Chiapas: The Thirteenth Stele

Part One: A Conch

Dawn in the mountains of the Mexican southeast.

Slowly, with an unhurried but continuous movement, the moon allows the dark sheet of night to slip off her body and to finally reveal the erotic nudity of her light. She then reclines across the length of the sky, desirous of looking and being looked at, that is, of touching and being touched. If light does anything, it delineates its opposite, and so, down below, a shadow offers the cloud its hand while murmuring:

"Come with me, look with your heart at what my eyes show you, walk in my steps and dream in my arms. Up above, the stars are making a shell, with the moon as origin and destiny. Look and listen. This is a dignified and rebel land. The men and women who live it are like many men and women in the world. Let us walk, then, in order to look at and listen to them now, while time hovers between night and day, when dawn is queen and lady in these lands.

Take care with that puddle and the mud. Better to follow the tracks which, like in so many other things, are the most knowing. Do you hear that laughter? It is from a couple who are repeating now the ancient rite of love. He murmurs something, and she laughs, she laughs as if she were singing. Then silence, then sighs and muted moans. Or perhaps the other way around, first sighs and moans, afterwards murmurs and laughter. But let's continue on ahead, because love needs no witnesses other than glances turned flesh, and, since it is sunlight regardless of the hour, it also undresses shadows.

Come. Let us sit for a bit and let me tell you things. We are in rebel lands. Here live and fight those who are called "zapatistas." And these zapatistas are very otherlyÉand they despair of more than one of them. Instead of weaving their history with executions, death and destruction, they insist on living. And the vanguards of the world tear at their hair, because, as for "victory or death," these zapatistas neither vanquish nor die, but nor do they surrender, and they despise martyrdom as much as capitulation. Very otherly, it's true. And then there is the one who is said to be their leader, one Sup Marcos, whose public image is closer to that of Cantinflas and Pedro Infante than to Emiliano Zapata's and Ché Guevara's. And it's a waste of time to say that no one will take them seriously that way, because they themselves are the first to joke about their being so otherly.

They are rebel indigenous. Breaking, thus, the traditional preconception, first from Europe and afterwards from all those who are clothed in the color of money, that was imposed on them for looking and being looked at.

And so they do not adapt to the "diabolical" image of those who sacrifice humans to appease the gods, nor to that of the needy indigenous, with his hand extended, expecting crumbs or charity from he who has everything. Nor that of the good savage who is perverted by modernity, nor that of the infant who entertains his elders with gibberish. Nor that of the submissive peon from all those haciendas which lacerated the history of Mexico. Nor that of the skillful craftsperson whose products will adorn the walls of he who despises him. Nor that of the ignorant fool who should not have an opinion about what is further than the limited horizon of his geography. Nor that of someone who is fearful of heavenly or earthly gods.

Because you must know, my blue repose, that these indigenous become angry even at those who sympathize with their cause. And the fact is that they do not obey. When they are expected to speak, they are silent. When silence is expected, they speak. When they are expected to move forward, they go back. When they are expected to keep going back, they're off on another side. When it's expected that they just speak, they break out talking of other things. When they're expected to be satisfied with their geography, they walk the world and its struggles.

Or it's that they're not content with anyone. And it doesn't seem to matter to them much. What does matter to them is for their heart to be content, and so they follow the paths shown by their heart. That's what they seem to be doing now. Everywhere there are people on paths. They are coming and going, barely exchanging the usual greetings. They are spending long hours in meetings or assemblies or whatever. They go in with frowning faces, and they leave, smiling in complicity.


Whatever it is, I am sure that many people will not like what they are going to do or say. In addition, as the Sup says, the zapatistas' specialty is in creating problems and then seeing later who is going to solve them. And so one shouldn't expect much from those meetings other than problemsÉ

Perhaps we might guess what it is about if we look carefully. The zapatistas are very otherly &endash; I don't know if I already told you that &endash; and so they imagine things before those things exist, and they think that, by naming them, those things will begin to have life, to walkÉand, yes, to create problems. And so I am sure they have already imagined something, and they are going to begin to act as if that something already exists, and no one is going to understand anything for some time, because, in effect, once named, things begin to take on body, life and a tomorrow.

Then we could look for some clueÉNo, I don't know where to lookÉI believe their way is looking with their ears and listening with their eyes. Yes, I know it sounds complicated, but nothing else occurs to me. Come, let's keep on walking.

Look, the stream is turning into a whirlpool there, and in its center the moon is shimmering its sinuous dance. A whirlpoolÉor a shell.

They say here that the most ancient say that other, earlier ones said that the most first of these lands held the figure of the shell in high esteem. They say that they say that they said that the conch represents entering into the heart, that is what the very first ones with knowledge said. And they say that they say that they said that the conch also represents leaving the heart in order to walk the world, which is how the first ones called life. And more, they say that they say that they said that they called the collective with the shell, so that the word would go from one to the other and agreement would be reached. And they also say that they say that they said that the conch was help so that the ear could hear even the most distant word. That is what they say that they say that they said. I don't know. I am walking hand in hand with you, and I am showing you what my ears see and my eyes hear. And I see and hear a shell, the "pu'y', as they say in their language here.

Ssh. Silence. The dawn has already yielded to day. Yes, I know it's still dark, but look how the huts are filling, little by little, with light from the fire in the stoves. Since now we are shadows in the shadow, no one sees us, but if they did see us, I am sure they would offer us a cup of coffee, which, with this cold, would be appreciated. As I appreciate the pressure of your hand in my hand.

Look, the moon is already slipping away to the west, concealing its pregnant light behind the mountain. It is time to leave, to shelter the journey in the shadow of a cave, there, where desire and weariness are soothed with another, more pleasant weariness. Come, here, I will murmur to you with flesh and words: "And, ay, how I would wish to be/a joy among all joys,/one alone, the joy you would take joy in!/A love, one single love:/the love you would fall in love with./But/I am nothing more than what I am"/ (Pedro Salinas. "La voz a ti debida"). We will no longer be looking at each other there, but, in the half-sleep of desire, moored in a safe harbour, we will be able to listen to that activity which is stirring these zapatistas now, those who insist on subverting even time, and who are once again raising, as if it were an external flag, another calendarÉthat of resistance."

Shadow and light go. They have not noticed that in a hut a faint light has been kept up all through the night. Now, inside, a group of men and women are sharing coffee and silence, as they shared the word previously.

For several hours these humans with their dusk-colored hearts have traced, with their ideas, a great shell. Starting from the international, their eyes and their thoughts have turned within, passing successively through the national, the regional and the local, until they reached what they call "El Votan. The guardian and heart of the people," the zapatista peoples. And so, from the shell's most external curve, they thought words like "globalization," "war of domination," "resistance," "economy," "city," "countryside," "political situation," and others which the eraser has been eliminating after the usual question: "Is it clear or are there questions?" At the end of the path from outside in, in the center of the shell, only some initials remain: "EZLN." Afterwards, there are proposals, and they paint, in thought and in heart, windows and doors which only they see (among other reasons, because they still don't exist). The disparate and scattered word begins to make common collective path. Someone asks: "Is there agreement? There is," the now collective voice responds affirmatively. The shell is traced again, but now in the opposite path, from inside out. The eraser also continues the reverse path until only one sentence remains, filling the old chalkboard, a sentence which is madness to many, but which is, to these men and women, a reason for struggle: "A world where many worlds fit." A little bit later, a decision is made.

Now is silence and waiting. A shadow goes out into the night rain. A spark of light barely illuminates the eye. Once again smoke rises from his lips in the darkness. With his hands behind his back, he begins a coming and going without destination. A few minutes ago, there, inside, a death has been decidedÉ

(To be continued)

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, July of 2003.

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN ************************** Translated by irlandesa


To the Chiapas and the Zapatista rebellion page