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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.

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Radio Mixteco

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yesterday, The New York Times ran a nice article on “La Hora Mixteca”, a weekly radio program broadcasting out of Fresno, CA and directed toward the Oaxacan immigrant farm workers in central California.  The host, Filemón López, is Mixtec and the program regularly features Spanish, Mixtec, and other languages of Oaxaca.  The NYTimes article includes a sample.  The program has also been picked up by Radio Bilingüe, the only Spanish-language public radio network in the US, which allows for the show to be picked up over the Internet as well on Sundays from 10-2 (unclear is that is PDT or EDT).  But independently, Radio Bilingüe seems worth checking out.

[hat tip: Pam Munro]

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Springtime in Oaxaca

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today’s the first day of spring, though in Oaxaca it has been quite summer-like for a good month more.  It’s been quite warm here and dry.  Very enjoyable I think.  Come summer, it actually cools off here somewhat and rains a bit.

To commemorate the first day of spring, there is a children’s day environmental parade going on through the centro of Oaxaca.  Various daycares, including Benjamin’s, are participating in the parade.  The children are dressed up in various costumes with a spring/environmental theme: mostly as animals, but some were decked out as things to recycle and as trash that shouldn’t be thrown out on the street.  There are a couple of bands leading the parade through the streets of Oaxaca, starting off at the Santo Domingo church, and wending their way through the streets of Oaxaca.

Benjamin and Margarita in the Spring Parade

Benjamin and Margarita in the Spring Parade

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B-Ball for Benito

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This weekend and next, there is a basketball tournament going on in honor of Benito Juárez, who was President of Mexico and the country’s version of Abraham Lincoln.  He was a Zapotec, from the Sierra, and the basketball tournament is being held in his hometown of Guelatao [Ellato’].  The tournament concludes next Saturday, the 21st of March, his birthday.  Margarita, Benjamin, and her brother-in-law have gone today to watch the early rounds.

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Macuiltianguis in 3-D

Friday, March 13, 2009

While going through my photos of our recent trip to Macuil for Carnaval, I noticed that I had accidentally managed to take two almost identical photos of [I’ya Periicu], a distinctive peak visible from Macuil and bordering the town of Luvina [Debiina].  The two photos are similar enough, yet distinct enough, that they make an excellent stereoscopic pair (click on the thumbnail below for a full size view):

I'ya Periicu San Pablo Macuiltianguis 20090224

If you cross your eyes right, or have your own stereoscopic viewer, the details of I’ya Periicu to the south of Macuil (the peak with the saddle-like shape on top) comes out quite nicely.  Some of the houses of Macuil leading down into Margarita’s barrio are visible on the right of the photo.  And beyond the tree, on the mountain behind I’ya Periicu is the town of Abejones [Eyhu’ni], although I’m not sure you can really make out any details of it in the photos.  Enjoy!

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Hey Rocky, Watch me as I…Rocky?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

While I was in the Sierra for Carnaval, I saw something I hadn’t seen before here:  smoked squirrel.  I had had squirrel [beriida’] before when I had visited Macuil on an earlier trip.  No big deal, but I hadn’t thought about it being smoked (I don’t think what I had eaten had been).  But while we were visiting someone during the last trip, I had noticed that along with the regular strips of beef smoking over the hearth, that there was also a whole, small animal hanging over the bar above the fire.  I asked if it was what I thought, and sure enough, they told me it was a squirrel.  Unfortunately, nobody offered me any (I don’t know if it was ready), so I will have to wait to try smoked squirrel some other day.

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Everybody Dance Now

Friday, February 20, 2009

I never thought when I started studying Zapotec that my research at some point would best be served by putting on a dress, but when duty calls, we do what we must.

The main event of Carnaval involves putting on a costume and dancing. The costumes often involve wearing the opposite gender’s clothes and something to cover the face, which, in the name of scientific discovery, I demonstrate here (with Benjamin’s help).

Benjamin and John Ready for Carnaval

Benjamin and John Ready for Carnaval

The traditional masks shown here are painted screens, although anything works, Halloween-type masks (there was even a George W. Bush among the Luvina revelers), bandanas, baskets and bags with eye-holes cut out, etc.

People then danced around in a fenced-off area in front of the agencia. Generally, people dance individually, though occasionally you get couples dancing together, as you can see at the end of the post.

During certain songs, the music periodically pauses and people step up to the microphone to recite verses they have composed, either beforehand, or more impressively, while dancing. The little poems (and I was happy to hear some in Zapotec as well as in Spanish, which is more common) are intended to be humorous, although often at someone’s expense. Despite my attempts at disguise (I pretty well covered every inch of skin), my height gives me away and I even was mentioned in a couple of verses, which I took as an honor. I heard a reference to the gavacha (a white woman), which I understood to be me, and so apparently was a reference to the Queen of England. People who produce good verses are admired, and coming up with them on the fly (such as those directed at me) show particular skill. Some of the best seem to be those that involve back and forth barbs between participants.

The costumes and attempts to disguise the voice can offer some anonymity, and allow for some pointed barbs, although things can get a bit heated too, which is while several of the community police were patrolling the scene carrying clubs. Even so, as the day wore on, several fights did break out (although they didn’t seem to be verse-inspired). This is a regular part of Carnaval, Margarita assured, kind of like fights at a hockey game I guess.

And just to liven things up a bit more, there are also petate bulls, that people (generally the only ones not in costume) can carry around while dancing. They then attempt to smash the petate bulls into the dancers. The more daring dancers try to tempt the people with the bulls and try to dance out of the way.

I didn’t end up facing the toros myself, since they did’t start using them until later in the afternoon. I only got to dance a few songs before we stopped for a lunchtime hour break. It was overcast, but my costume was still too hot, and once I got out of it, I didn’t get around to getting back into it, before the day’s dancing was done.

That was the thing that surprised me the most: The dancing ended around 6pm. I really expected something that involved drunken revelry to be more of a nighttime activity, but it’s a all day event here. They’ll be starting again at 8 in the morning.

Dancing at Carnaval, Luvina, 2009

Dancing at Carnaval, Luvina, 2009