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Journals from Oaxaca, Mexico

2011-04-24 Lord Lighting Jaguar

The overarching concept that we’ve been discussing in our Anthropology course this semester is that of Mesoamerica--what “Mesoamerica” really means, and what cultures make up said concept. We started with the Aztecs, focused a lot on the Mixtecs and Zapotecs this past month, and then will be studying the Mayas for the remainder of our time. Oaxaca is the most ethnically complex state in Mexico and it shows through the crazy number of different languages one can find throughout the area. By the time the Spanish arrived, there were many village and city states that had formed--each diverse, with distinct languages.

We go on excursions every Friday and some of the places we visited that reinforce these various cultures include Monte Albán, Santiago Apoala, and most recently, San Martín Huamelulpa.

My favorite section so far has to be the one we did on Zapotec writing. We were able to see Zapotec writing at Monte Albán and San Martín Huamelulpa but I didn’t fully appreciate it until after we learned more about what glyphs meant, the importance the sacred and solar calendars and their impact on writing, and the central themes of the writing (socio-political).  We tried to figure out our names in Zapotec (using the letters associated with certain glyphs). Mine isn’t very cool or clever, but I can say some of the names included Princess Smell of Meat and Lord or Lady Lighting Jaguar. The real way they did it, though, had more to do with the day you were born and a mystic would give you the name. Personal names were acquired throughout life, too. It is interesting that a lot of the Zapotec writing was logosyllabic so the glyphs for corn field and water (which each carried a specific name) could be put together perhaps because a combination of their names could maybe be the name or meaning of some concept/idea that was completely different than that of corn fields or water. They would just use the symbols to represent a word.

 We didn’t see Zapotec writing at Santiago Apoala because it is a Mixtec town but I just had to mention the local because it was one of the group’s favorite excursions. We got to hike down to the bottom of a waterfall and also see the start of the stream that fed it (which was located deep within a very dark cave, I might add). With 6 hours round trip travel time and 4+ hours of hiking/ walking about, it was a very long day to say the least but also very enjoyable because of the innate beauty of the place.   

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