Legends from Teotitlán del Valle

Here are some legends I collected from my sixth grade English students in Teotitlán del Valle. Their assignment was to ask an older person in the community to tell them a story, myth, legend, or historical anecdote from Teotitlán. I collected the legends the kids turned in, combined some of them, edited some of them, and translated them to English. Then I put together a book of the students' drawings and legends in English, Spanish, and Zapotec. Here are the legends I chose to include in the book along with some of my favorite drawings. (Note that in most cases I edited the legends lightly, but tried to maintain, for the most part, the spirit of the language used by the children. If, for instance, some events seem disconnected, or if a meter and a half doesn't seem to you like an "enormous" height for a human being, please suspend your disbelief.)

The Arrival of Quetzacoatl in Teotitlán

The story begins when Quetzacoatl was banished from Tula. He told his followers to meet him in Petén, Guatemala, but in Quieres his followers crossed paths with the people of Teotitlán. Quetzacoatl’s followers were twelve, and the people of Teotitlán believed they were gods. They had knowledge of many things such as art, arquitecture, agriculture and medicine. That is why the people of Teotitlán introduced the followers to their daughters in hopes that they would marry them. Finally Quetzacoatl himself arrived in Teotitlán, and that is how the town got its name, which means “land of the gods.”

The Corn Legend

The story goes that our ancestors didn’t have corn. They only ate roots and animals, until one day Quetzacoatl announced that he was going to bring corn to the people. When the people heard this they thought that it was impossible, since the corn was on the other side of an enormous mountain, up a very steep path. But Quetzacoatl was clever. He turned himself into an ant and set out on his journey. When he found a family of ants on the way, he told them about his mission and convinced them to help him. After two days they finally arrived at the place where the corn was, and each ant picked up one kernel and put it on his back. That is how they carried all the corn back to the town. Since then people have always cultivated, harvested, cooked, eaten, and celebrated corn, thanks to the cleverness of Quetzacoatl.

The Feathered Snake

They say there is a snake with three feathers that lives in the back door of the church in Teotitlán del Valle, that comes out every one hundred years in a place called “the little cave.” The snake has three feathers of different colors: one yellow, one blue, and one red. They say that if you see it and start running, you can’t escape unless you pluck one of the feathers from the snake. If you yank out the yellow feather, you will be a millionaire. If you get the blue feather, you will be poor. And if you accidentally pluck the red feather, you will die.

But it is also said that one day a woman arrived early at the church, when she saw the snake. She saw that the snake only had one feather left: the red one. She ran away, and luckily she escaped.

Blue Stone Dam
It is said that many years ago, a little girl appeared in a basket in the river near the dam. The Aztecs found her and brought her home. She grew up to be very beautiful, and as soon as she was of age the Aztecs decided to kill her in order to offer her heart to their gods. After killing her and taking out her heart, they left her body lying behind the dam. But some people believed she was still alive, and went to leave her food and clothing. To this day, you can sometimes still find clothes hanging and a phantom woman walking along the road by the dam. Sometimes there also appears a ferocious, tiger-like animal that roams around the dam at night, and once killed a boy. It is believed that the dam is still enchanted to this day.

The Enchanted Rocks
A long time ago, from an enormous rock emerged some very strange people that were almost a meter and a half tall. Next to the rock, these people built an enchanted store. One day an alcoholic man came there. He ordered a bottle of mezcal, and they gave it to him. He drank it all, and after finishing it he died. These enchanted people, after killing him, stuck him inside of the rock. A few days passed, and the alcoholic man’s son went looking for his father, but couldn’t find him. Suddenly one of the enchanted men appeared and said, “Who are you looking for?” “For my father,” said the son. He said, “Well, your father died and we put him in our house.” The son said, “I’ll go find my mother and we’ll take him home.” The son went to get his mother, but when he came back to the rock, the enchanted man was no longer there. The son said to his mother, “Stay here, I’m going to go look for him,” and he left. When he came back he saw the man chatting with his mother, but when he went towards them, they disappeared. That’s how he knew that that man, like the rock, was enchanted. Since then many people have disappeared there. Every once in a while you hear or see strange things there at night. Every year on Christmas and New Year’s people go there to leave candles.
Another legend says that there are three enchanted rocks that have three people inside. They are trapped in the rocks because they borrowed money and never paid it back. It is said that these people are still inside the rocks and they will never be able to escape. They keep working inside the rocks so that one day they will be able to pay what they owe.

Cuch Shab

A legend tells that many years ago, here in Teotitlán del Valle appeared a herd of wild boars that people say were enchanted. They were called “cuch shab.” There was a group of men who went out at night to meet up on the corner that looked like a cross, the one we know today as “puerth rau.” When the clock struck midnight, these ferocious boars came out from under a pirul tree. The men fought with them like bulls to avoid being bitten, because they say those board could bite like wolves. The men also had their secrets: they appeared or disappeared in one place or another, as if they practiced black magic. That was many years ago, and little by little the boars disappeared when those men died.

It is also said that on the 25th of October, 1880, on the street called “The 20th of November,” a man was walking alone at night when he saw a giant boar covered in flames. He was terrified and started to run, but the boar became angry and killed him. This same boar appears every night on October 25th at three in the morning. That’s why no one in the town ever leaves their house that night.

Don Crecencio

A long time ago, in the days of the Mexican Revolution, lived a man in Teotitlán del Valle called Crecencio. Don Crecencio came to be very famous in the town because he had the power to transform into different animals. For example, he could turn into a bird, dog, snake, chicken or donkey. But the thing he turned into most frequently was an eagle, because he liked to fly above the town.

Don Crecencio’s house was a cave, in the mountain that we know as “Picacho.” The people say that he was a thief who stole money to give to the poor. During his life he helped the people of Teotitlán in many ways.

The story goes that one day, Don Crecencio went into the mountains to cut wood when he saw a lion. The lion wanted to eat him, but Crecencio defended himself. The lion jumped, and Crecencio swung his ax and killed him. He drank the blood of the lion and fell asleep for awhile. When he woke up, he realized that he had begun to grow claws, and little by little he turned into a lion. Crecencio didn’t come back to his house that night, and his parents were worried about him. They looked for him all over, but never found him. The only thing they saw was an ax lying on the ground next to a dead lion.

The Harvest Birds

This happened in 1912 in the town of Teotitlán del Valle, when everyone spent their days plowing and cultivating the land. In that time there was a simple, friendly and strong boy named Juan. He worked loading goods in the plaza, but he always liked the countryside and dreamed of working there. He asked the townspeople for work in the countryside, but no one wanted to give him a job. They all said, “You don’t know how to work the land!” Until one day he met an old man named Don Chon. He said to Juan, “Do you really want to work in the countryside? I will give you work, under one condition: if you don’t have a good harvest, I won’t give you more work. But if there is a very good harvest, the land that you work will be yours.”

Juan agreed. He was very happy. He went to a seed store and said to the owner, “Please, will you let me collect the fallen seeds from the floor?” The owner agreed. He collected the seeds and went home so that he could start his work in the countryside the next day. Morning arrived and he set out for the countryside. He arrived at his tract of land and began planting the seeds. He was sure that his harvest would be the best in the land.

When evening came, Juan sat down under a tree. He took a flute out from his bag and started to play a sweet melody, and all of the magpie birds gathered around him. In the time Juan lived among the birds, they became friends. One day Juan asked the birds for a favor: for them to help him look after his crops. The birds knew that Juan was a very good person, and they agreed. The next day, when Juan went out to his farmland he noticed that his crops had grown bigger, but the weeds had also grown. He had an idea: he would let the weeds grow around the crops, and the birds would keep watch above, taking care of his crop and preventing any plagues from coming near. The day arrived when his corn cobs, pumpkins and beans had grown large and healthy, and they tasted delicious. Juan ran to the house of Don Chon to tell him the good news. Don Chon was very surprised, and everyone asked Juan, “How did you do it, if you didn’t even have good seeds?” Juan responded, “My friends the magpies took care of my crop.”

The Growing Christ

The people of Teotitlán tell of a magic Christ that appeared in a pirul tree about one hundred years ago. The first people to see it were a few women who lived with their family in a humble home. One day, the women’s husbands went to the countryside to plant corn, and the women staid at home making tejate, a traditional beverage made from cacao flowers. Someone knocked at the door, but when one of the women opened it, there was no one there. She returned to her work. But a few minutes later, the women heard another knock at the door. Once again they opened the door, and again there was no one there. This happened several times, and the women started getting annoyed because they thought someone was playing a trick on them.

Later that same day, they heard a whistling sound and went outside to see who had whistled. They didn’t see anyone, but following the whistling noise, their attention was drawn to a small Christ figurine up in the pirul tree next to their home. They took it down from the tree and brought it to the church so that the priest could bless it.

But when the women arrived back at their house, they found that the Christ figurine had returned there on its own. The next day they took the Christ to the church again, but the same thing happened, and when they returned to their house they found the Christ awaiting them. They decided to build a chapel in their house in which to keep the Christ.

The day after they built the chapel, when they woke up and saw the Christ, they realized that he was slightly bigger than he’d been the day before; he no longer fit on the cross. They made a bigger cross to put him on, but every day the Christ grew a little, and they had to keep building bigger and bigger crosses. They even had to make the chapel bigger. Now the Christ is displayed on a cross measuring two meters in height, and many people visit the house of that poor family to see the miraculous Christ.