Daily Archives: 19 September 2007

Wordcatcher Tales: Huarachudo, Ejido, Municipio, Piloncillo

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 206-210:

The municipio of Turicato [in the State of Michoacán] has always divided along these town-rural lines. The hill folks resented the power, money, and education, relatively speaking, of the people in town. The city folk feared the hillbillies but saw no reason to extend power, or municipal services, to people they considered ignorant and barbaric. In these years the Barajas family—a family of local merchants—dominated Turicato politics….

In this atmosphere “Los Villa,” as the Villaseñor family was known, emerged first as rebels. They took up the cause of the “huarachudos,” the “sandal wearers”—whom they rallied to their cause against the city folk…. The Villaseñores were huarachudos themselves. They were sixteen children whose father, Tomás, had been born a peon on the hacienda San Rafael. In the 1930s President Lázaro Cárdenas ordered a section of the hacienda transformed into a communal farm—an ejido—owned by those who had worked it as peons….

The Villaseñor piloncillo operation also grew. Piloncillo is a small cone of brown sugar about an inch in diameter, processed by a simple mill. It is used to sweeten coffee, in household cooking, or by the soft-drink industry. In the 1990s, piloncillo has all but vanished as a product from the Turicato region. But in the 1970s and 1980s, many sugar cane growers were producing piloncillo. In the Turicato region in the 1970s and 1980s, owning a piloncillo mill was the difference between a life of comfort and one of hopeless poverty….

The emergence of a hillbilly family brought with it the kind of abuses that town residents had feared all along. “What happens is they form into groups,” says Trigo. “There’s one who’s a leader, and around him form people who like to fight and look for trouble. They like to walk into a cantina and throw everybody out. They figure that’s a real achievement. This grows; the group gets larger. Then it becomes, ‘Let’s take over this land.’”…

Yet the Villaseñor family never did fully dominate local politics. They proved in the end to be poor politicians. Their frequent warring—“their bellicose nature” as one man put it—earned them many enemies. By 1989 a significant part of the municipio nurtured in dark silence a pure and vital hatred of the Villaseñores, and among them were many of the same poor peasants—the huarachudos—that the family once rallied to its side….

In 1994 the military put a roadblock between Turicato and Puruarán and set about arresting or killing off the bandit gangs. Others saw that the military meant business and laid down their guns. So five years after the Nueva Jerusalén vote threw Turicato into a civil war, a version of peace came to the municipio.

The chapter from which these excerpts come is a well-told tale, but one sadly familiar in its broad outlines: ambitious évolués (sponsored by distant elites, in this case the PRI) lead others among the oppressed to overthrow and replace an oppressive elite, only to impose a new kind of thugocracy at least as violent and oppressive as the old one. Sort of a Zimbabwe in microcosm. (Zimbabwe, whose independence I long ago celebrated at a big gathering of African students in Honolulu.)

But I want to comment on just two of the four words italicized in the extract.

The Spanish term municipio may have survived in the form of an English calque more than a century after the Spanish ceded Micronesia to the Germans. Each of the Federated States (formerly Districts) of Micronesia is divided into what are now called municipalities, a term that no subsequent German, Japanese, or American administrator would likely have come up with, although the Americans are credited with introducing the term by the anthropologist Lingenfelter, who worked in Yap during the early postwar years. If so, U.S. Navy administrators probably calqued on the basis of usage in the Philippines. Micronesian municipalities have never been centered around a town and its hinterland. Instead, they seem to be more like alliances of contiguous villages.

I’m old enough to have purchased a pair of Mexican huarache sandals in the 1970s, when I was a grad student in Hawai‘i. The dye made my feet break out, so I stayed with rubber slippers (zori). (I hardly owned a pair of shoes all through grad school.) The relation between Spanish huarache ‘sandal’ and huarachudo ‘sandaled’ is parallel to that between English beard and bearded. Spanish and English are both related languages. But the same parallel can be observed between, for example, Chamorro sapatos ‘shoes’ (from Spanish) and sinapatos ‘shod, wearing shoes’, or Chamorro relós ‘wristwatch’ (also from Spanish) and rinelós ‘wearing a wristwatch’. Among its myriad functions, the -in- infix in Philippine languages can form adjectives out of nouns in a manner similar to that of participial affixes in Spanish and English.

UPDATE: The Micronesian Seminar‘s Francis X. Hezel, S.J., weighs in on the antecedents of the term municipality in Micronesia.

The term as used in Micronesia after the war has no direct relationship to the Spanish colonial period in these islands. The Spanish weren’t here long enough and they weren’t influential enough to have the term stick. There are very few Spanish loan words that have made their way into the island languages. Actually, islanders used the Japanese term kumi to describe a segment of the island, even well after the war. Muncipality came into the languages through the English term, via the Navy.

The usage of Japanese kumi ‘club, association, gang’ is very interesting, and seems a much more appropriate term for the traditional political alliances before they were recast by the U.S. Navy as local-government structures. The Yapese dictionary translates municipality into Yapese nuug ‘net’ (presumably meaning ‘network’ of political alliances). Other Micronesian dictionaries I’ve consulted don’t list municipality in the English finder list. So it seems U.S. Navy administrators were influenced by Spanish local-government terminology already long-established in the Philippines.

The U.S. Census Bureau glossary does not list the term municipality at all, but it does list and gloss municipio as: “Primary legal divisions of Puerto Rico. These are treated as county equivalents.” The Wikipedia entry for Municipalities of the Philippines begins thus: “A municipality (bayan, sometimes munisipyo, in Tagalog) is a local government unit in the Philippines. Municipalities are also called towns (which is actually a better translation of bayan).”

SHARP DETOUR: My wife and I taught University of Hawai‘i extension courses on Yap, Micronesia, in the summer of 1983, just before heading off to spend a year in Romania on a Fulbright research grant. In fact, she was still there when I got the word that my nearly forgotten application from a year earlier had been approved and that the orientation in Washington, D.C., would begin before she got back to Honolulu. Trying to place a telephone call through to Yap was not easy in those days.

Anyway, for my introductory linguistics course on Yap I used the first edition of Peter Trudgill’s little Penguin paperback Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. Even the main islands of Yap have a good deal of regional variation in pronunciation and word choice, and the outer islands speak dialects of the far-flung Trukic language continuum, only distantly related to Yapese. The variety of Yapese spoken in the major municipality (Rull) closest to Colonia—the capital and only urban center—provided the basis for the standard orthography, but the pilot school for testing Yapese language curriculum materials (with bilingual education funding from the U.S. DOE) was located in the major municipality (Tomil) with the most divergent pronunciation. The three major municipalities were those chiefly alliances (called kumi in Japanese) dominant at the time the Germans took control: Gagil, Tomil, and Rull.

My wife and I first met while we were both assigned to that school in the fall of 1974—she as a new Peace Corps teacher for two years, me as a visiting linguist for one semester—and we both learned our Yapese in that very rural municipality. (Mine faded much more quickly than hers.) So we were quite aware of regional variation and of the principal shibboleths of Tomil dialect, chief among them being the pronunciation of standard /ae/ as /ee/, as in the pronoun gaeg vs. geeg ‘me’ or the plural marker on verbs -gaed vs. -geed, both high-frequency items.

For my introduction to linguistics course in 1983, I decided that the most important things I should focus on were the respective relationships between writing and pronunciation, on the one hand, and between dialects and standard languages, on the other. One of my assignments was for my students to assemble a list of common words for which there were regional variants, then track down the boundaries between those variants (the isoglosses). The most interesting findings involved variants whose isoglosses failed to align with the existing boundaries between municipalities, perhaps revealing earlier linguistic and political fault lines.

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