“The birds sing to ask the sky for rain. They sing for corn to grow, the life food of creation. Our elders knew the needs of the animals well; they allowed them to eat a part of the harvest, because the fruits of Mother Earth had to be shared. The squirrels dance when a child is born; they know that it will work in the cornfields, they know that it will contribute to universal life,” says Don Flavio, huesero (chiropractor, translator’s note) of a remote community. “Our grandparents tell us that the first men were born from grains of corn; one day the Gods came together and decided to create humanity. They chose corn because of its resistance to the weather and sowed several grains, from which little by little the plants began to grow. From the cobs the first men appeared, who began to pray to Heaven and to feed on the same corn in the form of pozol (fermented corn paste)”.

A story similar to the one described by Popol Vuh about the creation of the human being by the Progenitors, Creators and Trainers. “The pozol is our daily food” continues Don Flavio. “When we go to the fields to work, our women wake up every morning before dawn to grind the boiled beans; part is used for tortillas and part for pozol. When we rebelled against the landowners, pozol was our only food together with wild plants. We spent days hiding in caves and on the mountains and as time passed our pozol began to rot. The ones who ate the rotten pozol were the ones who really struggled in those days.” Zapatistas call themselves “rebel corn” when they paint murals or draw on their notebooks.

One day Doña Dominga, a tzeltalera belonging to the women’s conscience group that brings together women from different Tzeltal communities, seeing her daughter forcefully throwing corn to ducks and chickens, quickly approached her and began to scold her, urging her to show respect for the God of corn. “We are women and men of corn,” she told me after kissing a large corn cob that had just been brought from her husband’s corn field, the milpa. “Look at this corn cob, this is original corn. We don’t use pesticides in my milpa and we’ve never used the seeds offered by various governments. This corn is getting lost, we know that corporations and governments past and present are trying to make us sick, trying to kill us in different ways. For example, they give us fertilizer and pesticides and the result is an increase in deaths from cancer, a disease that our grandparents did not know about. They try to change our corn for transgenic corn. It’s our own fault for giving in to government gifts.”

When Doña Dominga says “my milpa” she is actually using the Tzeltal term “k’altik”, a plural word meaning “our milpa”. So, it is interesting how this word has a meaning aimed at involving the whole community around the corn element. According to Doña Dominga and the Tzeltal belief system the indigenous tzeltal community is one and the corn is the element that identifies and brings together culturally and spiritually all the people, a living entity, a god.  “Our bones are made of corn,” says her husband. “That is why we eat pozol and tortillas to live; corn is our strength. Without it there is no life, no community. We are the corn people. When the government attacks it, it attacks us all.”

Translation from English by Thomas Schmid