changed.

The Mayan words sounded angry. Aurelio moved his chair further

away from Don Eus. After a while, the young men left without

a word or even a signal of farewell. After a few minutes I

broke the quiet and asked Don Eus what had happened. "Oh, I

had forgotten that you were here." He explained that he had

been telling the men that as autoridades they should have made

all the plans and takehresponsibility for the governor's coming.

"They have money enough to buy the food. They should prepare

the breakfast for the governor's party." I had witnessed

them buying the big black turkey from Dona Antonia, examining

and poking it, trying to bring down the price. But apparently

they had expected Dona Antonia to prepare the meal herself.

"Their wives should help them," he said. "Atala doesn't want

to miss a day at her sewing matching, and Don Beto has two

sewing machines and a boy working for him, so if they have the

party at his house he will miss two days of sewing."

In the end, the breakfast was held."in the house of the

son of Don Epiphanio, next to the Palacio Municipal. Antonia,

Martina, and many of the other women helped fix the meal.

I asked why Martina had not been in on the planning, since she

too was a member of the junta, the first woman to hold that

position. "That's right. She should have been," they said.


- 14 -

Bt sh had o ay been forgotten. She also was not at
the table with the governor during the meal, and I found later
that she had been helping with the preparations. But she

said, "I told the governor I was the treasurer of the Junta
del Autoridades when he came out to thank the women." After

he had thanked the men for the breakfast, I asked him if he

didn't want to thank the women as well, so he went out back

and gave Antonia a big abrazo--hug.
That night I ran through the tapes I had taken during

the day. Atala must have heard it, because the next day she
asked me what Don Eus had said about her. "Did he say I

was stupid? Just because I can't read and write I'm not stupid.

I'm going to learn--I'm going to talk with the new school

teachers and set up an evening class. I know lots of things

even though I can't read and write. What did my father-in-law

say on the machine?" 2