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The Zapotec and the Mixtec, a Historic Novel

an excerpt from the introduction of a novel in progress by Maru Eibich

My sister Marie Antoinette and Guillermo Marin Ruiz, author of Toltecayotl and Aqui Oaxaca, dared me to write a novel about the Zapotec and Mixtec. I am a former librarian. I started my research in 1999 and I started writing in 2004. - Maru Eibich

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A young Canadian librarian is hired to catalogue archaeological artifacts discovered in Teozapotlan, in the southern part of Oaxaca, but arrives instead in Teotitlan. She soon discovers the mistake was made because the names sound almost the same to her. The young woman meets two married couples who offer to take her to her destination, but the first stage ends up in Oaxaca. During the time that it takes to travel to the City of Jade, she is told by her new friends that Oaxaca has a climate that varies from humid and hot in the coastal areas, hot and dry in the central zones, to cold and wet in the plains at 2,000 metres above sea level. No less than nine spectacular bays covered with golden sand are bathed by the balmy waters of the Pacific Ocean in this true hypnotic Southern Belle State.

The two couples take turns describing to their guest the central region of the valley of Oaxaca that is made up by the Valley of Etla, the Valley of Zimatlan and the Valley of Tlacolula, to form a wide Y shape with Tlacolula spreading to the east, Zimatlan to the south and Etla to the north-west. These valleys embrace an area of approximately twenty miles or thirty kilometres. Between the two arms of the Y, lies the beautiful colonial City of Jade. The state of Oaxaca is cradled by the impassable rugged mountains of the Sierra Madre to the South and to the East and the so called Sierra Atravesada. These are fragmented by many canyons, deep caverns, gorges and numerous precipices. The high land that extends to the north is called the Mixteca Alta, and the low land to the west and to the south to the Pacific Coast, the Mixteca Baja. These territories are inhabited by the Mixtec - People of the Rain - and the mountains to the north and to the east, are the domain of the People of the Clouds or Zapotec. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Zapotec and the Mixtec lived rather in isolation.

Our young Canadian, while waiting for transportation to take her to her final destination, is lodged at the home of two Spanish ladies, the owners of an old colonial house, today Posada San Pablo. One day, during a leisure walk, the young woman enters an antiquarian bookstore in the Zocalo - main plaza - where she comes across an out of print historical novel that takes her back to pre-Hispanic times. Our librarian is astonished to find that despite their geographical isolation, the Zapotec were one of the most advanced and influential civilizations in the area. They had developed their own distinct style of architecture. but had frequent and prolonged wars against the Mixtec. The two also fought numerous ethnic groups that shared the valley. Today, Oaxaca still is home to sixteen ethnic groups, each speaking their own language and many dialects.

The Zapotec social structure included kings, nobles and priests with the lower casts paying tribute to them. The priests, however, had, beside their priestly duties, total power in all domestic affairs because their government was essentially a theocracy. This was similar to the Mixtec culture.

Ten kilometres from Oaxaca, there was the Zapotec sacred place - Dauya quch - later named, for unknown reason, Monte Alban. It was a magnificent place founded in 500 B.C., that flourished until 700 A.D. The awesome building was erected atop a mountain. The mountain was labouriously flattened by the Zapotec, to accommodate the stones for the palace and temple at 400 metres above the valley. It had, of course, a breath-taking panoramic view of the valley below. This large archaeological site speaks for itself; location, location, location.

When the city was finished it measured 40 square kilometres. All its buildings were cleverly inter-connected through numerous underground tunnels so the priests could easily move from place to place. It is believed, by many, that the city of Oaxaca is crisscrossed with tunnels that lead to the next state. The priests were great astronomers and superb mathematicians are believed to be the first creators of an accurate calendar consisting of 365 solar days to follow the path of the stars to plant their crops. They also observed a second calendar that was a very elaborate religious system based on a 256 days cycle. Some experts believed that the Zapotec borrowed this from the Maya, but there is no evidence to that.

The Zapotec and the Mixtec, had coexisted together for millennia until the 13th Century when the Mixtec invaded the capital city of the Zapotec and partially conquered them. The Mixtec took over many of the buildings and added their influence to the already well established Zapotec culture.

In the 14th Century, the powerful warrior nation, the Mexica, arrived in Oaxaca from the Valley of the Anahuac - Valley of Mexico. The Mexica traded with the Mixtec for gold and other commodities and knew that the Mixtec had a successful and profitable trade route that extended from Tenochtitlan in the north to South America. The Mexica were called Tenocha by other ethnic groups because they were the founders of the City of Tenochtitlan - Mexico City.

The Mexica were constantly at war seeking to expand their empire and subjugate other tribes. On this particular occasion, the Mexica intended to appropriate for themselves the Mixtec trade route. Soon, the intruders had to erect a large garrison that they named Huaxyacac - a Nahuatl name meaning On the Nose of the Guaje - for protection of the soldiers sent by Moctecuzoma Ilhuicamina and Ahuizotl, to guard the usurped trade route and to demand tribute from the Mixtec, the Zapotec and the other ethnic groups in the area. This intrusion, however, was only the first stage; the winds of change would continue from then on to afflict the land. The Mexica were settled over the land for about half a century when the winds of change would blow to write history once again. This time, unfortunately, the winds would blow with a disastrous force that eventually vanquished, if not entirely all ethnic population, all indigenous cultures in the entire American Continent.

In 1519, a group of misfits and adventurers seeking their fortune arrived from across the sea. Historians later would call this foreign infiltration, the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. The Spaniards were a different lot from other Europeans that later arrived in other parts of America. They alone managed to destroy everything in their path out of ignorance, religious Christian fanaticism and an insatiable hunger for gold, power, and new land. After the Europeans subjugated other nations, among those the mighty Mexica, it wasn’t long before, in their incessant search for riches, they arrived in Oaxaca in 1521. The Zapotec managed to maintain a political autonomy by an alliance with the Spanish who later conquered other ethnic groups before they did the same with the Maya and finally the Inca. Eventually, all indigenous nations everywhere in the American Continent were defeated. Most of them succumbed to the Europeans and their brutal imposition of conversion to the foreign Christian faith, laws, new language, traditions and alien culture.

A few nations succeeded in preserving their customs and language through their oral traditions; such were the Zapotec and Mixtec. These two empires in Mexico had flourished long before Jesus Christ and the new religion, Christianity, came to be known. The Zapotec and the Mixtec are two cultures linked together. One begins exactly where the other ends.

Maru Eibich
August 2005

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