A story by Alejandro Beltran Cordero
All of these stories were created by studying the culture, the anthropology of different cultures and communities. The story of “Grandmother Pipitontli” is set in this area, the cloud forests.
Pipitontli means “little one.” The children in Mexico used to be called “the pipiolera,” the little ones.
This story is ancient. The grandmothers say that it comes from the Najua, Totonac and Otomi communities of the Huastesca. While currently this region is divided up between different Mexican states, it previously was one unified territory that bordered the opening of the Gulf of Mexico.
This story is so old, that it has mostly been forgotten, except by some elders. My grandmother told me this story when we were) in the mountain, and the mist was descending to hug the world. They say that this is where Pipitontli (or Pipiioli) crosses your path.
Pipitontli is an incredibly old woman. You can always find her walking in your direction, appearing and disappearing in the mist. She is always surrounded by her friends, the fireflies, and she wears a long white cloak, embroidered with gorgeous images. They say that everyone sees different designs on Pipitontli’s clothes. Her hair is woven in two braids, which she wears, wrapped around her head like a crown. Around her head, a tiara of rope forms a mecapalli, a tumpline that helps balance the basket of flowers she carries on her back. She walks bent forward, her back curved under the weight of years and flowers.
Some time ago, Cocome, a little girl who lives in these parts, met Pipitontli. When she saw that Pipitontli was so old and the weight she carried was so great, Cocome offered to help carry the flowers of all colors. Pipitontli responded in an ancient language, which Cocome could barely understand. However, she was lucky that her grandmother had taught her some of the old languages, so she half understood what Pipitontli said. Pipitontli politely refused Cocome’s offer, explaining that she had a long road to follow, but that she would gladly accept an “Atole” to recover strength and continue on her journey.
Cocome, glad that she could be of some help, brought Pipitontli to her cabin. She fed Pipitontli some tamales, some beans that had been left over, and the delicious Atole, her mother made her every morning for breakfast.
When Cocome’s family came home, they were rejoiced to have company. Cocome’s mother was worried for Pipitontli, afraid of what would happen to such an older woman walking in the mountains alone at night and offered for Pipitontli to stay the night. Pipitontli accepted. Cocome prepared a petate (a straw sleeping mat) and the largest blanket, so that Pipitntli would be comfortable.
Before dawn, Cocome rose to grind the corn for everyone’s breakfast, just like the women from all the communities who raise at dawn to prepare the corn for the tortillas. When Cocome went to wake Pipitontli and offer her a taco so that the elder wouldn’t depart on an empty stomach, she found the petate empty. In her place were a number of clay pots, that the grandmother had apparently forgotten.
Cocome immediately put on a reboso (shawl), prepared to rush after Pipitontli to bring her the pots. However, Cocome wasn’t able to even lift them, they weighed too much for her small arms. No matter how she tried, she wasn’t able to move them even one centimeter. So, Cocome decided to first rush outside and find Pipitontli.
Cocome ran far and fast to try to catch up with the grandmother. The sun was already emerging from the night’s fog. The mist hadn’t yet abandoned the mountainside, when Comome saw Pipitontli in the distance. Despite her age, Pipitontli was walking at a brisk pace. When Cocome finally reached the grandmother, she found herself too out of breath to speak. Pipitontli paused, waiting patiently for Cocome to catch her breath.
Once she had recuperated her voice, Cocome told the elder about the pots that lay forgotten in the jacal. Pipitontli carefully explained that they weren’t forgotten, and that she had left the pots as gift of gratitude. She said that the family needed to carefully protect the pots, because they were filled with sweetness and joy. After pronouncing these last words, Pipitontli took two steps forward and vanished with the last remaining tendrils of mist.
When Cocome returned home, she told her mother and her siblings about what had occurred. However, in the child’s absence her great grandmother had arrived (the grandmother of Cocome’s father). When the great grandmother saw the pots, she told the family that it would be best to put them on the windowsill. Cocome tried to lift them again and was surprised to find that the pots were now light as feathers.
After a few hours, the whole family saw that the pots were alive with movement. From inside the ceramic vessels emerged little mountain bees, those that don’t have stingers. Cocome’s great grandmother knew how to look after these winged beings, for her grandmother had taught her many many years ago. Cocome learned from her great grandmother how to take care of the bees. She passed this knowledge to her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, so that they could continue to protect their stingless friends.
However, the story spread, and people began to search for Pipitontli along the mountain roads. Some greedy men, who waited for her for days and days, have tried to trick the grandmother. They invite Pipitontli to their home. In these cases, the elder asks for the men to help her carry her pots and flowers. In their avarice, the men take the precious objects, hoping to steal them from Pipitontli. But when they touch the flowers, the fall ill, gain weight, and even forget what they are doing. In their confused state they only see an old old woman, fading into the twilight.
My grandmother told me that Grandmother Pipitontli still comes returns when the mist descends from the mountaintops. She carries her ceramic pots, her flowers, and her wisdom, which she offers to the people of kind heart, those willing to guard and nurture her bees.
- Written by Alejandro Beltran Cordero, translated by Tzintzun Aguilar-Izzo
Illustrations: Tzintzun Aguilar-Izzo