|Long before the Spanish arrived in their wooden sailing vessels, long before the Republic of Mexico claimed rule over the indigenous population, natives of the high mountains of Tobasco gathered each planting season at sulphuric waters near the "Cave of the Sardines" to ask the Gods for blessings on their crops.
Now, years after they have embraced the Catholic Faith, they still come, carrying incense and offerings of flowers, dancing their pre-Hispanic rituals and calling on the same old Gods for divine approval of their farming efforts.
"Good morning grandfather,
Good morning grandfather,
Good morning grandfather.
Please welcome our greetings
And hear what we came to ask:
Our families are hungry,
Our children are hungry,
In the name of God and water,
In the name of the sun and the moon,
And in the name of our mother earth,
Give us our fish.
Please let us enter your home.
Thank you very much grandfather!
Thank you very much grandfather!
In your name we bring the offerings
With all our hearts.”
Villa de Tapijulapa, which in the Zoque language means “place of pitchers”, is 80 km south of Villahermosa, Tabasco, where the Amatán and Oxolotán rivers meet. Surrounded by high mountains, age-old jungles, and large rivers, this picturesque town with colonial architecture has several natural attractions and a very unique festival, the Pesa de la Sardinas, of the sardine fishing festival. This is Maya country, with flavors of early Olmex=c still part of local tradition and ritual, an ancient area of Mexico.
If you're searching for indigenous culture off-the-beaten-path, you won't find it any more real than in Tacotalpa where thousands of locals gather each year to seek the blessings of the Gods. The natives, like their forfathers, believe caves and cenotes, underground rivers, are sacred places and the home to the Gods. It has long been a common practise in pre-Hispanic Mexico to gather at the cave or well or cenote and seek the counsel and appeasement of the Gods. In Tacotalpa, it's no different today.
They bring with them cobal and flower offerings and banana leaves with barbasco (Paullinia mexicana is a plant that has rotenone, a natural toxin that inhibits oxygen from the tissues, which makes fish be “drunk”). A few words are uttered by the senior member of the poeple, an elder, and the Sardine Dance is performed by colorfully clad celbrants. Through the dance the hisotory of the people is told, and how the Gods favor those that remember them.
The toxic banana leaves are ritualistically cast into the water and the people wait. The belief is that the more sardines that succumb to the toxin and float to the top of the sulphuric waters, the greater the blessings will be on the newly or soo-to-be planted crops. The tiny fish are harvested and then used in the following celebration, muany of which are used in the fields to fertilizer, or bless, the soils.
Be it legend and age-old tradition or scientific principal, there is often an apparent coelation between the success of the fish hunt and the success of the year's spring crop. Do the tiny fish remains fertilizer the soil, meaning the more fish harvested and used for fertilizer the better the crop? Or is it pure coincidence? Who can say with certainty.
To the locals, it is simply the way the crops are planted each year, and the will of the Gods be done.
The Cave of the Sardines is best reached by flying to Villahermosa Airport. We suiggest you rent a car at the airport and ask for local directions.