EZLN communique on indigenous language

BOriginally published in Spanish by the EZLN
Translated by irlandesa

Words of the EZLN
February 25, 2001 in Juchita'n, Oaxaca.

Indigenous Brothers and Sisters of the Oaxaca Isthmus: Brothers and Sisters of the Democratic Teaching Profession: Student Brothers and Sisters:
Employee, Worker and Campesino Brothers and Sisters: The People of Juchita'n:

Many years ago now - since that time the earth has insisted on making its procession around the sun almost 18 times (when only a handful of men and women made up the EZLN, numbering no more than the fingers on our hands) - we had gone out hunting, impelled by hunger. Old Antonio was carrying his old chimba, and he was walking attentively, looking at the ground, scanning the tracks in the earth and the sounds of the selva.

As he explained it to me, we were trying to listen for the purring of the pheasant in season, the drumming of the censo's teeth, the hoarse bellow of the saraguato or the thunderous rejoicing of the spider monkey.

If I had to be honest (and I should be, because I am talking to you, who are my brothers), the one going hunting was Old Antonio. I was barely accompanying him, with my first clumsy steps in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast. As far as my limited experience went, all the sounds were the same and meant nothing. The only sound I could absolutely identify was that of my stomach growling, and I understood its significance very well: hunger.

"A good hunter is not a good marksman, but the one who is a good listener" Old Antonio told me. "Because as for hearing, everyone hears. But listening means to discover what every sound means."

I should say that at that moment the day had been almost vanquished by the night, and the limited horizon of the nearby hills was now beginning to be encroached upon by harsh nocturnal bites.

And so we were seated at the base of a ceiba, "The Mother Tree," "The Support of the World," according to Old Antonio.

Perhaps because of that the fire which lit Old Antonio's rolled cigarette and word illuminated far-off yesterdays. Old Antonio waited for me to light my pipe, and, taking the necessary memory from the common smoke, he recounted to me:

"The History of the First Language of These Lands"

"The most old of the old of our peoples recount that the first gods, not the very first, not those who birthed the world, but others who were no longer so very first, but a bit like that, were a tad lazy.

And it so happened that a goodly amount of the world had already been birthed with the most first gods, and the men and women of the maize, the true ones, were already making the rest.

And so these gods were lazy, because they had no work, and they only wanted to play and to dance. They were just fooling around, and they went about lifting up the womens' skirts with their wind and tangling up the men's feet so they would fall down.

And then the men and women of maize, the true ones, took courage, and they then made an assembly in order to look into this problem.

And they called to assembly those gods who were no longer so very first but a bit like that, and, since the men and women of maize were already set in their thinking that he who governs, governs obeying, they called these gods.

Because no matter how god-like they might be, they still had to respect the agreements of the collective, which is what they then called the agreement by everyone for the common good.

And so it came to pass that the gods arrived, the ones who were no longer so first, but a bit like that, and they began making little jokes, and the assembly scolded them, and then these prankish gods remained quiet.

And then the women of maize spoke, and they were very fierce, because the gods had been lifting their petticoats with their winds.

And then the men of maize spoke, and they were very fierce, because the gods had been moving about in the ground like snakes and tangling up feet so that the men and women of the maize, the true ones, would fall down.

And so they determined these gods' crime in the assembly, and they reached an agreement that they would have to clear the collective's field of rocks.

And so these gods went to clear the rocks out of the field, and they said "What? But we're gods, even though not very first," and they became seriously angry, and they picked up a large rock and went and smashed the house where the men and women of maize, the true ones, were guarding the first word, the one which sees behind and ahead if one knows how to listen to it.

After this most unfortunate occurrence, these not very first gods ran very far away, because they knew they had done a great wrong.

Then the men and women of maize made their assembly to look into what they should do about this great wrong that had been done to them, because they knew that collectively they were indeed able to resolve great wrongs.

And, without the first word, the men and women of maize could remain deaf to their history and blind to tomorrow.

Because the most first word was that: root of the past and window to the path to come.

Nonetheless, the assembly of the men and women of maize, the true ones, was not afraid, and they began seeking thoughts and they made them words, and with them other thoughts and other words were born. That is why they say that "words produce words" (DIIDXA RIBEE DIIDXXA in Zapotec).

And that is how they reached the agreement to guard their memory with great care and to make their word language. But they wondered what would happen if they forgot their language or if someone stole that memory from them, and then they also agreed to etch it in stone and to guard it well where their thoughts told them to do so. And some guarded the stone etched with memory in the mountain, and others gave it to the sea to guard.

And now the men and women of maize were content.

But it came to pass that those not so very first gods became lost, and, in exchange for finding their way, they recounted their mischief to the false god of hard excrement, which is how money was called at that time.

And then this false god visited evil on the land of the men and women of maize, the true ones, and he undertook to have the men of women of maize forget the most first word and thus remain deaf to their history, which was thereafter called forgetting, and blind to their tomorrow, which is what they thereafter called being at a loss.

The false god knew that if the men and women of maize forgot their history and lost their way, their language would die, little by little, and, with it, the dignity it held.

The false god of hard excrement, money, used, and uses still, much force and many traps. All done to destroy the language of our most first.

But he always failed. And it happened that the men and women of maize, the most first, every so often would go to the mountain and to the sea in order to read what the stone etched with memory said.

And so they resisted the attacks of the false gods of money, and that is why the indigenous that we are have mountain and sea close to us.

So that memory will not fail us, so that we shall not become lost, in order to have "tomorrow."

Old Antonio ended his history when he threw the seventh cigarette made with his roller on the ground. I asked: "And what happened to those second-rate gods?"

Old Antonio berated me:

"They were hardly second-rate. The ones now are second-rate: money and power. Those gods were not so very first but always a bit like that.

Well, it happens that nothing is known of them any more, and so the indigenous always thought they might return to make their mischief.

And then the women lengthened their petticoats and they drew them together more at the hem, so that the wind could not play with them.

And men and women then walked slowly, attentive to the path they trod. That is why we indigenous walk looking down.

Those who do not know say that it is because we were defeated or because we are saddened by what we are.

It is not true, we were never defeated, the proof is that we are here.

Nor are we made sad by what we are.

If we walk looking down it is because we go watching our path carefully, in order not to trip, in order not to forget, and in order not to be at a loss.

Indigenous Brothers and Sisters of the Oaxaca Isthmus: People of Juchita'n:

The struggle for the recognition of indigenous rights and culture is also the struggle for respect for our language, for its safekeeping, for its greater glory.

Time and again the false god of money has wanted to take our language away from us, because he knows that, without it, we will no longer be ourselves and they will then be able to take everything away from us.

When we say we are demanding the recognition of indigenous rights and culture, we are saying, among other things, that we are demanding the recognition of our language.

There are words in it which speak of the history we are, yes, but which also speak of tomorrow.

And one must know how to listen to these words, one must know how to brandish those words so that others might be born which speak of a time yet to come.

Perhaps that is why the powerful do not want the constitutional recognition of our indigenous rights, because in that way they would have to recognize and respect our language.

And then there would be what they fear, because, if we learn to listen, we would find in our language that for us, the indigenous, tomorrow means being as we are and being with everyone.

Viva indigenous language and vivan forever those who walk and speak it!


From Juchita'n, Oaxaca.

Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee - General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Mexico, February of 2001.

Conflict in Chiapas: Understanding the Modern Mayan World
by Worth H. Weller, Ben Weller (Photographer), Julia Weller (Photographer)
$16.95, Paperback, March 1, 2000
Rebellion in Chiapas : An Historical Reader
by John Womack (Editor)
$14.36, Paperback , March 1999
Voices from Exile : Violence and Survival in Modern Maya History
by Victor Montejo
$18.17, Hardcover, October 1999
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