CHIAPAS: The Thirteenth Stele
Part Three: A Name
Itís raining. As it does here in July, the seventh month of the year. Iím shivering next to the stove, turning around and around, as if I were a chicken on a rotisserie, to see if I can dry off like that a bit. It so happened that the meeting with the committees ended quite late, at dawn, and we were camped a good distance from where the meeting took place. It wasnít raining when we left, but, as if it were waiting for us, an almighty downpour was unleashed right when we were halfway there, when it would have been the same distance to go back or to keep on going. The rebels went to their respective huts to change out of their wet uniforms. I didnít, not out of bravery, but out of idiocy, because it so happens that, seeking to lighten the weight of my backpack, I wasnít carrying a change of clothes. And so, here I am, making like a "Sinaloa style chicken". Uselessly, to boot, because, for some reason, which Iím not able to fathom, my cap acts like a sponge, absorbing the water when it rains and exuding it only when its inside. The fact is, inside the hut where the stove is, I have my own personal rain. These absurdities donít astonish me. After all, weíre in zapatista lands, and here the absurd is as frequent as the rain, especially in the seventh month of the year. Now Iíve really thrown too much wood on the fire, not figuratively, and now the flames are threatening to burn the roof. "Thereís no bad that canít get worse", I say to myself, remembering one of Duritoís refrains, and itís best that I leave.
Outside there isnít any rain above, but thereís a deluge under my cap. Iím trying to light a pipe with the bowl turned down when Major Rolando arrives. He just watches me. He looks at the sky (which, at this altitude, is already completely clear and with a moon that looks, believe me, like a noonday sun). He looks at me again. I understand his confusion and say: "Itís the cap". Rolando says "Mmh", which has come to mean something like "Ah". More rebels come over and, of course, a guitar (and, yes, thatís dry), and they start singing. Rolando and yours truly burst into a duet, "La Chancla", in front of a confused public, because the "hit parade" here leans towards cumbias, folk songs and norteñas.
Having seen a repeat of my failed launch as a singer, I withdrew to a corner and followed the wise counsel of Monarca, who, just like Rolando, kept looking at me, looked at the sky, looked at me again and just said: "Take off your cap, Sup". I took it off and, of course, my private rain stopped. Monarca went over to where the others were. I told Captain José Luis (who acts as my bodyguard) to go rest, that I wasnít going to be doing anything now. The Captain went, but not to rest, rather to join in with the singing.
And so I was left alone. Still shivering, but now without rain over me. I went back to trying to light my pipe, now with the bowl turned up, but then I discovered that my lighter had gotten wet, and it wouldnít even flicker. I murmured: "Son of a bitch, now I canít even light my pipe", certain that my "sex appeal" would be going to hell. I was searching in my pantsí pockets (and thereís quite a few), not for a paperback edition of the Kamasutra, but for a dry lighter, when a flame was lit quite close to me.
I recognized the face of Old Antonio behind the light, I moved the bowl of my pipe to the lit match and, still puffing, I said to Old Antonio: "Itís cold".
"It is", he responded, and he lit his hand rolled cigarette with another match. By the light of the cigarette, Old Antonio kept looking at me, then he looked at the sky, then he looked at me again, but he didnít say anything. I didnít either, certain that Old Antonio was already accustomed, as I was, to the absurdities which inhabit the mountains of the Mexican southeast. A sudden wind put out the flame, and we were left with just the light of a moon that was like an axe, jagged from use, and smoke scratching at the darkness. We sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree. I believe we were silent for a time, I donít remember very well, but the fact is that, without my hardly noticing, Old Antonio was already recounting to me...
The History of the Upholder of the Sky
"According to our earliest ones, the sky must be held up so that it does not fall. The sky is not simply firm, every once in a while it becomes weak and faints, and it just lets itself fall like the leaves fall from the trees, and then absolute disasters happen, because bad comes to the milpa and the rain breaks everything and the sun punishes the land and it is war which rules and it is the lie which conquers and it is death which walks and it is sorrow which thinks.
Our earliest ones said that it happens like this because the gods who made the world, the most first, put so much effort into making the world that, after they finished it, they did not have much strength left for making the sky, the roof of our home, and they just put whatever they had there, and so the sky is placed above the earth just like one of those plastic roofs. Thus the sky is not simply firm, at times it comes loose. And you must know that when this happens, the winds and waters are disrupted, fire grows restless, and the land gets up and walks, unable to find peace.
That is why those who came before we did said that four gods, painted in different colors, returned to the world. They placed themselves at the four corners of the world in order to grab hold of the sky so that it would not fall and it would stay still and good and even, so sun and moon and stars and dreams could walk without difficulty.
However, those of the first steps on these lands recount, by times one or more of the bacabes, the upholders of the sky, would start to dream or would be distracted by a cloud, and then he would not hold up his side of the earthís roof tightly, and then the sky the roof of the world, would come loose and would want to fall over the earth, and the sun and the moon would not have an even path and nor would the stars.
That is how it happened from the beginning, that is why the first gods, those who birthed the world, left one of the upholders of the sky in charge, and he had to stay alert, in order to read the sky and to see when it began coming loose, and then this upholder had to speak to the other upholders in order to awaken them, so they would tighten up their side and put things straight again.
And this upholder never sleeps, he must always be alert and watchful, in order to awaken the others when evil falls on the earth. And the most ancient of journey and word say that this upholder of the sky carries a caracol [conch] hanging from his chest, and he listens to the sounds and silences of the world with it, and he calls the other upholders with it so that they do not sleep or in order to awaken them.
And those who were the very first say that this upholder of the sky, so that he would not sleep, came and went inside his own heart, by way of the paths he carried in his chest, and those ancient teachers say that this upholder taught men and women the word and its writing, because they say that while the word walks the world it is possible for evil to be quieted and for the world to be just right, they say.
That is why the word of the one who does not sleep, of he who is alert to evil and its wicked deeds, does not travel directly from one side to the other, instead he walks towards himself, following the lines of reason, and the knowledgeable ones from before say that the hearts of men and women have the shape of a caracol, and those of good heart and thoughts walk from one side to the other, awakening the gods and men so that they will be alert to whether the world is just right.. That is why the one who stays awake when the others are sleeping uses his caracol, and he uses it for many things, but most especially in order to not forget".
With his last words, Old Antonio had taken a wand and sketched something in the dirt. Old Antonio goes, and I go as well. The sun is just barely peeking through the horizon in the east, as if it were just looking, as if checking to see if the one who is staying awake has not gone to sleep, and if there is someone staying alert for the world to become fine again.
I returned there at the hour of pozol, when the sun had already dried the earth and my cap. At one side of the fallen trunk, I saw the sketch which Old Antonio had made on the ground. It was a firmly traced spiral, it was a caracol.
The sun was halfway through its journey when I returned to the meeting with the committees. The death of the "Aguascalientes" having been decided the previous dawn, now being decided was the birth of the "Caracoles", with other functions in addition to the ones the now dying "Aguascalientes" had.
And so the "Caracoles" will be like doors for going into the communities and for the communities to leave. Like windows for seeing us and for us to look out. Like speakers for taking our word far, and for listening to what is far away. But, most especially, for reminding us that we should stay awake and be alert to the rightness of the worlds which people the world.
The committees of each region have met together in order to name their respective caracoles. There will be hours of proposals, discussions on translations, laughter, anger and voting. I know that takes a long time, so I withdraw and tell them to let me know when an agreement has been reached.
In the barracks now, we are eating, and then, sitting around the table, Monarca says that he has found a really "fantastic" pool for bathing and he doesnít know what all else. The fact is that Rolando, who doesnít bathe even in his own self... defense, gets enthusiastic and says "Letís go".
Iíve been listening with some skepticism (it wouldnít be the first time that Monarca has been up to tricks), but, since we have to wait anyway for the committees to reach agreement, I say "Letís go" as well. José Luis stays in order to catch up with us later, because he hasnít eaten, and so the three of us - Rolando, Monarca and me - leave first. We cross a pasture, and nothing. We cross a milpa, and nothing. I told Rolando: "I think weíre going to arrive when the war is already over". Monarca replies that "weíre just about there".
We finally arrive. The pool is in a ford of the river where cattle cross and is, therefore, muddy and surrounded with cow and horse dung. Rolando and I protest in unison. Monarca defends himself: "It wasnít like this yesterday". I say: "Besides, its cold now, I donít think Iím going to bathe". Rolando, who lost his enthusiasm during the walk, remembers that dirt, like Piporro put it so well, also protects against bullets, and he joins in with a "I donít think I will either". Monarca lets out then with a speech about duty and I donít know what all else and says that "privations and sacrifices donít matter". I ask him what duty has to with his bloody pool, and then he delivers a low blow, because he says: "Ah, then youíre backing out".
He shouldnít have said it. Rolando was grinding his teeth like an angry boar while he was taking his clothes off, and I was chewing my pipe as I undressed completely, down to completely revealing my "other average personal details". We dove into the water, more out of pride than desire. We bathed somehow, but the mud left our hair in such a state that we would have been the envy of the most radical punk. José Luis arrived and said "the waterís a mess". Roland and I said to him, in stereo, "Ah, then youíre backing out". And so José Luis also got into the muddy pool. When we got out, we realized that no one had brought anything to dry ourselves off with. Rolando said "Then weíll dry off in the wind". And so we only put on our boots and our pistols, and we started back, absolutely stark naked, with our minutiae exposed, drying ourselves in the sun.
Suddenly José Luis, who was marching in the vanguard, alerted us, saying "people coming". We put on our ski... masks and continued on ahead. It was a group of compañeras who were going to wash clothes in the river. Of course they laughed and someone said something in their language. I asked Monarca if heíd heard what they said, and he told me "There goes the Sup". Hmm... I say they recognized me by the pipe, because, believe me, I havenít given them any reason to have recognized me from the "other" average personal details.
Before we got to the barracks, we got dressed, even though we were still wet, because we didnít want to disturb the rebels either. They advised us then that the committees had already finished. Each caracol now had a name assigned:
The Caracol of La Realidad, of Tojolabal, Tzeltal and Mame zapatistas, will be called "Madre de los Caracoles del Mar de Nuestros Sueños" [Mother of Caracoles of the Sea of Our Dreams], or "S-NAN XOCH BAJ PAMAN JA TEZ WAYCHIMEL KUíUNTIC".
The Caracol of Morelia, of Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Tojolabal zapatistas, will be called "Torbellino de Nuestras Palabras" [Whirlwind of Our Words], or "MUCíUL PUY ZUTUíIK JUíUN JCíOPTIC".
The Caracol of La Garrucha, of Tzeltal zapatistas, will be called "Resistencia Hacia un Nuevo Amanecer" [Resistance for a New Dawn], or "TE PUY TAS MALIYEL YAS PAS YACHíIL SACAL QUINAL".
The Caracol of Roberto Barrios, of Chol, Zoque and Tzeltal zapatistas, will be called "El Caracol Que Habla Para Todos" [The Caracol Which Speaks For All], or "TE PUY YAX SCOíPJ YUíUN PISILTIC" (in Tzeltal), and "PUY MUITITíAN CHA ĎAN TI LAK PEJTEL" (in Chol).
The Caracol of Oventik, of Tzotziles and Tzeltales, will be called "Resistencia y Rebeldía Por la Humanidad" [Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity], or "TA TZIKEL VOCOLIL XCHIUC JTOYBAILTIC SVENTA SLEKILAL SJUNUL BALUMIL".
That afternoon it didnít rain, and the sun was able to come out without any problems, traveling through a level sky, towards the house it has behind the mountain. The moon came out then, and, even though it seems incredible, the dawn warmed the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
(To be continued...)
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, July of 2003.
Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN
Translated by irlandesa