The earth rumbles. Ténabarim, koyolim and senaaso. Amerindian mythology of Pajko'ola musical instruments.1

Receipt: May 31, 2023

Acceptance: October 19, 2023


During their dance, the Pajko'ola performs various percussion instruments by shaking: ténabarim, koyolim and senaaso. The analysis of each one cannot be separated from the mythology that underlies the character, which is associated with the Earth and telluric movements. Here the existence of a complex related to predominantly feminine entities and "wild beasts" -ancient women or ogres- of the type "Old men of the dance" and with nocturnal lepidoptera is proposed. The review of this approach is not exhaustive, but it allows us to locate aspects of the mythology of Yuto-Nahuas groups and other linguistic affiliations, present and past, from Mexico and other places. From the mythology of "noise" it is possible to locate the Pajko'ola and its musical instruments as belonging to the domain of darkness.

Keywords: , , ,

the earth rumbles: amerindian mythology of the ténabarim, koyolim, and sena'asothree musical instruments of the pajko'ola

As they dance, the Pajko'ola play different percussion instruments: the ténabarim (leg rattle), koyolim (belt with bells), and sena'aso (jingle). Any analysis of these instruments must consider the mythology behind the Pajko'ola character, who is associated to Earth and its movements. This article considers the existence of an "elders of the dance" complex related to predominantly female beings and "beasts" -old women or ogres- and to nocturnal lepidoptera. Though by no means exhaustive, the analysis of mythological aspects of Yuto-Nahua groups expands into those of other linguistic affiliations, both existing and past, in Mexico and beyond. The mythology of "noise" enables the Pajko'ola and their music instruments to be situated within the dominion of darkness.

Keywords: Pajko'ola, Mexican northwest, musical instruments, moth, vagina dentata.

To Luciano Espinoza Medina, Pajko'ola Yo'owe

In memoriam

The Pajko'olam play tricks on people and the yoyuma'ane (spell) can be put on another, so that the bewitched Pajko'ola cannot dance. This harmless trick passes quickly.

N. Ross Crumrine (1977: 98)


The yoremem o mayos from Sonora and Sinaloa and the yoemem or Yaquis belong to the Yuto-Nahua linguistic stock of northwestern Mexico. Among their vast rituality is the Pajko: the eminently nocturnal solar cult integrated to the feast of the saints and the "ancient arts": music and dance performed by ritual specialists or "oficios" (Beals, 2016). Among them stands out the Pajko'ola: "Old or wise man of the Feast" (Olmos, 1998), who dances playing some percussion instruments: ténabarim (ankle and calf rattle), koyolim (metallic bells) and senaaso (sistro). Characterized as a "shaman", this character, along with his companions, belongs to the Monte or Juyya Ánia, a wild and fertile environment whose forces are present through music (Ochoa, 1998: 199).2

This "Old Man of the Dance" dances in front of two musical ensembles: string instruments (violins and harp) and percussion and aerophone (drum and flute). Considered the latter as the indigenous music (Beals, 2016: 236), the Pajko'ola. dances using exclusively his mask on his face and beating against the grain the sistro: an instrument of darkness (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 336; Kurath, 1972). In this article we allude to the night as the mythical space where the materiality of his musical instruments -cocoons, metal and wood- gives support to a sonority that participates in the "nocturnal" communicative action of the Pajko.

Figure 1. Pajko'ola dance modality in front of the Tambuleero. Torocoba, Huatabampo, 2009.

As will be seen, the constant vibrations of the ankle and calf rattles, rattles and metallic discs are in accordance with the tremors of the Earth to expose the riches of that wild and fertile world necessary for existence. Similar to other Amerindian characters, the Pajko'ola cannot stop its "convulsions" once it has begun, but requires violent action to stop it. Exegesis points out that the sound of his ténabarim -also known in Spanish as "cáscaras"- alludes to the rustling of leaves and dry sticks, but also to the rattles of some snakes (Crotalus spp). In Tórim (Yaqui River) it is said that the Sánkuakawi or "Cerro de la Basura (leaf litter)" trembles every minute. In addition to the flickering movement of the rattlesnake and the dry leaves, there is the slight trembling of the fluttering of the lepidopteran that, in the mythology of various ancient and contemporary groups of North America, appears as a nocturnal character destined to be destroyed.

The ténabarim and the pallet as surfaces of the Earth

According to one interpreter, the power held by the Pajko'ola comes from the Earth, just at the moment of the placement of the ténabarim previous to its characterization. It is a "shaking percussion idiophone" (Hornbostel and Sachs, apud. Jáuregui, 2017: 73) consisting of 75 pairs of cocoons of a certain moth -.baiseebori or "four-mirror butterfly"-tied to a string of almost two meters long that covers her from her ankles to below her knees.

Figure 2. Tenabarim, koyolim and wikosa. Los Buitbores, Huatabampo, 2009.

As for the sartal used to perform acts dedicated to divinities, the ténabarim are associated with the rosary in "the same semantic field within which they manifest symmetrical and inverse significant oppositions" (Jáuregui, 2017: 106). Furthermore, if the latter is linked to the symbolism of the ascending staircase, the ténabarim present an implicit transformation with its opposite: the descending staircase, which the Pajko'ola Yo'owe o Mayor draws on the earth at the beginning of the Fiesta around sunset. In a Yaqui myth the rosary works as a "luminous" transformer of a "dark" practice (the dance of the Pajko'ola), when in an oversight the Virgin manages to hang the rosary on the dancer -son of the Devil- during a Pajko al she had summoned in the east, thus taking over the music and dance (Olmos, 2015: 258).

In its mythical origin, a pair of ophidians is entangled in the legs of the first Pajko'ola and, according to Luis A. González Bonilla: "In the legs [the Pajko'olam] are entangled the body of a reptile, which is found only in this region and resembles a snake; once dry, it sounds like a rattle and serves to mark the rhythm with the legs, this animal is called 'tenábari'" (González, 1940: 69). It is not known to which species is alluded and if any ethnographic specimen exists, but the commentary clarifies the attraction between the ténabarim and the "dry body" of a snake, allowing alluding to chelonians because of their carapace as a sounding board.

According to Jesús Jáuregui (2013), the original Seri foot drum is made from the shell of a sea turtle, possibly being the prototype of the Amerindian tarima. During the Colonial period, the Seri adopted a variant of the Pajko'ola dance in which they dance on a plank (a replacement for the shell). In the early 1950s, Thomas B. Hinton (apud. Jáuregui, 2013: 130-131) surmised that while "the Yaquis use 'cascabeles' [....ténabarim[...] the seris do not use them". The affinity between both musical instruments seems to admit a contingent supplanting, reaffirming the instrument "tarima-foot drum" as "an element considered of the west, of the underworld [...] of the sea, that is, aquatic and feminine" (Jáuregui, 2013: 148).

From the Cora case, the author also gives an account of the use of the tarima as a mortuary bed for those who die outside their municipal capital, where the two most widespread variants of the standing drum: "the one with the sound box above the ground (a hollowed trunk) and the one with the sound box below in the ground (quadrangular hole covered with a plank) [...] are metonymic symbolic terms" of the underworld (Jáuregui, 2008: 74-75). Also among the Nahua of the Huasteca an architectural image of the cosmos analytically reaffirms the attraction between the Pajko'ola-ténabari and the underworld-tarima, since "the underworld is indicated by the floor where the quadrangular tarima is nailed" (Báez-Jorge and Gómez Martínez, 1998: 33).

Another element of great relevance to reinscribe this idiophone of percussion by shaking to the theme of Mother Earth is the relation turtle-butterfly. In the mythology of the ancient nahuas, the "motifs in the shape of rhombuses with a point in its interior [that appear in the wings of Itzpapálotl] [...] [are] very similar to those that cover the surface of the earth or the cipactli [a lizard]" and, in the Codex Egerton -of Mixtec manufacture-, represent "butterflies... with turtle bodies" (Olivier, 2004: 105).

Figures 3a and 3b. Representation of turtle bodies with butterfly wings. Codex Egerton. Left Pl. 11; right Pl. 22. Based on Jansen (1994: 161 and 176).

"Obsidian Butterfly" and the Old Ones of the dance.

The iconography of Itzpapálotl, "Obsidian Butterfly", usually appears transformed into an adult and, even when there is no attribute that refers to it in its larval state or in its protective cover or where the cocoon (the "butterfly") is in its protective cover. ténabari) is part of the goddess' attire (Olivier, 2004: 97), it is possible that the rattle supplants it, since "Deities related to butterflies [...] always carry rattles" (Valverde and Ojeda, 2017: 371).

The genus of this falena, of about twenty species (Moucha, 1966: 58), gives origin to the cocoon with which Yaquis and Mayos elaborate their ankle rattle and to the Mexica divinity: Rothschildia jorulla (Densmore, 1932: 156) and Roschildia orizaba (Hoffmann, 1931: 423). "[E]specie nocturna of the family Saturniidae [...] it carries on each wing a transparent region of semi-triangular shape that is quite reminiscent of an obsidian arrowhead" (Beutelspacher, 1989: 43). Associated with the west (Seler, apud. Beutelspacher, 1989: 43), Itzpapálotl is also "personification of the southern hemisphere of the night sky" (Beyer, apud. Beutelspacher, 1989: 43).

Figure 4. Four-mirror butterfly. El Júpare, Huatabampo, 2012.

"Itzpapálotl's] ties to the Earth are deduced, in part, from his own name where the term [Itzpapálotl] appears. Itzliobsidian', a volcanic glass that is closely associated with the earth and the underworld [...] self-sacrifice, divination and dismemberment of victims" (Olivier, 2004: 100-101). The predatory capacity of Itzpapálotl, who fed on deer hearts, makes her "appear in most of her representations with her mouth open, showing her teeth and with jaguar claws" (Olivier, 2004: 101). The goddess instructed the Chichimecas to hunt "eagles, jaguars, snakes, rabbits and deer of different colors [...] she herself is the prey of hunters [...] who arrow her as if she were a deer" (Olivier, 2004: 102). As a doe, Itzpapálotl appears as the seductress of the brothers Xiuhnel and Mimich, who go out to hunt, but the former ends up devoured by the goddess in the form of a double-headed deer after having succumbed to the sexual purposes of her potential prey ("Leyenda de los soles", 2011: 187-189). It is possible that the replication of the goddess in a second double-headed deer to simultaneously seduce the second of the brothers accentuates her capacity for splitting, similar to the symmetrical unfolding of the butterfly's wings. According to Pat Carr and Willard Gingerich (1982: 87), this story presents a "transmuted version" of the toothed vagina motif, in which the "bite" of the goddess with which she opened Xiuhnel's breast to devour his heart is equivalent to her elimination by coitus.

The transformations of Itzpapálotl continue through its identification with Tepusilam ("Old woman of copper") (Preuss, 1998: 350; Olivier, 2004: 103) or Tlantepuzilama ("Old woman of metal with teeth") (Castillo, apud. Olivier, 2005: 248, note 6), which "was known in a wide geographic area and that the presence of this Mesoamerican deity was perpetuated since the xvi to the present day" (Olivier, 2005: 248). The association between both deities from the metal -in addition to their respective fatal destinies- "leaves no room for doubt" (Olivier, 2004: 103). Tlantepuzilama and Itzpapálotl are clearly linked to copper: the first, obviously, because of its name and the second because its name appears as that of an attire of the warriors called "Tlantepuzilama" (Olivier, 2004: 103). tiyacacauani" (Olivier, 2005: 254), where "ytzpapálotl"refers to a circular frame whose sides present copper sheets and, on top, a figure in the shape of a butterfly (Olivier, 2004: 103); or, also, because both can be considered as "old woman[s] with copper teeth" (Olivier, 2005: 253).

Pictorial representation of Itzpapálotl, according to the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Plate XXII. Based on Beutelspacher (1989: 46).

In his analysis, Guilhem Olivier recovers mythical accounts collected by Konrad T. Preuss (1982: 81-111) at the beginning of the century. xx that recall aspects of the disastrous encounter of the brothers Xiuhnel and Mimix with Itzpapálotl. In the Mexican version, the older brother sleeps with a woman who tries to crush him with her breasts while he sleeps, but the younger brother wakes him up and both flee only to be chased by her: the "monster of the earth". The younger brother takes refuge high up in a tree, while the older brother takes refuge in his house, which has been surrounded by villagers to defend it. Tepusilam buries himself and makes his way under the earth to the interior of the hut, emerges and devours him (Preuss, 1982 [1968]: 83-85). According to Olivier (2005: 252), the voracity linked to "old" female entities, in which "ilama"reveals the age of Tlantepuzilama, it is part of the theme of the telluric Earth, "mistress of wild animals, capable of transforming into a jaguar. Sometimes it appears as a toothed vagina that naive or reckless heroes discover to their misfortune" (Olivier, 2005: 252). The emphasis on the copper teeth of Tlantepuzilama recalls those of Tlaltecuhtli, represented by flints, and those of Itzpapálotl, whose signs correspond to a very large mouth, open and with separated teeth (Olivier, 2005: 254).

Among the mayos, ophidians and the hare (Lepus alleni) are wild animals with a great sexual appetite, which adopt the form of a sensual woman in search of male victims for sexual intercourse. As in the Mazahua case, people who agree to coitus with a serpentine entity known as Nichi will die (Camacho, 2014). Among the Hopi, Tiikuywuuti "is the mother of all game animals," whom hunters invoke for luck by agreeing to have sex with her. Someone who is terrified by the presence of the goddess does not notice her coupling, but upon coming to, looks for the tracks of a hare (Malotki, 1997: 373). Among the ancient Nahua, Cihuacóatl, "Woman Serpent", could transform herself into an ophidian or a beautiful young woman to attract her human prey, males whom she devoured with sex (Mendieta, apud. Klein, 1994: 231). Returning to the Mayo case, it is said that the babatukku (Drymarchon melanurus) -the owner of the sounds of Pajko- becomes a woman, projecting in his shadow his true form, that of a snake or a hare, whose splitting is in accordance with twin characters (Camacho and Ballesteros, 2020: 136).

Following Olivier (2004, 2005) in his analysis of Tepusilam, in order to get rid of her, the inhabitants invite her to a "party", founding the Xuravélt. After vain attempts by several birds to bring her to the place, the sixth of them was able to do it: a hummingbird, a bird charged with sexuality. Upon its arrival, the ogra drank tesguino (fermented corn drink), she danced and asked for five "granddaughters", which she devoured one by one, putting them under her armpit. The "food" satiated her and the drink intoxicated her and made her sleep. At that moment, the hosts burned or stewed her; the "iguano", Tepusilam's husband, collected her bones to resurrect her, but the purpose failed because her remains ended up in the sea thrown with a kick (Alvarado, 2004: 100-102; Olivier, 2005: 251). In other variants, her husband conjures her bones to resurrect her: "As she sang she began to roar into the earth and in a moment she revived" (Preuss, 1998: 351).

Among the Tepehuanes, Chu'ulh is a "goddess of the earth and devourer of humans", who used to adopt "the identity of a man or woman to deceive her lovers -especially those who committed incest- and then devour them". Other times, the Tepehuanes kill Chu'ulh, because they could no longer stand her devouring their children in the mitotes or Xiotalh. The narrative indicates that Chu'ulh was drunk with a concoction prepared with vermin, then covered with wood and set on fire, making it explode. With its destruction, some hills and iron, lead and copper mines emerged. The relationship with metal makes the Tepehuanes consider Chu'ulh to have gone to North America, given that the gringos are now wealthy (Reyes, 2018: 29-30).

The defeat of a female entity with a toothed vagina through the induction of sleep is also found among the Mixtecs. Maria Kuxi-yo (Knife?) wanted to reign in the world, threatening the order in which some twins lived. To defeat her, they trick her by giving her a taste of "chirimoya", a sleepy fruit. Once asleep, the younger brother opens her legs and vagina to "remove all the teeth she had. But she had many, many teeth. So he was hitting her with the metlapil until he took out all her teeth and then made love to her" (Antonio Velázquez, apud. Villela and Glockner, 2015: 247). Still earlier, when defeating a first fierce seven-headed serpentine-looking giant fierce rival, the twins heat seven stones in seven subway furnaces that they insert one by one not into the vagina, but into each of the mouths of the heptacephalous serpent (Villela and Glockner, 2015: 244).

To the north of the area inhabited by the Yaquis, the first Jesuits collected accounts among the Papagos of the presence of "a woman or gigantic monster [...] with a snout like a pig and nails so long they looked like those of an eagle, and who ate human flesh" (Manje, apud. Bolton, 2001: 503). In one fell swoop he slaughtered people, but if the inhabitants fed him venison, "he was familiar to everyone" (Manje, apud. Bolton, 2001: 503). Unable to bear this scourge any longer, the people organized themselves and invited it to eat and drink, intoxicating it. After dancing for a while, the monster asked to be taken to her room: a smoky cave, whose entrance was walled up and set on fire (Manje, apud. Bolton, 2001: 503).

A contemporary variant calls her Haw-auk-Aux or "Cruel Old Woman", inhabitant of the Baboquivari mountain range; she wears "a suede dress [...] adorned with puma fangs and wild animal claws" (Bolton, 2001: 504). After having finished with the animals, she begins to devour humans. Advised by Itoi, they invite her to a great four-day dance, after which, exhausted, Itoi takes her to a cave and the people set her on fire. The old woman jumps up and causes tremors that tear apart the hill; Itoi places his foot to prevent her from leaving, leaving his footprint.

The Hopi tell of a monstrous-looking primordial woman who lies in wait for hunters in a large cave. The first hint of her presence-"when the sun was just setting over the horizon"-is auditory. Löwatamwuuti, "the woman with the vagina with teeth" (although "her own mouth had no teeth"), advances slowly toward her prey, but as she walks she makes noise with the "brushing of the surrounding bushes." Dressed entirely in white, she lifts her dress to reveal her sex "studded with teeth [that] opened and closed like jaws," constantly "flapping" her genital lips. After devouring a young boy with her sex, the town plans to get rid of her, so they enlist the help of Spider Woman and her twin grandchildren. They destroy her by throwing the bodies of rabbits they had previously hunted and prepared with pebbles, stones and medicinal herbs directly into her toothed vagina (Malotki, 1997: 12-33).

The theme of the defeat by fire of old women with toothed vaginas extends to Chiapas (Báez-Jorge, 2000: 291-321; 2008); this argument served Olivier (2005: 255) to continue his analysis of the transformations between Tlantepuzilama and Itzpapálotl, who in another version also dies burned by Mixcóatl and the mimixcoa making her explode in flints of various colors (Olivier, 2004: 104).

In the Yaqui and Mayan narratives, the Teémussu is a serpentine monster that, similar to the Tepusilam Mexicanera, it makes its way under the earth with its metal hull, moving between the hills and the sea (Camacho and Ballesteros, 2020: 17). A Yaqui narrative even tells of the creation of the Baboquivari mountain range by the Papagos, a place where they trapped an "evil guy" who subway pushed the earth and water of the Yaqui River to carry it to the north (Painter, 1986: 59-60). In fact, in the iconography of pre-Hispanic origin on plate 76 of the Codex Nuttall a serpentine serpent with helmet identified as "Serpent of Fire" appears; it has the day sign "death" and a gloss in Nahuatl from the xvi in Latin characters that reads tlantepuzillamatl (Olivier, 2005: 248).

Figure 6. "Serpiente de Fuego accompanied by the tlantepuzillamatl gloss (Codex Nuttall, p. 76)". Based on Olivier (2005: 256, fig. 1).

We return then to the theme of the Old Woman with copper teeth and the characters of the type "Elders of the dance". In particular, if the metal dominates the upper part of the serpentine entity, in the Pajko'ola -anthrozoopomorphic in appearance, the copper is located in the lower part, in the koyolim and on the discs of her sistrum, the one she performs when dancing or wears at rest. If the "helmet" or "saw" is a transformation of the "fierce" female genitalia (in a sort of supplanting between "low" and "high"), the koyolim -being explicitly referred to as "testicles" of the goat- dominate the genital area of an eminently feminine character (in a kind of transmutation between "male" and "female"). Both transformations are not alien to the Pajko'ola, since the transposition of the mouth into a vagina is proper to him due to his "hermaphrodite" condition (Camacho, 2017).

Thus, the separate copper teeth are linked to the leather belt from which metal bells hang. The very teeth of the character carved on his mask acquire relevance, since the triangles on the edges were described to Muriel T. Painter "like goat's teeth" (apud. Griffith, 1972: 197). Some of them paint them "gold" or "silver" or the teeth are inlaid with imitation diamonds; two specimens of Pajko'ola masks present brass teeth (Griffith, 1967: 49-50). Furthermore, if it is true that the Pajko'ola mask is a metaphor for the hill (Camacho, 2017), the carved teeth allow us to return to the theme of caves as telluric spaces that shelter terrible female characters.

Apart from that, the main analogy between the TeémussuTlantepuzillamatl and the Pajko'ola lies in that, paraphrasing Claude Lévi-Strauss on the origin of earthquakes, an incestuous sister ends up holding "the column on which the earth rests", if one "sinks into the earth with the copper", in a sort of "upside-down earthquake", the kinetics of the other when dancing and performing his sistro bring him closer to an earth tremor to expose his riches (copper synecdoche): "in one case the earth opens, in the other it closes" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 93, 107). Among the Mayos, it is said that the tremors originate when the "little angels", who hold the earth on their shoulders or who have "culebrones" (snakes), get tired or change shoulders, so they let go and the ophidians move. The "tiredness" of the angels is caused by lack of rosary or Pajko prayers.

The koyolim and the riches of the Earth

The Navajo narrative allows us to resume the analysis of the instruments of the Pajko'ola. from the "disease" of the phalaena and the tremors of the Earth. Considered a symbol of love and temptation, the butterfly is at the origin of a disease called "moth madness", which occurs upon contact with the lepidopteran and consists of "fainting, frenzy, seizures, tremors or convulsions" (Capinera, 1993: 225). Its mythical origin is due to the exile of Begochidi, leader of the bisexual butterfly people, who satisfied both male and female butterflies. The absence of Begochidi causes the butterfly people to decide to commit incest rather than marry outsiders, which caused their "madness". Today, in order not to contract this disease, the Navajo throw the moths into the flames. According to John Capinera (1993: 225), this narrative explains the prohibition of incest between siblings and members of the same clan. The sexual predation of Itzpapálotl finds common motive with the "madness of the moth", which is avoided through the intermediation of the fire that destroys the "Obsidian Butterfly" as well as the moths to prevent contact with it. Its destruction implies the appearance of the solar order -just as the dawn announces a change in the Pajko- and life in society through the prohibition of incest or sexual debauchery.

Indeed, in the myth about the triumphal birth of Huitzilopochtli "there is clearly the output of the sun" (Graulich, 1990: 247). The emergence of the star from the entrails of his mother the Earth, Coatlicue, supposes the defeat of his enemies: his own sister, Coyolxauhqui, and her brothers, the huitznahua. The state prior to this event alludes to "the world before the existence of the sun: the beings of this time 'are born again', and darkness reigns until the god is born and wounds the Four Hundred" (Graulich, 1990: 240). In another version of the confrontation between Huitzilopochtli and his sister:

The sin of Coyolxauhqui and his brothers is that, like Cihuacóatl or Itzpapálotl, they want to make believe that the Mexica have reached the promised land. It is true that [,] in trying to stop the Mexica [in their pilgrimage], they try to prevent the sun from being born in the same way as if they kill the pregnant Coatlicue (Graulich, 1990: 246).

The identities of the enemies of the solar god are, of course, the innumerable stars and, mainly, the Moon: Coyolxauhqui, "the one with bells on her face" (Caso, apud. Fernández, 1963: 39), who also wears on his ankles "small snails of the genus Polynices cf. lacteus"(Cué, 2009: 49). It is the same genus of snails -in addition to Oliva- which appears in the lower zone in some ritual deposits of the Templo Mayor, being that "corals, shells, snails and other marine organisms symbolized the underworld, part of the universe that was imagined to be located below the surface of the earth, of an eminently aquatic nature, and connected with the sea, lakes and lagoons" (López Luján et al., 2012: 16). The Mexica identification of the rattlesnake with the snail as an idiophone is fully accredited from its relationship with the rattlesnake (Velázquez and Both, 2014: 40), which allows for including ténabarim and koyolim.

The attributes of Coyolxauhqui are decidedly "nocturnal": "entanglement" or "skirt" figured "by a serpent with a ringed body", "obsidian sandals" and "mask of telluric being" covering the knee (López Luján, 2010: 50); therefore, it is required to delve into the "gold" of their rattles (López Luján, 2010: 53), being that the "yellow metal, was conceived as a warm, masculine, mature and dry substance that scorches or yellows the earth", where the auriferous element was also "a secretion of the Sun" (Torres, 2015: 156, 159). Especially because "the mineral arises at dawn, a time of day that, symbolically associated with the House of the Sun..." (Torres, 2015: 156, 159). [...] marks the end of the night, of darkness and the absence of color -that is, of the period linked to the Mictlán- and the arrival of the day, the first rays of light and chromaticism" (Torres, 2015: 159).

The fact that a solar element such as gold appears in a defeated Selenite entity implies a return to the theme of the burning of a lunar deity at dawn. Here there seems to be an unspoken theme of the permutation of Coyolxauhqui's gold into copper, which could be understood as a kind of gold "burned" or diminished by fire; a "gold" of lesser quality or luster. From the archaeological context, it is striking that the remains of an infant sacrificed in the Templo Mayor, ixiptla of Huitzilopochtli, present among his attire, on each ankle, in addition to "a string of four sea snails [...of] the species Polinces lacteus [...] two strings of periform copper bells, extremely corroded...", flanking the previous string (López Luján et al, 2010: 373). There seems, then, to be a ritual inversion with respect to the myth between the two antagonistic deities, bearers of snail shells and copper or gold bells. As Lévi-Strauss (1981: 124) pointed out, an element -such as the mask (or the gold symbols of the Selenite goddess)- "is not above all what it represents but what it transforms, that is to say, it chooses to do not represent. Like a myth, a mask denies as much as it affirms; it is not only made up of what it says or thinks it says, but of what it excludes".

Precisely, we owe to the French author the most complete study of Amerindian mythology on copper, whose opposition and identification with gold is given from its dazzling shines, as an "invariable feature of the system" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 110). The two appear as excrements, if one is of solar origin, the other is of terrestrial or semi-aquatic animal (bear or beaver); or, within the same transformations presented by the author, a frog smells of copper, but excretes gold; or copper cannot be looked at head-on because it shines like the sun: "It was exactly the same as the sun"; or the sun star appears as the owner of copper; or a character "dressed in copper [is] the son of the sun" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 86, 91, 95, 102, 108, 110).

The association between copper and burning is also not unrelated, for "It is notable that, in the Salish dialects of the lower Fraser (Halkomelem), the word for 'copper', sqwalis linked to a root whose meaning is 'cooked' or 'burned'" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 88, note 1). Moreover, the smell of copper (burnt metal?) is fully identified in the analysis through a quadripartite system, in which an "unbearable" smell reveals the illness of the hero, the frogs, the salmon and the copper itself; moreover, "smell" of copper and "noise" of the sistrum of a certain masked character "run the risk of frightening the salmon" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 86). In the mythical Tsimshian discovery of copper, it is said that the older sister fails due to her delight in "the tree of soft smells", preventing her arrival at the place of the metal; on the other hand, the younger sister was able to discover it, at the expense of the death by poisoning of her husband after having inhaled the exhalations of copper when he was burned, in an event that "seems difficult to interpret if not as the metallurgical art". Indeed, "extracted from the depths of the earth or - the myths also say - taken from the bottom of the waters, copper acts as a chthonic sun" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981:49, 102).

If "brightness" is an "invariable feature of the system", it is not surprising that, both in the mythology of the peoples of the northwest coast and in the Mexica case, metals or their brightness are elements that participate in the mythical argument about the creation of the Sun and Moon stars. In one case, an incestuous brother steals Bear's "shining and cutting hoop" (or a gold or copper ball filled with excrement), breaks it in two and throws the pieces into the air, turning them into rainbows or, in other versions, giving origin to copper, or the copper circle becomes the sun. In any case, the "celestial objects will shine for everyone, without distinction of social rank or fortune", a social aspect opposed to copper, symbol of wealth and restricted circulation (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 94-96).

For its part, in the Mexica myth of the creation of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan, the brightness of the stars is a constant theme, since the first glow of dawn is announced in the four parts of the world and only the word of the gods who kneeled in the east was true. The rising of the Sun was followed by the Moon, both "had equal light with which they shone and [...] the gods saw that they were equally resplendent". The bewilderment of the gods before the stars made one of them hit the Moon with a rabbit, "darkening his face and obfuscating his brightness" (Sahagún, 1969: 261).

There is a further argument for considering Lévi-Strauss's analysis of Northwest Coast Indian mythology in this theme of copper and the ogress: the presence of a female entity linked to the earth, to the "underworld" or who is "on the side of the night"; she is Dzonokwa, "child-stealer," whose "riches seem to be exclusively of terrestrial origin: coppers, skins, hides, fat and flesh of quadrupeds, dried berries [...]"; being the owner of this metal, she is "intimate essence of the ogress" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 69, 72, 77). In order to get hold of her riches -the copper-, it was necessary to destroy her by fire or by cutting off her head, for which she was previously invited to the village under the pretext of beautifying her (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 65-67). In other variants, then called "Lady Wealth" and with the appearance of a frog (who, in addition, has "the privilege of cutting copper with her teeth"), she tears out and eats "the eyes of the inhabitants of the village". Giant frog, she possesses "claws, teeth, eyes and eyebrows [...] of copper"; with her metal nails, she wounds in the back those who wish to possess wealth, where the scabs of the wound are understood as "present" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 89-91, 103).

Returning to the Mexica case, other variants describe Coyolxauhqui-Malinalxoch as a sorceress or ogra, who kills pilgrims led by Huitzilopochtli, releases snakes, scorpions, centipedes and spiders to devour "alive" -or with the simple sight- their heart or calf (Alvarado Tezozómoc, 2001: 70). Likewise, a mythical variant of Tepoztlán from the first half of the first half of the century xx The story is about the contest between a child hero -born from a seed that his mother swallowed while sweeping a temple- and a "monster" devourer of "old men"; the hero is swallowed by the monster and, from his entrails, tears him to pieces with his obsidian weapons (Castañeda and Mendoza, 1930: 26-27). The destruction of monstrous devouring characters in charge of heroes who have come to less is linked to the theme of the dissipation of the night by the rays of the sun, where -as Lévi-Strauss (1981) has pointed out- the opening of the Earth implies a revelation of its riches, a matter that leads again to the theme of the earthquakes and the noise of the sistrum (Lévi-Strauss, 1972).

The tremors of the senaaso

It has been seen that the ténabarim and the koyolim Lévi-Strauss directly addresses this musical complex through his analysis of the sistrum, among other South American instruments. For this reason it is also striking that it is this instrument that connects most clearly with the cosmological changes. The author says: "[T]he instruments of darkness [...] are an acoustic modality of the din and [present] a cosmological connotation since, wherever they exist, they intervene on the occasion of a change of season" (1972: 390-391).

Figure 7. Senaaso. Illustration © Tania Larizza Guzmán, 2017. Graphite and colored pencil on paper.

The defeat of solar or lunar characters alludes to cosmological changes, so that the presence of the instruments of darkness concerns various functions related to the dominion of night, opposing that of day. But, also, if these instruments appear as a prelude to darkness and this "as a condition required for the union of the sexes" and "non-linguistic behaviors", or because they symbolize the paroxysm of scarcity, it is worth noting the existence of other musical instruments with which they are opposed, which allow "the disunion of the sexes [and] a generalized linguistic behavior", symbolizing the paroxysm of abundance (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 348, 386). Precisely, the presence of copper allows to overcome the states, limiting to the maximum the opposition between darkness and the solar domain.

In principle, as Lévi-Strauss points out from a Tupi myth, the first appearance of the night is due to a musical instrument that, when played recklessly with it, the darkness "escapes from its open orifice to spread in the form of nocturnal and noisy animals -insects and batrachians- which are precisely those whose name designates the instruments of darkness in the Old World: frog, toad, cicada, grasshopper, cricket, etc." (1972: 347). In the Pajko, all the instruments are characterized by emulating sounds of the nocturnal animal and plant world, highlighting the buzzing of bees coming out of the rotten trunk -the harp (Camacho, 2011)- and, precisely, the wood of Palo fierro (Olneya tesota) of the register "contains [...] the '...'.jousi' or beings [...] that wander in [the] bush, the bronze discs emit the [grillar] and symbolically are the kichulim or crickets" (Ayala, 2009: 42). Indeed, Lévi-Strauss (1972: 339) emphasized the clacking of wooden beaters or execution of other instruments of the night to find honey more easily or to call the seducing animal, sounds that evoke noisy agents linked to "bumblebees", "drones" or "supernatural wasps".

The presence of honey as a food extracted by the Pajko'ola during the opening phase implies an event that goes beyond the simple concordance with the presence of the instruments of darkness; in fact, several myths allude in this initial phase of the Pajko to the scarcity of food (López Aceves, 2013). So that "the kitchen is exposed, by the finding of honey [...], to go entirely on the side of nature [...]", that is, towards a "pathological condition" - "social and cosmic"- that "Is also a function of the alternation of the seasons that, by bringing with them abundance or scarcity, allow culture to assert itself or constrain humanity to temporarily approach the state of nature" (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 391-392).

The lack of food implies a condition of risk for the group and, in cosmological aspects, so do eclipses, "aperiodic accidents" in indigenous thought, during which, similar to some peoples of France (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 392, 337), the Mayos resorted to kitchen utensils, hitting them (Beals, 2016: 150). However, the conjunction of elements that "are governed by a relationship of incompatibility" may be absolutely necessary, as when procuring cooking fire. Acoustically, the sound of the instruments of darkness not only evokes this "cosmic pathology," such as "terrifying noises that signaled the death of the Christ" or "The extinction of earthly fires" or "the extinction of domestic hearths like the night that fell upon the earth at the time of the death of the Christ," but "Creates the necessary void for the conjunction of celestial and earthly fire ['so that it can be grasped...'" (Beals, 2016: 150). here below the fire of above'.can be realized without danger" (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 337-339, 391; italics in the original).

Although the noise of the instruments of darkness provides this "necessary emptiness" as protection against a situation of cosmological danger, such as the sexual conjunction between Heaven and Earth or the death of the solar star (themes explicitly linked to the Pajko), it is worthwhile to dwell on its nocturnal acoustics in charge of a "crippled" or "crippled" character. In the myth, the Pajko'ola appears as the "crippled" son of the Devil, whose motor disability makes it difficult for him to participate in the dance and, in the ritual, this condition is exhibited by his dance movement before the stringed musical instruments: semi-flexed and with his hands fallen to his sides. According to Lévi-Strauss (1972: 386), the "recurrence of lameness [...] is associated with the change of season", with which we can understand that the Pajko'ola is tied to the fate of the Pajko's nocturnal regime and is deposed with the first rays of the sun.

In this sense, the illness that tulles the hero, or when one resorts to binding the body of the demiurge (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 43), denotes an intentional repression of the internal bodily impulse that dominates this type of characters. "Of their demiurge Kanaschiwé [, the karajá] tell that once he had to be bound by arms and legs to prevent him, free to move, from destroying the Earth by causing floods and other disasters (Bladus 5, p. 29)" (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 335). Among the Pajko'olam interpreters there are those who like to "play heavy", preventing their partner from moving, who will then feel how a rope tightens in his body.

Of the musical instruments of the Pajko'ola, the senaaso is the that better refers to the terrestrial vibrations or to this innate corporal movement that Lévi-Strauss (1981: 41) highlighted from the seashell sistrum of the dancers carrying the xwéxwé mask. Similar to the Pajko'olam mayos, who dance and dance during the Pajko, relieving each other (all of them are encouraged by spectators to dance "a little more"), "the Lummi chose, to wear the mask, the most robust men, in the hope that they would dance for a long time. These athletes finally yielded the place to the person in honor of whom the feast was given"; and "the xwéxwé masks, after having begun their dance, no longer wanted to stop; they had to be physically forced" (Lévi-Strauss, 1981: 43).

This violent pacification of the masks is equivalent to their destruction; a destruction due to the imminent risk of compromising human existence, although necessary to acquire terrestrial riches or to "'set aside' or 'reject' a power of nature [...] the seductive tapir or serpent, the rainbow serpent linked to rain, rain itself, or the chthonic demons" (Lévi-Strauss, 1972: 336). Even more, among the Mayos it is said that "One day, with the first ray of the sun, mother earth began to tremble" (Borbón, 2016: 24); among the Yaquis they point out that "One of [the] tapping movements [musical of the sistro] simulates the spilling of seeds" (Kurath, 1972: 1014), so the metallic sound would bring them closer to the complex of earthly riches that make their way through the surface - in the heat of the sun - to germinate.


Previous studies on the Pajko'ola and the ténabarim have demonstrated the versatility of the character and the musical instrument, the former by adopting elements from the Old World in its constitution and inscribing itself in the complex of the Macho Cabrío (Olmos, 2011: 246); the latter, by considering the perspective of the character and the musical instrument (Olmos, 2011: 246). emic of the ténabarim as "strings" and linked to the set of European instruments (Jáuregui, 2017: 75). Both cases turn out to be fundamental for our understanding of the Pajko'ola.

Also important is the approach to the mythology of "noise" and of the character's musical instruments, which -in an oscillating movement- turn the gaze on a diversity of characters, past and contemporary, Yuto-Nahuas and of other linguistic affiliations, in which the Pajko'ola is discovered with a little known image, close to the Amerindian type of the "Old men of the dance" widely distributed throughout a large area of northwestern Mexico.

It is from this perspective that the artistic interpretation of the Pajko'ola -especially the instruments of its sonority- can be included in the realm of darkness, but also in the dawn, since aspects of its nocturnal instrumental symbolism persist, linking it with the appearance of the first rays of the Sun, which will lay down its rumblings and with it the earthly riches will appear in the new dawn.

Audio 1. Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Camahuiroa, Huatabampo, December 12, 2012. Personal archive.


The unexpected news of the existence of a practically unknown character in the anthropological literature on the Yaquis, generously shared with me by my colleague and friend Diego Ballesteros, a product of his field work and intellect, forced me to resume writing when this text had practically come to an end.

This is the kukumpoi or kukunpoiThe presence of this species of unknown ophidian is beyond our biological understanding of the beings that populate the Yaqui environment. Its large mouth, which was described to Ballesteros as similar to that of a human being or a toad (considering the extension of its body as half a meter), is reminiscent of the babatukku of the Mayos, which is said to open its big snout -like a phonograph- to emit the "noises" of the Pajko. In the Yaqui case, according to what the author was told:

[...] it is from his body that "the art of the sound of air" is born, the jiawai: "From the Kukunpoi begin the dancers of Pasko'olanot the Deer, only the pajko'olas. From there is born the sound of the art of the wisdom of the traditional music of us. From there it is born of the stone, because from there is the KukunpoiIt is a snake that lives under the stone [...]" (Ballesteros, 2023: 126-127, note 114).

Adding to the Mayan case what Ballesteros points out for the Yaqui, both the black belt of the Pajko'olam mayos such as the multi-colored sash (and blankets) worn on the legs by the Pajko'olam yaquis refer each garment to their own Pajko ophidian chief: Babatukku and Kukumpoi.

As the author points out, in the Yaqui pocket dictionary... (Buitimea et al., 2016): "[...] the word "Kukumpoi" does not appear, but instead, the word "kukupaa", which is translated as 'rumbling' or 'rumbling', and also as 'echo', and is equated with the word "jiawai". Likewise, the word "kukupai" is translated as 'bell' or 'bell tower', and "kuta kukupa" as rattle (Buitimea et al., 2016: 76, 138, 156, 185, 211)" (Ballesteros, 2023: 126-127, note 114)" (Ballesteros, 2023: 126-127, note 114).


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Fidel Camacho holds a degree in Ethnology from the National School of Anthropology and History (2011) and a master's degree in Mesoamerican Studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).unam) (2017). Winner of the inah "Fray Bernardino de Sahagún" 2012 in the category of best undergraduate thesis in Ethnology and Social Anthropology. Author of the book: The path of flowers. Mythology and inter-ethnic conflict in the Warejma and the pajko of the Mayos of Sonora (2019) and, co-authored with Diego Ballesteros, Verbal mythical narrative in the Mayo River. Approaches to the sacred universe of an Amerindian group (Cahíta). (2020). He has published several articles on ritual processes and staging contexts among the Mayos of Sonora and the Mazahuas of the State of Mexico. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the same graduate program of the unam.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.