by Lina Vergara Huilcamán

Photo © Lina Vergara Huilcamán

Photo © Lina Vergara Huilcamán

this summer I visited a small village in the Lacandon jungle in Chiapas. Mexico. and I was lucky enough to meet this gentleman. I am transcribing here an excerpt of our conversation. in the hope that his words will be meaningful for you too. or at least will prompt some considerations. about our lives. about money. about the “comforts” of our existences.

up until forty years ago there was not peso1. not one. I worked to eat. I did not need pesos to eat. to live. only work. what I sowed I ate. I sowed and ate. to pay my wife I worked for her father. many years. I built houses for him. with my wife we worked in the fields from six in the morning to the afternoon. all day. under the sun. not like now that at noon they say it is too hot. we worked and stop. because if you work you eat. my grandfather too told me that. if you do not work you do not eat. you can steal. but then you are sent to jail.
I can live without pesos. I go to the mountain and sow. fish in the river. find caracoles2. hunt. I do not need pesos. now everyone needs pesos. to buy clothes. watch. shoes. computer. car. the more pesos the more you buy. I always tell my wife. we do not need pesos. we work. we can go to the jungle and sow our tomates3. pumpkin. our fruit. corn. potatoes.
at night I still go to the mountain. that way. to hunt. jabalies4. venado5. to eat. I walk even twelve. fourteen hours. in the dark.
I do not need light. I go with my dog and hunt. with my rifle. before with arrows. but with rifle it is easier. and I always find jaguar. and he does not touch me. because I do not move. I stay. if you run then he eats you. because he thinks you food. food flees. runs. I stay and wait for him to go away. I am not scared. I know that I have to stay. and so I go back home with my wild pig and we eat two months.
I cook it and store it. so it does not rot.
fruit as well. you see the papaya tree? when they ripe we take them and prepare them. to eat. sweet. good. all the fruit. now they drink tequila to get drunk. with my father in law we prepared when we wanted to get drunk. with fruit honey and water. cooked it. two weeks. and then we got drunk. i did not need pesos. this house too do you see the roof? made of palm leaves. I built it. it lasts about thirty-five years. or forty. and it is not like foil roof. with the palms it is not hot. and when it rains it is quiet. with the foil roof a lot of noise (he holds his head in his hands). with the palm no noise instead. and no water. the roof is tall because we put our corn. our crop. I cannot leave the corn in the milpa6. raccoons love corn. birds. many animals come and eat my corn. I need to protect it. to eat.
I cannot read. I cannot write. I did not learn. when I was young nobody was teaching. I speak Maya. but I learned Spanish. I can speak Spanish. now I am old. I am sixty-six. I had only two sons. one died. other son gave me four grandchildren. my wife is fifty-six. my grandfather died at one hundred forty. he taught me animals are like people. they have their houses. they cook their tortillas. they have their things. like us. we must not kill them. just one. to eat. and not every day. he told me that one day he was transformed into a jaguar. and he saw that jaguar is like a person. with his home. his things. and that he kills only when he is hungry. not every day. jaguar is like a person.
I will not live like my grandfather. because my grandfather did not eat salt. seasoning. no olive oil. no fried food. he wrapped meat in leaves and cooked it. with nothing. he wrapped vegetables and cooked them. and ate them. beans. alike. without salt. only red pepper. he ate frijoles7. corn. fruit. sweet potatoes. I will not live like my grandfather. I am already sick. because I like tasty food. with salt. oil. I like fried food. now we have french fries. soft drinks. everything changed. like computers. the kids are here all day with internet. I am not. I do not know. I can only use the phone. push the numbers and call. now everything changed.

The Lacandon are one of the Maya indigenous peoples, composed by roughly 400 members, who mainly live in the forest of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas (however up until 1854 that area belonged to Guatemala). The forest where they live is known as Lacandon jungle.

1. peso: Mexican currency
2. caracoles: snails
3. tomates: tomatoes
4. jabalies: wild pigs -
5. venado: deer
6. milpa: small cultivated field
7. frijoles: beans