En Via Events, Indigenous Culture, Oaxaca life

Hard Work & Heart’s Desires: New Year’s at Las Cuevitas

The year 2012 was a wonderful year of growth and success for the women of En Vía. Many have seen real changes for the better in their businesses and positive effects on their families.

Elodia, from the town of Tlacochahuaya, is proud to reflect on what has happened these last 12 months. “I have fixed my kitchen this year, and built my new oven, and have money to invest in my tortilla business for the New Year.” Perla, also from Tlacochayuaha, reports that “in 2012 I opened my business; my own beauty salon.” She is also thankful for the good fortune her family has had, acknowledging that “my little daughter has been healthy.Garlic seller Lucila in Abasolo reports that due to the loans this year she has been able to buy her produce up-front instead of on credit from the producers. “I feel more powerful when I go to market with my garlic, because I know it belongs to me outright”.

All the women in the program are looking ahead to an even better year in 2013, and you can be sure that they have big plans. After a year recovering from health complications, Angela, in the town of Teotitlán, is excited to be using her new loan to start reinvesting in her artisan business in 2013. Anabel in the town of Diaz Ordáz is saving for a special refrigerated display for her cakes that she bakes and sells. “Maybe if I put aside enough I can use my savings along with a loan to buy it in 2013.”

In Teotitlán a very special tradition exists to mark this idea of looking ahead and asking for a better year. On the 1st and 2nd of January the people of the town make their way up to a place at the foot of the hills; a place called Las Cuevitas, or little caves. You might call it a cave, or a grotto, that has seemingly been carved from the water that now trickles slowly from the mountain. Here it is said that a Virgin appeared, and was named La Virgin de la Natividad and became one of the most revered in the local church.

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I had never been there before, but soon I started seeing familiar faces. Sara and her sisters Sofia and Ludivina were making memelas on a big comal and smiling out at us from amongst their neighbours. We were suddenly gifted freshly made tamales with yellow mole by someone passing by. It was a real party of sorts! On the path, Carlos and I stopped to be embraced and were wished a happy new year by   by a handful of women and their families.

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We stood for a moment by a small ojito, or eye of water, that seemed to spring from the very rock at our feet. “At midnight”, Eugenia said looking down, “the edges of the water are said to shine with their own light”. I could only stare in astonishment and delight.

 “People come here to this place to ask the Virgin for many things”, another firend, Josefina, told us as we made our way carefully down the incline. “Some ask for success in business, some ask for new houses. Some couples who can’t conceive come and ask for children”.

At the base of the cave, men and women stood with their hands out, tenderly taking hold of the old outcrop of stone. I saw lips move and heads bow as they asked their heart’s quiet desires. Around them, tucked into the crevices of the rock, I noticed curious objects. Little plastic animals and people, toy cars, paper money bills, ribbons, candles, crosses; all symbols of the new years’ wishes.

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The air was buzzing with the sound of it; there were so many different wishes, and prayers and hopes for the future that were flying out around that little pocket. Small fires gave welcome warmth to the hillside as the sun retreated further and further back into the long valley.  Above my head bright sparks exploded haphazardly, and I had to jump over quite a number of firecrackers that had been tucked into the cracks in the rocks underfoot by little boys.

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On the slopes around the caves, piles of rocks and sticks had been gathered up, and whole families sat beside them talking and eating. Taking a closer look at the stones, you would find that they were actually little houses, constructed with the intention of building up a physical representation of the things that are important; a roof overhead and a safe place for family. Little pebbles were placed about them, in the form of wishes for sheep or a new donkey, or perhaps a strong corn crop. Similarly, by the banks of the stream people had drawn figures in the sand. With my own little stone I knelt and carefully added another.

Las Cuevitas is indeed a place of miracles. Even if you do not believe in the appearance of Virgins, or in the granting of prayers, it is impossible not to feel the tangible energy that comes from the gathering of family and friends to reflect on a year spent and give hope to a new start. Perhaps there is real magic in the sincere visualization of aspirations for the New Year, as well as the true commitment to both hard work and faith, that the people in communities like Teotitlán carry with them every single day of the year. 

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By Kim Groves
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