Maíz es Sagrado Sangre y Vida

Maíz es Sagrado Sangre y Vida

Corn is inex­tri­ca­bly tied to Mex­i­can cul­ture. In fact Mex­i­co is thought to be the seedbed of maize (maíz) domes­ti­ca­tion and cul­ti­va­tion. Evi­dence shows that between nine or ten-thou­sand years ago peo­ple in the Bal­sas or Mez­cala River Bas­in began domes­ti­cat­ing a wild grass called teosin­te. A twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry hypoth­e­sis was put for­ward by Amer­i­can sci­en­tist and geneti­cist George Beadle that corn had evolved from and due to the domes­ti­ca­tion of teostine. The teostine grass appeared so very dif­fer­ent from corn that the sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ty dis­missed his claim. How­ev­er, after rig­or­ous anthro­po­log­i­cal and folk­loric research and the exper­i­men­ta­tion with cross­breed­ing maíz with teostine Beadle was able to prove his hypoth­e­sis cor­rect. From the domes­ti­ca­tion and breed­ing of teostine plants the ancient peo­ple of Mex­i­co were able to pro­duce what we know of today as corn or maize. Corn is the most impor­tant crop in Mex­i­co and it is sacred to this country’s indige­nous peo­ples.

It is easy to take such an abun­dant yet diverse and his­tor­i­cal­ly rich food­stuff such as corn for grant­ed here in Mex­i­co and espe­cial­ly so in Oax­a­ca. Mex­i­co has about six­ty vari­eties of corn of which about thir­ty-five are native to Oax­a­ca. There is almost no meal that isn’t accom­pa­nied by some­thing made with corn. Tor­tillas replace uten­sils, mas­sive corn ker­nels swim in and steal the show of any great pozole, tamales any­time any­where, tacos, tlayu­das, and teta­las and the like, the list goes on and on. Maíz has been embed­ded in the cul­tur­al prac­tice of eat­ing for thou­sands of years, and because of this the pro­duct is sacred to the peo­ple she has sup­port­ed over her lifes­pan.

It wouldn’t be out­landish to say that the Oax­a­can men­tal­i­ty is linked to corn. Corn is cen­tral to Oax­aque­ño exis­tence. Their is a quo­tid­i­an rela­tion­ship between the peo­ple and their corn. For the peo­ple of Oax­a­ca corn is very much alive, it has a heart and a soul. In his book Zapotec Sci­ence, Rober­to González retells the tales of Zapotec campesinos who feel as if maíz is a plant-per­son who can help them meet cer­tain spir­i­tu­al or moral oblig­a­tions in rela­tion to their com­mu­ni­ties. In pre­his­pan­ic Zapote­can com­mu­ni­ties, the ear of corn rep­re­sent­ed a deity, Pitao Cazo­bi. Offer­ings and sac­ri­fices were made to the god after which fes­tiv­i­ties includ­ing singing and danc­ing com­menced. Zapotec spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious prac­tices have remained close­ly tied to corn and her sea­son­al­i­ty. Like many plants har­vest is an impor­tant time; how­ev­er, in sev­er­al Oax­a­can com­mu­ni­ties corn is also plant­ed in the ground or in assort­ed pots and jars about a mon­th before Sem­ana San­ta (the holy week) so that it begins to sprout forth from the soil before East­er Sun­day.1 This of course coin­cides with the res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. Corn is per­haps the Christ-body in Oax­a­ca and this reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al syn­crenism of  might maíz fur­ther com­pli­cate the diverse his­to­ry of Oax­a­can indige­nous cul­tures, but it also pro­vides some evi­dence of self-deter­mi­na­tion after col­o­niza­tion.

Being that maíz is so deeply root­ed in Oax­a­can cul­ture it should be no sur­prise that both this sacred food and the­se ancient cul­tures are under attack. There has been a great amount of effort for rural com­mu­ni­ties to devel­op food-secu­ri­ty pro­grams to pro­tect their diverse and flour­ish­ing corn crops. How­ev­er, this has not pre­vent­ed the migra­tion of mono-cropped corns into Oax­a­ca whether acci­den­tal­ly or under the aus­pice of easy cap­i­tal. Cer­tain strains of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied corn has cross-con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed oth­er “weak­er” species or strains of corn in Oax­a­ca. The dan­ger is that this cross-con­t­a­m­i­na­tion will like­ly result in the annex­a­tion of local vari­eties of corn endemic to Oax­a­ca. This would impact the diver­si­ty of corn pro­duc­tion and would there­fore inter­rupt com­mu­nal and cul­tur­al ties to the corn indige­nous to the state and its peo­ple. As the com­mu­ni­ty pres­i­dent of San­ta Gertrud­is, Sier­ra Juarez stat­ed at the Union of Social Orga­ni­za­tions of the Sier­ra Juarez of Oax­a­ca (UNOSJO) in 2010, “To be a campesino or campesina allows us to respect and under­stand the pro­found worth of our madre tier­ra (moth­er earth). Corn is the basis for our expres­sion of auton­o­my and cen­tral to our usos y cos­tum­bres (prac­tices and cus­toms), which rep­re­sent our Zapotec cul­ture and indige­nous way of life.“2 To change the corn, is to change a way of life.

We must respect diver­si­ty, whether it be in our food chain or with­in our cul­tures. We have to remind our­selves how close­ly tied we are to our food, our plants and ani­mals. As easy as it is to take maíz for grant­ed, we too, as the Zapotec and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties of Oax­a­ca, take the time to cel­e­brate it. We should in any­way we can begin again to speak to our food and find in it the guid­ance we need. Like with cul­ture, we should cel­e­brate diver­si­ty because with diver­si­ty we have a greater chance to flour­ish.


  1. Royce, Anya Peter­son. Becom­ing an Ances­tor: The Isth­mus Zapotec Way of Death. Albany: State U of New York, 2011.
  2. Ryan, Rmor. “Mex­i­co: Cel­e­brat­ing Indige­nous Cul­ture, Zapotec Auton­o­my and Uncon­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Corn.” Upside Down World. Upside Down World, 15 Feb. 2010. Web.