Tag Archives: anthropology

A Queen-Warrior Story from Tonalá Mexico

Her tears howled as they staggered down into a calm pool of water, “I will not let them kill my people!

As I hiked up Cerro de la Reina (Queen’s Hill) with my camera in Tonala Mexico, I could not help but wonder of all the bullshit social constructs that disempowered women in modern America. In our Latino history–and in other countries around the world–women have practically been la madre tierra sagrada, or sacred mother earth goddesses. Our native Latino histories are filled with Latina princesses, queens, and warriors.

Finally, I reached the top of the hill, the site of a powerful native Queen.

Her name was Cihualpilli Tzapotzintli (pronounced zoo-ah-pee-yee). She was a queen-warrior who oversaw a mini-empire of towns and cities. She had access to many resources from 12 tributary states. Cihualpilli surveyed the valleys of her lands from the observatory on top of the hill. All was relatively peaceful until the year 1530.

A view of the valleys below from on top of the Queen’s Hill.

A wave of Spanish conquistadors were closing in. Messengers alerted Cihualpilli of the armor-plated men. She remembered stories from a prior wave of conquistadors who decimated distant cities. All who opposed the metal-men died a horrific death. Men were quartered, women were raped, breasts and other body parts were draped around their necks like trophies. Any survivors died from the pure evil spirits* of such men (*diseases that were brought into the area).

Cihualpilli knew there was no fighting chance. As a preemptive strike, she sent some of her people to greet the men with gifts of fruits, honey, avocados, and supplies. The greed from the conquistadors not only wanted more, but demanded their obedience to the king of Spain.

Cihualpilli had a policy to not attack the men. But dissidents from nearby tribes started to ally, worrying that the Queen could not lead in such war matters. She was waiting to welcome them with open arms, but the dissidents hid around the base of the hill, showering the metal-men with a rain of arrows. Within 2 hours, all the dissidents were dead.

She cried at a waterfall. Not wanting no more bloodshed, she strategized outside the box. She had groups of women wearing their finest linens to meet the men. They offered their finest foods – including themselves. The allure of seduction seemed to work. Cihualpilli plan was to surrender to the Spanish to diffuse the bloodshed then work out a peaceable solution of coexistence.

The great Cihualpilli used herself as an example, becoming baptized by the conquistadors. After being baptized, she received the name Juana Bautista Danza, and remained a figurehead ruler of Tonala.

The indigenous temple used to give thanks to a sun goddess was dismantled and its stones were recycled to build a Christian temple. I snuck my camera inside to snap a few photos.

Inside the Christian temple built from recycled stones. -ak
The temple as it appears today. It is still active for sermons.

Today, a Christianized statue of Cihualpilli is found next to the temple. An indigenous statue of Cihualpilli rests in the heart of the town’s square.

A statue of Cihualpilli  before becoming Christianized stands tall in the heart of Tonala’s city.
A statue of Cihualpilli  after becoming Christianized stands next to the temple. -ak

The funerary practices of the Toraja people

maptorajaTucked away in the mountainous region of a southern Indonesian island, the Tana Toraja people practice elaborate funerary rituals. A unique ceremony custom is performed after a Toraja member dies. Very often, the ceremony is held weeks, months, and even years *after* their death. This gives families that need time a window of opportunity to raise the costly funds of funeral expenses. In the meantime, the body is wrapped in cloth and temporarily placed under their homes. The Torajans  believe the soul lingers around the village until the ceremony, which frees the soul so that they can begin their journey to the “Puya” (a place for spirits).

Stone graves on a cliffside (Photo: Flickr)

After a ceremony that spans 6 days that includes dozens of machete-slaughtered water buffaloes, pigs, and chickens, the body is properly laid to rest in a cave, a stone grave on the side of a mountain cliff, or in a coffin that is hung off a tree or cliff. Babies are placed inside of trees. They are now free to begin the Puya journey.

A tree of babies graves

A Torajan dressing his dead loved ones (Sijori Images).

In another yearly ritual called “Ma’Nene,” the dead are exhumed, washed in the river, bathed with local herbs, and brought back to ‘walk’ and ‘dance’ in the village. It is not uncommon to see dead Torajans sitting fully dressed in their family homes for years.

A family and their dead loved one.

A family walking their dead loved one
A family ‘walking’ their dead loved one

Of course, the more money a member has allows them to have a better funeral arrangements. The Toraja people don’t save up for retirement, they literally save up for death. The Tana Toraja region is on UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list.

Anthropologist Kelli Swazey explores the Torajan’s cultural funerary practices in this TED-MED Talk: