28 Jan 2008
OPENING SCENE: Tim’s language tutor speaking Me’phaa.
A’phaa is the place we once called home. It is now called Tlapa and few of the 60,000 residents are Me’phaa. When this place was our home, we had great celebrations along the river that follows the steep mountainside. My people would come from all over to visit, to celebrate, and to give sacrifices to our gods in order to ensure a bountiful harvest and good fortune.
Those who stayed paid tribute to the Aztecs. They called us “Tlapaneco” which means, “dirty faced ones” in the Aztec language.
The Aztecs ruled for only two generations before the Spanish conquered them and our survival was made even more difficult. The Spanish named our city Tlapa since we were called Tlapanecos.
The Spanish brought a new God and forced us, … as well as the Aztecs, … to bow down to their God. They made all of us build worship centers in our beloved A’phaa and also in our villages in the mountains. Their priests told us to stop worshipping the gods of our fathers but we continued unseen by our new masters.
We know that A’phaa is no more. It is now Tlapa and much different … with cars, trucks, big buildings, and places to buy and sell many different kinds of things. The people too are much different. Their clothes are different. They wear shoes that are often polished to a gleaming finish. They speak the language of the Spaniards. Our language, … our words, … is no longer heard along the banks of our once sacred river.
There are over 100,000 of my people walking the earth today. We now call these mountains our home – a place where we have lived for the past 500 years.
It is difficult to travel to our home. Most roads are dirt as they wind their way along steep mountainsides. For cars and trucks, it is a perilous journey. Occasionally, some fall off the road and tumble down the mountain. For us, the burro and the pony carry our loads.
The hardworking burro was first given to us by the Spanish priests to help carry the loads of rock up the mountain to build a home for their God. They put a cross in front of these buildings and on top. This cross was important to them.
Eventually, the priests brought us more animals; … goats, sheep, cows, and pigs. All of these helped us to have enough food to feed our families. In time, the soldiers allowed us to have horses. With horses, we could travel much faster than with the burro. These gifts are now an important part of our life.
But, … we don’t like the Spanish language that has been forced on us. Many of our people speak only Me’phaa. It was difficult for us since our children had to learn Spanish in order to attend school. We wanted to keep our language and identity, so the Spanish teachers were replaced with Me’phaa teachers. Now both languages are used. Even so, our children enjoy learning at school but playing basketball is the best part of school. There are very few schools in these mountains for our children when they become 12 years old. They must travel to the big cities to learn more.
The mountains have become our sanctuary where we are able to continue our family traditions and the way our villages work together. Here all men are required to be involved in the community activities and decision-making. Our community is like the kids in this truck. We all go the same direction and by common agreement among ourselves. This is how we preserve our heritage; how we hold on to our language and our customs.
Change is very slow. There are very few of my people that have a television. Almost no newspapers reach the villages. A few have phones but many listen to the radio. Yet, change has occurred. Coca Cola is everywhere. You see cases sitting outside homes or stacks of cases ready for delivery to stands where they will be sold. Big trucks, … with armed guards, … carry Coca Cola to replenish a warehouse. And, here … in the mountains, there is no ice but that’s OK since we like our Coca Cola warm.
Growing crops on our steep mountainsides is very difficult. Corn, beans, squash and chilies are what we grow and eat. These are the crops that the gods have blessed and have allowed us to grow. The gods gave us these plants long before the Spanish arrived. Some of the fields have water from springs flowing out of the hills. This water allows us to grow crops all year around. The water from the mountain springs is important to us but there is not enough for all. The water is piped for long distances to homes in the villages. Water is especially precious during the dry months. A leak in a pipe provides water for this poor widow. She cannot pay for the pipe to her home.
Our homes are mostly of mud brick. The mud is mixed with straw and formed into block that is dried in the sun. A few workers can build a home in two to three weeks.
My people are now called Christians. They go to the Catholic Church to worship and to pray to the statues and paintings in these buildings. Yet, most of them feel that they must continue to believe as our ancestors. For example, they believe that when a child is born, an animal is born at the same time. When the child gets sick, then the animal is also sick. If the animal dies, then the child will die.
There are evangelical believers among my people but most of the churches are very small and some have no pastor or missionary.
The Catholic priests allow us to follow our ancient customs, blending them with their teachings. Yet, those of us who want to know the things of God are fearful of being seen receiving God’s Word from outsiders. The priests have a strong hold on our people.
Evangelical believers are looked upon as having “sold out” to foreigners. People are very suspicious of them. Some are even considered to be demons because the black book that they carry is full of lies written by foreigners. Believers may even be denied the right to bury family members in the community cemetery.
Ø Pray that the Me'phaa will seek to know God.
A’phaa Aht PAH
Me’phaa Met PAH
Tenochtitlan ten och teet LAHN
Tlachinollan tla chee in OH yahn
Tlapa Tla pah
Tlapanecos Tla pah NECK ohs
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