Background

Sorting out our library in Brussels to make room for the books inherited from our parents who recently passed, I came across a forgotten blue folder with hundreds of negatives in colour and in black and white. One by one each picture was digitalized, offering a splendid image of everyday life in Santiago Mexquititlan and San Ildefonso Tultepec, 33 years ago, two indigenous communities where the Otomi ñäñho people live and where you could find me working for the University of Queretaro.

Years ago, first as a student, later as a researcher of the Autonomous University of Queretaro, I was so fortunate to live and work in these indigenous Otomí communities in Amealco, Queretaro. In those days, I always carried my notebook, pencil and camera, sometimes accompanied by a photographer and Severiano, both colleagues from the university. All I learned from the people, their philosophy, rituals, medicine, cosmology, political, religious, cultural and social structures, was published in my book in Spanish and in Otomi: Ar ñäñho hongar nzaki, el Otomi en busca de la vida (the Otomí in search of life), UAQ 1989.

The texts that accompany the images of the Gallery are based on this book and have been supplemented with new data. The texts are a mixture of myths and science, historical data and legends. The book includes testimonies of Otomí philosophy and demonstrates the cultural continuity of indigenous tradition in the State of Querétaro. It serves the purpose of supporting bilingual-bicultural education in the Otomí communities of Santiago Mexquititlán and San Ildefonso Tultepec. To this day, it is read by the communities, students of the UAQ in Querétaro, the Amealco Campus of the UAQ and the Intercultural Institute Ñahño, A.C., university in San Ildefonso Tultepec and cited in many other publications

The Otomi people of today are the living descendants of ancient civilizations native to Mexico, originally inhabiting the Toluca and Tula valleys, long before the year 800 bC. Among them, till today, they preserve their cultural heritage, history and oral literature, traditional knowledge, medicine, clothing and handicrafts, whilst also adopting new languages, customs, crafts and skills. Prehispanic mythology is alive in current indigenous stories. The trilogy of prehispanic food, corn, beans and chilli, still the basis of the Otomi Indigenous diet and indeed of Mexico. The indigenous peoples are history and reality, without them, Mexico would not be what it is today.

Full recognition of the vital importance and contribution of indigenous peoples in Mexico is key to achieving sustainable and equitable development.

OBJECTIVE of the GALLERY

According to Law of Indigenous Peoples and Communities of Queretaro, “the development of languages, culture, uses, customs, natural resources and their specific forms of social organisation” should be promoted. In prehispanic tradition, Mexican indigenous peoples also used a unique system of pictographic writing representing ideas through figurative images of painted symbols. These codices (manuscripts) are first-hand historical sources in which indigenous societies by the hand of scribes with an ability to paint, made a faithful record of their achievements, cultural and scientific advances and reported on a multitude of aspects, such as religious beliefs, rites and ceremonies, history, the economic system and chronology. The codices are cultural products of the Mayan, Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Otomi, Purépecha[1] civilizations that emerged in Mesoamerica

There are also codices that offer a revealing image of life in Mesoamerica during the early Novohispanic period, for example the Codex of Huichapan, a historical manuscript that uses the pictorial writing system with alphabetic texts in Otomi and isolated glosses in Nahuatl[2].

On this site too we will use images to tell the story of the Otomi communities in the South-East of Querétaro. Studies show that one of the best ways to drive a message home is through visual content. Ethnographic photography without explanatory text shows images but lacks context and depth. Text without images can give the impression that the indigenous people described, only exist in the imagination of the reader, the author or are part of a distant past. It is for this reason that we have created a gallery of images accompanied by explanatory texts so that both photography and narrative are alive, reflecting a reality of Queretaro, México today.

Given the fast disappearance of indigenous languages and cultures, this is what the Gallery aims to do. The application of new technologies has enormous potential to increase the diversity of the student population, particularly young indigenous students, combining face-to-face with online learning and text with images, so that the student can learn anywhere at any time easily and interactively.

Through this Gallery we are sharing a virtual testimonial of how the Otomi people lived in the 80s of the last century with pictures, explanatory texts and publications about both indigenous communities and its people. The older generation will see and recognise themselves. For the new generation with access to Internet and an interest in identity, culture, language and communities, the site can become a valuable tool.

And indeed also for those who left their native villages to live in Amealco, Queretaro, Mexico City or in New York (where there is a large community of indigenous descendants from Santiago and San Ildefonso) and wish to look back to look forward by learning how their parents and grandparents lived and worked the land, celebrated their ancestors and saints and told stories, myths and legends

I sincerely hope this site becomes an interactive tool to better understand the indigenous Otomí culture of Amealco, for policy makers, teachers, students and a new generation of young Otomíes online.

This new generation can connect with history, keep the native language alive, identify with heritage and cultural identity, transmit traditional knowledge systems (TK) and at the same time incorporate the advantages of modern technology. The communities need the inspiration of indigenous youth to focus their vital energy on the design of indigenous development models and implementation of local entrepreneurship initiatives.

Therefore, it is through this Gallery that I turn to the new generation so they remain inspired to speak hñahñu, remember their land and culture, feel proud of their identity, teach their indigenous language to the children and tell the stories of the grandparents and great-grandparents.

I invite the visitors to this Gallery to write back. Do you want to have one of the photographs? Do you remember myths, stories or legends so we can include them in the Gallery? Do they have relevant information about Santiago or San Ildefonso? Do you have photographs you wish to share or ideas to promote development with identity in the communities?

Welcome!

[1] Joaquín Galarza, “Los códices mexicanos”, Arqueología Mexicana, Edición especial núm. 31, Códices prehispánicos y coloniales tempranos. Catálogo, pp. 6 – 9.
[2] Los signos glotográficos en el Códice de Huichapan, David Charles Wright Carr, Universidad de Guanajuato, 2012.