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La Educación
Número: (122) III
Año: 1995

The Decline to Dzul Rule (1901-1915)

The contrast between the textbook and Macehual histories is also evident in the recounting of the period after the Dzul successful invasion of the Macehual territory in 1901. In the textbook, this invasion marks the beginning of steady progress that culminates with Macehual integration into the “civilizing” influence of the nation-state. Women, along with men, subvert this description by presenting a notion of progress up to the time of Macehual self-rule. Afterwards, the sequence of the stories reveals the process of social decline by which they came to live again under Dzul domination: The Dzuloob entered the territory and they immediately started to survey the area looking for the Macehual enemy. Decline is a main theme in the histories of this period of calamitous years of flight in which the Macehualoob scattered and searched for sanctuary in the forests. This theme of deterioration is also prevalent in the smallpox epidemic that decimated them. None of these events are presented in the textbook.

Women elaborate on the theme of decline by presenting the disease and hunger they experienced in the forest, but in their accounts they portray this decline as a process of survival. They speak of Macehual hunger in the Chilam Balam style, by simultaneously listing the ways of countering it or eradicating it. Thus, they transform the threat of dying into a description of survival. For instance, when women recount the efforts to keep babies alive during these years of flight, they would usually describe in detail the specific strategies they used.

Los zapotes
maduran en las matas
y se caen.

Entran bichitos
y el zapote se queda seco
y viejo.

Agarraban ese zapote caído,
sacaban el polvito zapote,
y lo echaban dentro del agua

y se lo tomaban.

(Doña Francisca: 6-23-91)

The zapotes
[fruit of the zapodilla tree]
ripen in the trees
and fall.

Bugs get in
and the zapote is left dry
and old.

They would grab that fallen
zapote, take out the
powder, and put it in the
water and drink it.

(Doña Francisca: 6-23-91)

At every turn of the narratives, women teach us that the Macehualoob find a way to overcome the barriers that threaten to destroy them. They fight hunger by eating roots and honey by and drinking water from the cane. They save babies by feeding them water with honey and the powder of the ripe zapodilla fruit. In so doing, they speak in detail of survival procedures, such as combating the cold by dressing with xaan, guano leaves, and treating smallpox by laying the sick over banana leaves. Similarly, the nohoch macoob mention the remedies for treating smallpox, such as drinking ground squash seeds dissolved in water, or bathing in the juice of young corn, xmehen-nal.

The narrative selections of the nohoch macoob are in great part motivated by their concern with the end of the world. According to the Chilam Balam, “three times it has happened this way and three times it has been necessary to make bread with the cup-root because of the famine” (Craine and Reindrop 1979, 85). Likewise, their prophecies tell the nohoch macoob that the end of Dzul rule will be characterized by disease and flight. Through the detailed listing of numerous roots, fruits, and honeys, as well as of remedies to combat smallpox, the nohoch macoob tell of the importance of learning: the strategies that will enable them to have access to food, fight the cold, or cure the sick when the Macehualoob are faced again with such a predicament. Thus, the nohoch macoob elaborate on the theme of decline, disease and hunger during those years of flight; but in their accounts, they portray this decline as a process of survival.

The action of the narratives also centers on the Macehual efforts to resist by becoming imperceptible. The Macehualoob hid in caves and trees, and tiptoed from stone to stone. As don Ramiro told me:

En ese tiempo,
los Macehualoob caminaban mucho.

Pero no dejan huellas.

No se van a ver huellas,

Esas huellas no existen.

La gente sabe por donde ir.

Cuando van los soldados Mayas,
brinquitos solo sobre piedras.


During that time,
the Macehauloob walked a lot.

But they do not leave prints.

The prints are not going to be

Those prints do not exist.

People know where to walk.

When the Mayan soldiers go,
they jump onto the stones.


Women’s stories emphasize that they erased all sound by cutting the throats of roosters and by putting muzzles over dogs’ snouts. They recount that they silenced children by putting cotton and cloth in their mouths and by hiding them in caves and wells. Moreover, consistent with the view that they might need this knowledge again in the future war, they passed on these procedures. For instance, they explained that “parents would lower their children inside a well using a wood that is called ch’oy chun,” and proceeded to explain the process used to make the bucket. “They take away the hair, they roast it in the fire, peel it, cut it to make a bucket, a basket. The child is put inside and is left there. They close the well and one cannot hear them when they cry.”

In women’s narratives, resistance acts as a warning against Macehual betrayal and separation. Women’s histories often center on the experiences of mothers with little children who walked by themselves because no one wanted to join them for fear of being discovered by the children’s cries. These mothers are presented heroically. They speak of women having children by themselves, silencing them with their breasts, and succeeding in surviving. In contrast, those women who refused to join them were invariably discovered and raped or killed by the soldiers as punishment for their betrayal. The following passage from doña Anita is a case in point.
My grandmother walked for about six months in the forest. When she fled to the forest, she had a baby boy and was pregnant with another one. There were five girls that were going with her. But these girls were only with her for a little while because they were afraid to be discovered by the baby’s cries. ‘Let’s part from this grandmother,’ they said among themselves, ‘because with her child, the huachoob [Mexican soldiers] are going to discover us soon.’ They left her and started to walk by themselves. She [the grandmother] felt very sad when the girls left her with her son. You know the big trees that have a hole. That is where she hid. She hid inside caves and in the low part of the forest [kom]. In all these places, she was hiding with her son. When the boy was hungry, she would fetch the powder of the zapote in a can of milk. She would heat the water, put in the powder, and give it to the boy to drink. Then, after a while, she heard the huachoob pass. When the huachoob would hear the cries of the boy, they would think it was a bird. ‘Oh that is a bird,’ she would hear them say. In their conversations, she would also hear them name people such as Juan, Pedro, and Juana. The girls who separated from her were seized by the huachoob. She heard them crying near where she was because the huachoob passed over [raped] them. They made them [the girls] evil [meta ola tioob] (3-28-91).
In this story, doña Anita explores the theme of resistance in the most adverse situation: a pregnant woman living with a child in the forest. This vulnerability condemned her to walking alone, as younger women refused to walk with her for fear that her child would attract the Mexican soldiers’ attention. The story exemplifies resistance in the strategies of survival that are conveyed, including where one hides in the forest (“inside caves and in the low part of the forest”), what one feeds a baby (“the powder of the zapote”), and how to cook. It also teaches that women’s power is able to neutralize the danger of the Dzuloob.11 Although the huach enemy passes by so near that she even hears them say “names such as Juan, Pedro, and Juana,” doña Anita’s grandmother expresses her power magically, making the soldiers, “hear bird songs when her child cries.” The story then warns against Macehual betrayal, directing attention to the fate of the young women who are raped (“passed over”) and possibly killed, (“made evil”) by the soldiers.

The narratives emphasize that concealment is forced upon them by the Dzuloob, while simultaneously stressing that they are resisting. In men’s narratives, concealment becomes an important component of defense allowing them to make traps and weapons, while in women’s narratives it is expressed only through hiding in trees, in the low forest, and in the importance of mutual help.

In Macehual history, the overwhelming deterioration of their lives is represented by the tremendous sufferings they experienced as a result of the Dzul. Hunger, disease, and violence are all variations on that broad and continuous stream of suffering. Yet, women teach that the Macehualoob refused to capitulate to the Dzuloob on any front. Neither hunger, disease nor violence made them yield. They devised strategies of silence and invisibility, hiding in caves, wells, and the low forest, slitting roosters’ throats, muzzling their dogs, and silencing their children. Thus, women present their audience with an inspirational vision of courage in the face of adversity by enumerating the virtues of endurance and cunning which are fundamental to Macehual survival.