Production and Daily Life
FIGURE 17. Woman spinning, from page 9 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 18. Mano and metate (left) and cajete (right), from page 15 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 19. Cooking with a comal above an open fire. Photo by Jennifer Folster.
FIGURE 20. Two ollas, from page 18 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 21. Man in a maize field, from page 15 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 22. Maize field in the mountains on the border of the Mixteca Alta and Mixteca Baja. May 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 23. Turkey in San Juan Mixtepec, Mixteca Baja. May 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 24. Commoner man and woman from page 22 of the Codex of Yanhuitlan.
In traditional Ã’udzavui communities today, the household is the center of personal life and economic production. We can expect that the household played a similarly central role in Ã’udzavui daily life in the sixteenth century, a comparison supported by ethnographic, historical, archaeological, and codical sources. Both men’s and women’s activities are needed for a household to run smoothly. Today, the division of labor situates women’s work in and immediately around the house, and places men’s work outdoors and away from the house.21
Central to women’s work is food preparation and cloth production (Figure 17). The central staple of the traditional Ã’udzavui diet is the tortilla (dzita).22 Their preparation is labor intensive and takes six to eight hours every day. First, dried maize kernels are removed from the cob and boiled in lime water in order to soften them and to remove their outer husks. These kernels are then crushed into a dough with a ground stone cylinder (called a “mano” in Spanish and a daha yodzo in sixteenth-century Dzaha Dzavui) rolled on a raised stone platform (called a “metate” in Spanish and a yodzo in sixteenth-century Dzaha Dzavui)(Figure 18). The dough is then formed into thin, circular patties and toasted on a flat ceramic griddle (called a “comal” in Spanish and a siyo in sixteenth-century Dzaha Dzavui) resting above an open fire (Figure 19).
While tortillas are the main staple in traditional Ã’udzavui meals, other foods are equally important and less time consuming to prepare. These include other maize-based dishes such as a maize porridge (called “masa” in Spanish) and cakes of maize dough wrapped in maize husks and steamed (called “tamales” in Spanish and coo in Dzaha Dzavui). Other traditional foods include squash and bean dishes, iguana and rabbit meat, and, in prehispanic times, turkey and deer for the elite. The cooking of these other foods was generally done in a circular cooking pot with a narrow mouth (called an “olla” in Spanish and a quedze in sixteenth-century Dzaha Dzavui)(Figure 20).
Foods were usually served in a flat-bottomed, flared-body bowl (called a “cajete” in Spanish and a coho in sixteenth-century Dzaha Dzavui). The coho is by far the most common ceramic form found in the archaeological record at Chachoapan and Yucuita—approximately 80% of the sherds excavated at these sites were from coho (Figure 18). The above-mentioned quedze was the next most common vessel form, making up approximately 14% of the sherds.23 Beverages served with Ã’udzavui meals included water (duta), cacao (dzehua), and pulque (ndedzi, the fermented juice of the maguey cactus). According to codical images, beverages were served in small bowls or in small tripod-footed quedze.
Agricultural production was one of the most important tasks of men’s work (Figure 21). Fields required planting, weeding, and finally harvesting. Planting was done with the use of a sharp, pointed digging stick (called a “coa” in Spanish and a yata in sixteenth-century Dzaha Dzavui). Maize (nuni), beans (duchi) and squash (yeque) were the three principal crops (as they were throughout Mesoamerica). Ã’udzavui practiced intercropping, a planting technique that mixes several different species in the same field. Maize, beans, and squash are typically planted together, so that the bean vines climb up the maize stalks and the squash vines cover the ground (keeping weed growth down and shading the soil to keep it moist). Chiles (yaha), avacados, and tomatoes were also grown.
Today, Nuyooteco Mixtec farmers often have several different fields located in different areas and altitudes of the community. This allows farmers to take advantage of the diversity of climatological variation (the aforementioned “verticality”) that these different areas offer. Some fields are far enough away from home that farmers have to spend the night in their fields (Figure 22).24 In the past, particularly in the Postclassic Nochixtlan Valley, Ã’udzavui farmers planted crops on valley floors and used extensive terracing systems to turn mountainsides into fields as well.25
The work of non-elite men and women went well beyond their own household’s needs, for the Ã’udzavui elite required daily service in tribute from their subjects. One of the earliest records of tribute offered by commoners is found in a 1548 document from the community of Yanhuitlan. In it the Yanhuitlan cacique is said to receive the following:
a turkey every day (Figure 23)
ten male servants every day
ten female servants every day
two xiquipiles of cacao gordo every six months
seven cargas of cotton woven into mantas every six months
laborers to plant and harvest a field of wheat of 300 brazas
laborers to plant and harvest four fields of maize26
Such tribute brought the Ã’udzavui elite and commoners together on a daily basis, and also provided the elite with the time and raw materials with which to pursue their own class-specific goals and activities. While the screenfolds record little of the commoner’s life, they are rich in tales of elite activities—warfare, sacrifices, visits to oracles, and marriages. The elite held large feasts in their palaces for one another. They were in charge of the spiritual well-being of the community and performed sacrifices to the gods, conducted calendrical divinations, and, as suggested in the “Introduction to the Codex Nuttall” tutorial, offered performances at fiestas organized by the commoners. Finally, like elite in many other societies, the Ã’udzavui nobility were artisans who produced luxury goods for personal use and for exchange with other elites. They painted screenfolds, crafted objects in gold, greenstone, wood, and bone, and wove rich textiles of cotton.27
We will end this discussion with one of the few sixteenth-century images from the Mixteca to depict common people (Figure 24).Taken from the Codex of Yanhuitlan, it shows a Ã’udzavui woman and man walking to offer tribute service at the palace of their yya and yya dzehe. The woman carries a metate on her back; the man carries a bag of maize.
As a final, summational image to this section, imagine this man and woman as husband and wife and transpose them to Yucuita, leaving their one-room house early in the morning sometime in the early sixteenth century. Imagine them walking uphill, looking ahead at the dawn-outlined summit of Yucuita and the multi-roomed palace of the cacique and cacique at which they will spend the day in service—preparing food, gathering wood and water, working in elite fields. Although the content of Mesolore is focused on elite culture, don’t forget the obvious: this elite culture was made possible through the labor of common men and women.
Text by Byron Hamann
21 Monaghan 1995, 55.
22 Monaghan 1995, 55.
23 Lind 1987.
24 Monaghan 1995, 55.
25 Spores 1969.
26 Spores 1967, 160-161.
27 Pohl 1994b.