Archive for June, 2012

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A Bug’s Life

Monday, June 25, 2012

Serendipity.  After posting about edible ant queens recently, edible insects seem to be wherever.  First, on Saturday here in Oaxaca I saw a whole book on edible insects.  I may have to go back and get.  And then today, Slate.com has an article on insects and kelp as the necessary future staples of a sustainable food source for an ever growing population.  Oaxaca, of course, gets a shout out.

On a less serendipitous, but still interesting note, in discussions on Facebook, I was reminded about the worms that come in bottles of mezcal.  While I’ve drank the mezcal, I’ve never been able to bring myself to eat the worm.  It seems like a joke to play on a drunk foreigner.  Maybe one of these days, I’ll drink enough mezcal to be up for the challenge.  I also learned about the jumil, an edible stink bug!  Apparently, it is common to eat these live and my friends report a sweet, licorice taste.

Obviously, I still have a lot more exploring to do if I want to consider myself a true bug-eating aficionado.

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Dia de San Juan

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Today is El Día de San Juan, the day commemorating the birth of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of both San Juan Luvina and San Juan Atepec, the two closest Zapotec speaking towns to Macuiltianguis.  I am sure there have been numerous festivities this weekend in both towns, celebrating the event.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the towns this time.  But 12 years ago I did get to go, when a friend and I walked from Macuiltianguis to Luvina and then on to Atepec.

Luvina and Macuil are fairly close to one another.  A mountain sits between them, but if you are on the outskirts of Macuil, you can even see Luvina.  (You can see another town, Abejones, sitting on a mountain across from the river from Macuil.  As the crow flies, it might even be closer than Atepec, but not by walking.)  The trip into Luvina was fairly easy.  We took our time and I think I got various plant and insect names along the way. (I seem to recall trying to take a picture of a gwelluulu’ ye’e ‘dung beetle’–literally shit roller–on that trip.)  We got into town and met with the cabildo and saw some of the beginning festivities with fireworks.  The only tricky part was figuring out where to stay, but eventually my friend got us a place to stay with someone who I think might have known his father.

We set out fairly early the next morning with minimal provisions (maybe some bottled water and crackers) for Atepec.  That was a much bigger ordeal.  People still frequently travel between Macuil and Luvina (there’s even a dirt road between them now for cars that wasn’t there in 2000) and I think we even met a peddler selling net bags going between towns and I think some Chinantecs walking between them as well.  Walking between Luvina and Atepec seems less common.  And definitely was more of a challenge as we had to go up a mountain.  That was killer.

Unfortunately after we did get to the top, we made the mistake of going down the other side and ended up kind of lost.  We kept going around the next ridge expecting to see the town in the distance, but no such luck.  I’ve never felt so much in the middle of nowhere.  Nobody else was around–fewer and fewer people work in the fields, and even so, it was El Día de San Juan, so nobody was out anyway.  We did run across someone’s horse, but that was about it.  (I wondered if we could ride him into town, but it was probably for the best we didn’t even try.)  We ran out of our bottled water but found some from a spring to get.  It was delicious.  Finally, we figured out we needed to get back on top of the mountain and had to reascend, which was no easy feat for me.  Eventually, with a lot of help from my friend, we did it, and followed along the crest of the mountain, eating some diiga’ ‘berries’ along the way.  And at last, after about six or seven hours, we made it into town (it was supposed to have only taken us three hours or so).

We wondered into town and found a place serving food to finally get something real to eat.  (There was apparently some discussion between proprietors in Zapotec about whether they should serve us.  Of course, unbeknownst to them, my friend understood what they were saying.)  Luckily, at least we had a place to stay that night, since my friend’s aunt had in-laws in the town.  As part of the San Juan festivities, there was a dance that night, but I really felt out of place after I saw everyone dressed up there and I was still in the same muddy clothes from that day’s journey.  I’m a reluctant dancer anyway, and that didn’t help.

The next day was better.  There were horse races and various events in front of the municipio.  The band played, clowns and acrobats were entertaining the crowd, there was a greased pole climbing contest.  It reminded me somewhat of going to fairs and rodeos as a kid.  ImageI think for our journey back, we eventually managed to hitch a ride with someone up to the main highway.  From there, I don’t remember how we find our way back to Macuil, which means it wasn’t half the adventure of getting to Atepec in the first place.

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Beenya’ ttu etta.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I made my first tortilla.  My wife and sister-in-law were making tortillas, Macuil-style:  giant medium-pizza sized things made with blue corn.  They beat out the dough on a metate and cooked them on an open fire.  They let Benjamin and my nephew make a few little ones, so I thought I would try my hand at them, too.  I wasn’t given enough dough for a full sized one, so it was more a personal pizza size.  I learned that one trick is to keep your hand a little wet as you tap out the dough to keep it from sticking to your hand.  The edges of mine ended up a little irregular instead of a perfect circle, but I was complimented when my tortilla puffed up on the fire.  Apparently, that is a sign of a well-made tortilla, which I hadn’t known before either.  The results were definitely tasty.

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EndangeredLanguages.com

Friday, June 22, 2012

The LinguistList just announced that a site is up which hopes to serve as a repository for material on endangered languages:  EndangeredLanguages.com.  It looks really promising, kind of a beefed up Ethnologue, to which scholars and community members will be able to make contributions, posting documents, photos, videos, audio files, etc.  It sounds exciting.  I have been in contact with them about getting MacZ on the map (literally).  If we can get over that initial hump, I hope lots of exciting things will be posted up by the community (and yours truly).

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A New Flavor of Bug

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I found out about chapulines, edible grasshoppers, right away when I started my work on Zapotec and probably even ate them first in the US.  (Can’t say I much cared for what I got there–seemed like stale popcorn with legs that had a bad habit of getting caught in your throat.)  Somehow, though, the existence of another edible insect in Oaxaca–chicatanas–had escaped my notice for more than 14 years. Thankfully, this gap in my knowledge has now been remedied.

My sister-in-law brought a bag of 20 or so of them home the other day, still alive.  They are leaf cutter ant queens, which appear in number during the rainy summer to fly off and start a new colony.  Wikipedia describes the process thusly:

Once a year, a colony, consisting of one queen and many thousands of workers, produces reproductive individuals called alates which have a different morphology, including wings for flight. After these individuals leave the nest of the parent colony, mating occurs high in the air with each female mating with between three and eight males (Wirth, et al., 2003). Colonies in close proximity conduct nuptial flights at close to the same time, increasing outbreeding. Males die after the mating flight. The queens then store the sperm acquired from the males in spermathecae, which they will use to found a new colony. Mortality for queens during mating is estimated to be as high as 52% (Wirth, et al., 2003).

After a few days, the ants had died.  My sister-in-law removed the abdomens from the ants, the rest of the ant body apparently having too strong a taste to eat.  (A little unsettling to think what may make the abdomens more palatable in light of the above description.)  Then, she toasted the abdomens and ground up with some chiles to make a salsa.  The ants infused the salsa with their strong, earthy taste (edit 6/22/12: the MacZ word for an earthy taste is idiá’).  Not bad really.  I see there are other ways to eat them–a whole taco full?–I wouldn’t mind trying it.  Might be a bit expensive though.  Someone else said her son collects them and can sell them for a peso each.  That could result in a very expensive taco, though I’m not really sure you would need that many.  It seems a little goes a long way.

Apparently, there’s no word for these things in Macuiltianguis Zapotec; it’s too cold for them there.  I’ll have to check to see what the words might be for them in other, warmer areas.

Now, it leaves me wondering what other edible bugs are out there.  If nothing else, maybe I should give chapulines another try.