Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week 4: Visit to Rural Indigenous Village

By Amanda Terwey
Bemidji State University

On Tuesday, February 16 we visited Amatlán de Quetzalcoatl. This is the village where the half-human, half-god Toltec Emperor Quetzalcoatl was born. Arriving there we met with a shaman, an indigenous spiritual leader. He is also a member of the Community Land Council. We began our day with a talk explaining the town of Amatlán. History of the town dates back between 4,000 and 7,000 years based on archeological findings in the mountains.

Where the Ancient Drawings Are

It is a small community with about one thousand inhabitants. The people are at risk, states the indigenous leader, of losing their Nahua language due to outside influences. The community is about fifteen minutes from Tepoztlan, a tourist area. This is just one of the issues the talk brought about. Other issues included land and healthcare.

As a veterinarian the indigenous leader is educated in the area of health. He says through traditions health is a gift, but now healthcare is business. It puts a price on a person’s health. Along with health their land has a price. The idea of communal land is something that needs to be recognized. The indigenous spiritual leader made an excellent point by stating that a person can put a few stones in their pocket but can never pick up and move the land. There is the belief that land is not meant to be bought and sold.

Land is not meant to be bought or sold

As for outside influences coming and moving into the community, that is another issue. They are not against investment, but they are against exploitation. He mentioned of two instances where people have come to live in the community of Amatlan. One was a hotel that had lied of their intentions. They did not involve the people of the community, and were dishonest about the use they would make of the land. The other instance was of a doctor that came to meetings, contributed to the community, and had many community members working in the hospital.

There is a difference between joining a community and contributing to it and “joining” a community and using it for your own greedy purposes.

What was evident of our day with this indigenous leader was his passion. The quote from that day that spoke the most to me was when he was speaking of the Spanish during their conquest of Mexico. Paraphrasing, this is what he said, “When torturing an emperor to discover where the treasure was, the emperor said (before he died) that the greatest treasure was in the heads and hearts of the people.

Walk to sacred site

From the little time we were able to spend in Amatlán we could feel a sense of community and passion of the people. We were fortunate enough to eat comida (lunch), which consisted of sopes (tortillas with beans, cheese, onions and salsa on top) and then hike to a sacred ground with the indigenous leader as our guide. We were able to experience a partial indigenous spiritual ceremony. We learned of many things during our time in Amatlán, and from listening to a wise passionate man.


  1. This sounded like a great way to spend an afternoon. I thought it was especially interesting when you talked about health being a gift and the belief that land is not meant to be bought and sold. In today’s society, especially here in the United States, we have become a very materialized society. Everything has a price tag and we always want the best and most expensive thing we can get our hand on whether it is electronic devices, land, or even our health; we want the best. I think in a lot of ways we would be better off if we still had the views the indigenous leader and we lived our lives with health being a gift and land that is not sold and bought. Maybe if everything didn’t have such high price tags there would be less people in poverty and homeless. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  2. Amanda, I loved your photos and your thoughtful reflections. I especially appreciated your emphasis on the strength of the community and the passion of the people, who maintain their ancient spiritual traditions and work together collectively. I think that the value of community and collective work is something that has been lost all too often in the United States - something that we need to relearn. Thanks! - Ann Lutterman-Aguilar

  3. thanks for the detailed descriptions and evocative photos -- I'm learning a lot "over you shoulders!


  4. I was not aware that Quetzalcoatl was considered to have been born/created in Amatlan! I'm really glad you talked about the commual lands, and even more, about Nachos view on health care. I think he has a very important view that health is a universal right, and not something that should have a price put on it. Even though in the USA we talk about how life is a basic life and guarentee, our inablity to provide for lower income individuals contradicts this point.

  5. Kelly:

    Outsiders coming into this community trying to westernize (I don't know if westernizing is the correct term because Latin America is considered west) is not right nor fair to the people inhabiting the community. I watched a film in my Environmental Justice and Social Change class earlier this year that also provides an example of westernizing a culture inhabiting an island. In the film- the islanders lived their lives day-by-day, not needing the help of the outside world. Finally when the island was at risk of flooding, outsiders came to help. Before making any decisions the outsiders observed the communities way of living. They could not believe that they could live on this island without the help of westernization. This proves that outside help is not always needed (unless in a crisis like flooding).
    When explaining the two outside influences (the hotel and the doctor) I think this quote is perfect for the situation:
    There is a difference between joining a community and contributing to it and “joining” a community and using it for your own greedy purposes.
    -This is so true! This blog hit me hard, along with the situation Amatlan is going through. Thanks for the post.

  6. Hi Amanda!

    This sounds like a great way to enjoy the day. The photos are beautiful and your thoughts on the trip was amazing. Very great indepth thought on it. It makes me want to go visit Amatlán de Quetzalcoatl! :)

    I also like what the leader said, “When torturing an emperor to discover where the treasure was, the emperor said (before he died) that the greatest treasure was in the heads and hearts of the people.” This was very touching and amazing to me.

    Great blog! Keep it up. :)

    Pang Khang

  7. This does sound like a very eventful day. It is hard to believe outside influences are coming in and changing it. it seems like what they have known as their way of life is good. Why does anything need to be changed? if this is what their used to. To me, i guess it's the world we live in, cultures and communities are being changed all over the world. Maybe not all for the best intentions. Sometimes it can be really helpful other times it erases a people's culture and native language. I think having new people come into the community is not bad, but not telling the people is bad. The native people have probably lived here for thousands of years, so they should have the most say in what changes are made to their community.
    Overall, a very excellent blog, with very pretty pictures

    Thomas Orbison

  8. Great blog post. I can relate to the struggles of the natives losing their language. I am starting to see back in my home town that the Laotian people are losing their language also. Everytime we talk to each other its a mixture of English and Laotian. I've noticed that our language is fading away and that we are losing our sense of tradition. When I read that a hotel came into the town and lied about their intentions, that made me upset. Why would companies come in and try to take over a small piece of heritage? Its not right unless they did have good intentions. Hearing about the doctor who came in and made a difference was good to read about. Knowing that they're still people out there willing to help keeps me motivated.

    Boonchan K. SWK280 Student

  9. Excellent blog so thoughtful & meaningful! Just After Reading the blog and seeing the pictures I could sense the sacredness of this wonderful place. It's unfortunate that there are people who want to take away from the sacredness and turn it into something else...
    I value the boundary waters and for many years people have tried to take away from, for lack of a better word, the naturalness of it. It's not as sacred as Amatlán de Quetzalcoatl, but I can understand why the leader would feel the way he does. Why change something so wonderful that has brought peace and value to so many people?

    Alicia Fowler