2020 Conversatorios On Colonial Zapotec
August 14, 2020
Moisés García Guzmán
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL / Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Ticha. Previous blog posts are available here: Lillehaugen/January 2020; Flores-Marical/February 2020; Kawan-Hemler/March 2020; Lopez/July 2020; Kadlecek/1 August 2020.
My name is Moisés García Guzmán and I am from San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya. I’m a language activist and high school teacher in my community, which allows me to see the need of promoting the Zapotec language in younger generations. I am also a member of the Ticha Advisory Board.
For a long time, those of us who work in the activism of native languages, specifically Zapotec, have longed to analyze Cordova’s Vocabulario (Figure 1) and other colonial documents in detail, in order to have a glimpse into our language and its evolution.
This summer, we were presented with a wonderful opportunity through the online Conversatorios about colonial documents. We were able to meet speakers and activists from six Zapotec communities (Figure 2). From the moment I was presented with the idea, I thought it was fantastic. One of the things that makes me the most happy about this project is that we have the opportunity to talk with members of different communities in the Valley, something that is hard to achieve. Thanks to this, we were able to learn about the context in which some Zapotec words are used and how their meaning or use may vary from one community to another.
Various topics have come to light as we have read fragments of testaments written in Zapotec from the colonial era. One unique experience we had was confirming the vigesimal counting system that Zapotec uses. It comes to be, in the end, a different way of perceiving the world and understanding numbering. I was able to verify that in my community there is a person who still knows how to say the number 800 because he heard his grandmother use it. That kind of connection with the community is something that is rarely achieved, but this Conversatorio has provided opportunities to do so.
Another example that surprised me relates to the word that is currently used in some communities for ‘master’, ‘lord’, or ‘owner’. In Tlacochahuaya Zapotec, it still exists in the context used in colonial times to refer to the Son of God. I dedicated a tweet to my observations about this word. (Figure 3)
These Conversatorios have involved inquiring and consulting with other people, which is critical. The conversations have not only been in an online format, but people have sought to interact not only in the community but with a wider audience, engaging others. It was with great joy that I was able to present this theme to the municipal council of Tlacochahuaya, awakening again the interest and enthusiasm to continue working in favor of the preservation of our language.
It is now up to us to take the ideas from the topics we studied and relate them to our own environment. I am sure that they will lead us to other stories that we can share. In my case, I have related the colonial word coconi to its current context, cuni, which is used to refer to chickens or female birds that have never laid an egg. Ultimately, this led me to think about the colors of the chickens and how they are said in Zapotec, so I created a small catalog of those terms on Twitter, one of which is shown in Figure 4.
Preserving an indigenous language does not mean focusing on its usefulness or economic benefit, but on the fact that it transmits something much more valuable than that – the sense of identity and belonging. With the members of the Conversatorio, new approaches have emerged on how to unite and work on common projects: writing proposals, neologisms, and teaching strategies. These are things that can be very beneficial for the Zapotec variants of each community and that has been the result of the discussion, and that we must take advantage of.
I can say that despite the pandemic, it has been a successful summer, full of knowledge and proposals. The mere fact that the discussion took place online shows the dynamism of indigenous languages and their speakers and their adaptability to the current circumstances. I am infinitely grateful to the Ticha Project for this magnificent experience. Xtioste’n.
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