Tzam: 13 Seeds in 13 Months to Celebrate 130 Indigenous Voices

FROM THE EDITORS: With this article, we present a project in Mexico by Desinformémonos, Tzam:13 Zapatista Seeds, a space for dialogue (Tzam meaning dialogue in Ayapaneco) between indigenous artists, writers, poets, and community leaders. The project’s goal is to feature the work of 130 collaborators during thirteen months between May 2021 to May 2022, based on 13 Zapatista demands for justice (13 is a sacred number for the Mayans).

“With this project, we do not seek journalists or historians, outsiders to these communities, to collect people’s stories and voices, but instead we have the people themselves reflect with different formats about their way of seeing and facing the world, with and without the pandemic. Here we will hear their own words, without mediation,” write the project´s coordinators, Yásnaya Aguilar, Ayutla, Oaxaca, and Gloria Muñoz, from Mexico City.

We chose to translate “Territory” by Norma Alicia Palma, an article that reflects on territoriality by framing the holistic ndigenous worldview about land/the earth. Everything is linked to the land, from the land we came, we feed, we learn and teach, and to the land we’ll return.



Territorio. Photo: Norma Alicia Palma Aguirre
Territorio. Photo: Norma Alicia Palma Aguirre

In the Rarámuri world, everything is connected. Things divided do not exist here; the Rarámuri territory is everything, as far as the eye can see. Some years ago, we lived freely: during the warm season, people climbed to the plateau to spend time there, and they came down to the ravines during the cold season. The whole of space belonged to everyone, everything that existed could be used for nourishment: to hunt animals for our ceremonies, use pine trees to roof our homes, and take advantage of the rivers to bathe and fish, all in harmony with nature.  

For us, the territory is the land where we are present, it is our home and our mother; we live in her and we live through her. She takes care of us, loves us, and protects us. We love her back the same way: we take care of her and protect her as well. We are in permanent connection with the earth so that she feels us and knows that we are still there. We are in permanent connection with the earth so that we do not forget where we came from, thanks to whom we are alive. As Rarámuris, which is what we are, we must feel the earth in our hands and under our feet, in order to feel and be a part of her. We are one with the territory and, therefore, the territory is all of us.  

For the Rarámuri, the territory is not a separate space: we cannot say “we and the territory,” nor can we say “our territory.” We do not feel that space, where we live, is ours: we do not possess it. For us, the territory has no borders and no limits: we cannot say “from here to there, this is mine,” “this forest is mine,” or “this water is mine,” much less being able to exchange it or sell it. We always bear in mind and are aware that we have to take care of the territory, as our ancestors entrusted it to us. They told us that the place where we walk was borrowed, therefore, we have to leave it in a much better condition for those who come after us. This is our belief. We have been taught that we are part of this territory: we are one and must help each other.  

The territory feeds us, shelters us, and teaches us; we have to take care of it, feed its currents, take care of its forests, its animals, big and small, and not contaminate its soil, its water, nor its air. We must show her gratitude with our dances and our rituals whenever necessary for everything that she gives us. We say that we must strengthen our land so that she continues to feed us, and our way of strengthening her is through our celebrations. We strengthen her through living together as a community, by sharing our crops, our sorrows, our illnesses, and our joys. If we were to stop celebrating, our land would feel sad: she would not have the strength to feed us, she would feel weaker, she would get ill and share its disease with us. We would cease to exist as Rarámuris and, therefore, the territory would disappear. Sadly, nowadays, to continue to take care of the territory is difficult because we live with people who think that their comfort comes before everything else. 

There are many things in the territory: trees, edible plants, medicinal herbs, animals, precious stones, water, and beautiful birds. If we ever need any of this, we take what is needed and always ask the land for permission first; we do not take to accumulate. However, there are those who believe that the territory must enrich them; they plunder without thinking about the consequences of their actions, without thinking about other people, and without thinking about asking permission from the land; they are not even grateful for what she gives them. 

During the past three decades, there has been increased interest in the Rarámuri territory. The biggest impact of that interest has been the massive exploitation of the forests by logging companies that sign contracts with communal authorities without taking into account those of us who live in these lands. Agrarian laws are drafted in offices and favour companies; they have invented laws to protect the forests but the reality is different. All the laws that are meant to protect the environment favor destruction. Now we cannot use the pine trees to roof our houses; if we need some wood, we must buy it from a lumber yard. We cannot cut a single pine tree, if we do so, we are fined. While every day we see trucks loaded with wood meant for logging companies; those are legal, they say. We have lived on these lands for more than a thousand years, but others arrive bringing laws and strange ways of seeing what exists here. 

Nowadays, criminal organizations that lay waste on everything have also arrived. We see with sadness that many species that lived in the forests are disappearing; birds can no longer find where to make their nests and have left, while other animals have fled scared of the noises chainsaws make. Tourism projects are coming in greater numbers, and they not only contaminate the rivers with their drainage but also evict communities. These are the so-called progress projects and, unfortunately, many Rarámuris brothers are trapped by these control policies. Rarámuri territory has been destroyed by the state system. 

Despite everything, many Rarámuri continue to practice our ancestors’ traditions; we continue to believe that the territory has life and can feel all the abuse. Our elders say that the creator is sad about everything that is happening;  these last few years it has not rained as it should: it rains when it should not rain, it snows when it should not snow. All of this was brought about by people who do not know and do not understand the environment, people who do not know and do not understand that everything that exists in the Rarámuri territory is alive, people who only think about making money at any expense. For us, the trees and the animals are the ones who speak to the water; they are the mysterious beings who know how to take care of the water currents and the springs. They, like the whole territory, are alive; they are life. 

Defender of the Rarámuri territory and the rights of indigenous women. She is currently a councilor of the Indigenous Government Council. She studied the Bachelor of Primary Education at the National Pedagogical University. She has been an educational coordinator and is currently part of the "Communarr. Construction of alternative worlds Ronco Robles, "where she works for community strengthening.