The Nahua of Jalisco and hope through coffee: Organización “Color de la Tierra”

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Not well-known to many of those visiting the Costa Alegre part of Mexico (that area along the Pacific Coast of Mexico between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo) is that an ancient Nahua community of about 3,000 people — the Ayotitlán community — resides in the mountains above Manzanillo.  Most of the pueblos making up this community are within the Sierra Manantlán Biosphere Reserve, a place of remarkable natural beauty and a possible cradle for one of man’s most important crops, corn.

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The Nahua of Ayotitlán, like indigenous peoples the world over, have experienced a long history of marginalization and dispossession of their lands.  For these people, recent struggles stem from the fact that while the Ayotitlán’s Nahuas live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, that same place is also covered with valuable timber and underlain by nearly pure iron ore, two things that outsiders covet zealously and will go to almost any extent to obtain.

In the midst of this, one group of Nahua women on the northern edge of the Ayotitlan community have found a way to quietly better their lives and in the process are casting a ray of hope for their community and other communities like theirs. These women and their families have organized a collectiva, “Color de Tierra” that runs a remarkable little store in the pueblo of Cuzalapa, Jalisco.

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Gossypium barbadense in southern Jalisco

In the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve in the southern part of Jalisco, near Cuzalapa and in the Nahuatl pueblo Lagunillas de Ayotitlan, I found some interesting cotton plants.

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The bolls were very compact and the seeds were not dispersed about in the cotton boll but were instead attached to one vaguely reminiscent of grains of wheat in a head of wheat (minus the central stalk).

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I sent this photograph of the bolls and seeds to Dr. Mauricio Ulloa at the USDA-ARS, W.C.I.S. Research Unit, Cotton Enhancement Program.  His reply was interesting.  He indicated that this sort of seed arrangement goes under the common name of kidney cotton and is found most commonly in landraces of the cotton species Gossypium barbadense.  The unusual seed arrangement results from fusion of the seeds of a locule (Ulloa et al. 2004).

G. barbadense is not native to Mexico but was instead apparently domesticated over 6000 years ago somewhere along the coast of Peru or Ecuador (Damp and Pearsall 1994). At some point in the past it made its way into Mexico.  Ulloa et al. (2004) in a survey of currently existing cotton resources in western Mexico found G. barbadense plants in garden plots in Chiapas but no farther north.

Interestingly, all G. barbadense plants found in Mexico were of the subspecies brasiliense commonly known as “kidney cotton”.

Ullola et al. (2004) suggest the presence of G. barbadense in Chiapas is most likely the result of “early trade”.  While this is a bit vague, the presence of this species only in southern-most Mexico and among indigenous groups suggests that by “early” the authors are suggesting that the trade was pre-Hispanic.  If so, the finding of G. barbadense subspecies  brasiliense in southern Jalisco has cultural significance in that it extends the range of this trading and broadens the number of indigenous groups involved.  It is also further reason for the careful stewardship of the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve and the respectful treatment of its people.


References

Damp, J. E.; Pearsall, D. M. (1994). Early cotton from coastal Ecuador. Economic Botany. 48 (2): 163–165.

Ulloa M, Stewart JM, Garcia EA, Godoy S, Gaytan A, et al. (2006). Cotton genetic resources in the Western states of Mexico: in situ conservation status and germplasm collection for ex situ preservation. Genet Resources and Crop Evolution 53: 653–668.