There is a curious practice of going by a different clock in Teotitlan del Valle. For years, now, I have never understood why the village is one hour ahead or behind Oaxaca city, 30 minutes away. Village time is regulated by the Zapotec committee that administers village life. I just asked Stephen, Do you remember whether Teo is an hour ahead or an hour behind Oaxaca? It’s too confusing, he said, all I know is Oaxaca is an hour behind us on the east coast. If this sounds confusing to you, you now know our experience of sorting out whether the time we are to meet someone is Teo or Oaxaca “time” and why people are always late … or early. The confusion, I am learning, may be intentional. After all, every Zapotec in Teotitlan knows what time it is.
Earl Shorris, author of The Life and Times of Mexico (as well as Latinos and In the Language of Kings), discusses the importance of time in Mexica or Aztec and Mayan civilization as part of indigenous identity and culture. Time is more than the clock. It represents who interprets the meaning of the world and life according to ancient traditions. It represents power and independence. The Maya notion (and that of the Zapotecs and later Aztecs) of existence itself relates to the calendars. Time is also the symbolic tension and conflict between the conqueror and the oppressed, the ancient pre-Hispanic rites interpreted by shaman or the new religion imported by the Spanish Catholic Church. The masters of Zero long before it occurred to the Europeans, complex astronomy, and mathematics, had been conquered. Shorris tells us that the glorious accomplishments of Mesoamerica are embedded in the ancient practices that continue in subtle ways as sub-text to modern life, and drives the undercurrent of indigenous beliefs and practices.
I came to understand by reading this book that Teotitlan del Valle in the Valley of Oaxaca maintains its own time, I believe, as a way to defeat the European world and the Gregorian calendar, to pass the word that the war for time and power is not over. Who owns time, who interprets the sun, the moon and the stars, owns the world. It had been that way in Mesoamerica for thousands of years.