I Moved To Oaxaca

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Sometimes my school schedule stinks, and sometimes it’s pretty darn good. In October I’d have to say it’s definitely the latter. I rotated out of my early Saturday morning class, so no more getting up at 6am on the weekend–though I still have to get up before the sun Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But I have no classes Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I’m going into exploration overdrive!

This last Sunday we drove out to the Mixteca to pick up Teposcolula; not a big day for Pre-hispanic artifacts, but a beautiful drive, and we had fun.

Tuesday we went back to the Mixteca for a third try at the community museum in Yucuita. On our previous visit we’d explored the ruins–including the bat-filled waterworks–and seen the carved stones in the town plaza, but it had been a Sunday and the museum was closed. We figured we’d have a much better shot at it on a Tuesday.

Well, we didn’t. It was again locked up tight, and the holder of the only key wasn’t around. A woman working in the presidencia directed us to a house up the street; the woman in the house up the street directed us back down the street to another house. As we hesitantly walked past the presidencia on our way to the second house, a man came over and asked us something we didn’t catch. We mentioned that we were in town to see the museum. He affirmed that it was closed, but asked us if we wanted to see the artifacts he had in his house.

I have to say, city girl that I am, my first reaction was suspicion: what, walk into a stranger’s house? To look at "artifacts"? It sounded like the set-up to a TV movie of the week, one involving ignorant gringos ending up in Mexican jail for antiquities theft. But then I came to my senses, and we said, Sure! Let’s go.

His name was Sr. Javier Ramos, and he lived just off the plaza. We walked into his house, and he invited us in to the living room and offered us a seat at the dining table. It was a typical middle-class village house, made out of concrete with rooms around an open courtyard. Only this house had a very motionless, very quiet, very old lady, head draped with a rebozo, holding a cane and sitting in a chair. She never looked at us or spoke to us, much less moved. (Turned out she wasn’t being stand-offish; she was blind and almost deaf.)

Sr. Ramos’s wife Sara came out and offered us something to drink. While she busied herself in the kitchen her husband brought out a small box filled with–wow. Sr. Ramos said that the museum was always closed because it wasn’t really a museum but a room in the presidencia the town used to store local finds. And apparently it either didn’t all fit in the presidencia, or people also brought stuff to Sr. Ramos. In the little box were several strings of beautiful polished jadeite, shell, and bone beads, delicate conch mother-of-pearl buttons and dangles, small pottery offering jars and human figurines, and lithic tools made from both the creamy-colored local chert and black obsidian imported from the Mexico City area: scrapers and a score or more of lovely arrowheads, and faceted obsidian points of some mysterious use.

The Sra. handed us our drinks and sat down to watch our reactions as Sr. Ramos brought out box and bag after box and bag of artifacts: a large incense burner. Rasps and polishers and metates. A gorgeous heart-shaped mortar. Polished stone labrets and pendants and other face and/or body jewelry. A beautiful bone sewing or basketry awl. Possum and eagle and jaguar and dog figurines. Stamps for making pottery. Small, incised pottery discs. Polychrome pottery bowls. What looked like a small stone dildo. Metal bells. A clay rattle. By the time the last box had been trotted out, the Ramoses not-small dining table was covered with Pre-hispanic artifacts. Artifacts that we got to handle and touch and scrutinize to our heart’s content!

While we were flipping through a pair of oversize books on Mixtec art and history, Sr. Ramos asked us if we wanted to see a piece found while the town was working on the road. We said sure, and the Sra. went off to retrieve it from her brother’s house. When she brought it in to the living room we were stunned. It was about a foot tall, and a lovely polished red and orange polychrome with a bird design around the rim. A major museum quality piece, which we also got to hold and admire close up.

We took so many pictures we filled a 256mb memory card and just about drained our camera battery. I’ll post a movie shortly so you can see what I mean. Finally, Sr. Ramos brought out several maps and talked to us about the next pueblo up, Santa Maria Yucuñdahui, which has a related set of ruins. He said, if we wanted to see it we should call him and he’d take us up there. So now I have his phone number and another reason to go back to Yucuita a fourth time. This town really sticks like glue.


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