I have always been fascinated by Mexican indigenous myths. I learned a number of them from my grandparents and they are an important part of my heritage. This made me want to share one of these stories for this special publication, but I also wanted to find a version of these myths that had been recorded in, and translated from, the original language in which it was told. I came across a fascinating academic article by Peter van der Loo and Felix Ramirez Cantu in which they set out to record two myths told by the Tlapanec people of Central Mexico, which they then translated, line by line, into Spanish and English. Though these myths are not stories I was personally familiar with, they perfectly embody the rhetorical and metaphorical language used by pre-Columbian cultures, as well as the arduous process that goes into translating these tales in order to keep them alive for future generations.
Bachelor student of Literature and Society, Vrije Universiteit
Fire, His Sister and the Lightnings
Fire and his wife did not have any children. One day Fire’s wife found four children in the field. They raised those kids as if they were their own children. Fire had a sister who has a lot of food. Because she had the power to attract everything she wanted to eat. That is why Fire wanted to take away his sister’s power to give it to his children. Fire looked for the right way to be able to get to his sister’s house to ask her her secret of how to obtain so much food. “This is what you want to know, brother? With my tongue I grab whatever I want to eat”. “I’ll give you a demonstration,” a lightning bolt came out of her mouth and the whole mountain caught fire because of her. “Show me that again,” said Fire. The lightning bolt came out of her mouth again. Then, rapidly Fire cut off his sister’s tongue with a splinter of reed. His sister was very mad for what he had done to her. Fire told her, “You abused your power killing many innocent animals.” It was established that the people would bring her counted offerings for her nourishment. Then Fire returned to his house and cut his sister’s tongue into four pieces. He gave a piece to each one of his children. For that reason each piece changed into a lightning for each boy. Among the four lightnings one turned out to be very jealous. Three lightnings are good natured. Those three make peaceful rain. The jealous lightning causes hail and hurricane rains. One lightning lives in the east. Another lightning lives in the west. Another lightning lives in the north. Another lightning lives in the south. Only, we don’t know where the jealous lightning lives.
Opossum and the Pulque
In ancient times people didn’t know pulque. Only one old woman who lived in the top of a mountain made pulque. But the old woman lived on the top of a very steep mountain, so that the people could not go there to drink pulque. So the ancient ones gathered together and decided to invite opossum, because of his ability to climb into impenetrable places, to steal the pulque for the humans. The Tlapanecs highly recommended the opossum because the old woman would not notice that he would be on a mission to steal the pulque. Then opossum said: “I accept your invitation, gentlemen. I will go and return and let you know if I could complete the task you gave me.” When opossum arrived at the old woman’s house he asked: “Let me try just a little pulque, ma’am.” Then the old woman said to opossum: “Since when do you know how to drink pulque?” “Sure, good old woman,” answered opossum “I really love pulque, that is why I sacrificed so much to come here to the top of the mountain where you live.” “Well then,” said the old woman, “wait while I go to gather the aguamiel opossum, so you can try some really tasty pulque.” “Excellent, ma’am,” said opossum. The old woman left to go through the magueyes row by row to gather aguamiel. At that moment opossum grabbed the opportunity to swallow the four huge jars of pulque that the old woman had. When the old woman returned to her house opossum was not there, he had left already. When she looked in the large jars, there was no pulque in them. The old woman said, “Damn you opossum, bare-tail, you finished all my pulque! One day I’m going to find you and kill you.” But there was nothing she could do, opossum had already left. When opossum returned where the people were waiting he told them: “Prepare four huge jars and put ‘timbre’ in them.” ‘Timbre’ is the bark of a tree that is used to make the pulque ferment so that one can get drunk. The ancient ones obeyed, and prepared the four jars. Then opossum began to empty himself, making the pulque spout through all parts of his body, filling the first jar, then filling the second jar, then filling the third jar, then filling the fourth jar. Then opossum said: “I have completed the mission that you gave me, gentlemen.” Seeing this, all of the ancient ones began to drink the pulque. When they became drunk they started to quarrel. The next day they didn’t want to look at each other, they were all mad. The animals said: “What could we do to make these people cheer up?” Some gave the opinion: “Let’s invite a stutterer to cheer them up.” When the stutterer started to speak, “ga ga, la la, aaaay, glu glu,” as they didn’t understand a thing, all started to laugh and that is how they cheered up. And that is how humans learned to make pulque. That is how the ancient ones say that the Tlapanecs learned how to make pulque.
Mexican Folk Literature
translation by Peter L. van der Loo
and Felix Ramirez Cantu
The Spanish and English translations of these folk tales were published in 2011:
“Dos Mitos Tlapanecos de Milanaltepec”
Peter L. van der Loo and Felix Ramirez Cantu
Revista Tlalocan, vol. 17, 2011