By Gina MarySol Ruiz
Once upon a time, in ancient Mexico, there was a small village where everything grew and life was wonderful. Flowers were brighter and sweeter-smelling than in any other village, the hunting was good, and animals grew fat and fed the people who lived there. The river ran clear, and the village was green.
Watching over the village was a tall mountain from which a cool waterfall fed the river. No one had ever been to the top of the mountain, but it was said the gods lived there. The people in the village were a little afraid of the top of the mountain, and many frightening stories were told of the terrible gods who lived there.
Every spring, the children would gather flowers and dance. They would dress in their special trajes, and wear the brightest, most beautiful bird feathers on their heads. Conchas would blow, flutes would play, and the musicians would play the butterfly cocoons, teponaztlis, huehuetl drums and rattles. The most delectable and perfect foods would be served. All would celebrate the spring, the new life that came to their village. More babies were born during this time than at any other. But, no one ever thanked the mountain that fed their river. No one ever thought to climb to the top and invite the spirits that lived there to their celebration of spring.
One year the waterfall dried up. The people were afraid, and they wondered what would happen to them. They took it as a bad omen. They had never seen such an event. They ran to the village elders, but no one could remember hearing any stories of such a thing. Day by day went by with no rain and no waterfall. The river line fell lower and lower. Flowers died, animals grew thin, and the people grew skinny, for they were starving. The birds stopped singing and left the village for a land far away that could feed them and quench their thirst. No one danced. No one sang. They were hungry and thirsty. The people were dying. The sun shone brighter and brighter, and still, no water came.
One day a little boy, whom the people called El Guajito because he always carried a little guaje on his belt, asked a village elder, “Why doesn’t someone climb to the top of the mountain and ask the spirits that live there why they have stopped the waterfall?”
The elders and the people were shocked! Go to the top of the evil mountain? Who was strong enough? The people were weak and hungry. Who was brave enough? No one dared to try. Finally, Guajito said, “I will go to the mountaintop and speak with the spirits. I will beg them for water to save us. I am not afraid.”
The people laughed. El Guajito was a very small boy. They did not believe that he was not afraid.
Guajito slipped away and began his climb up the mountain, carrying his little guaje. It was a very steep mountain and very tall, especially for such a small boy. As he climbed, he began to hum the sound of the huehuetl drum to pass the time. Pa dah dum dum pah da dum dum pad da dum dum dum! Over and over he heard the sound of the drum in his head, and it helped to strengthen him on his way to the top of the mountain. It kept him from thinking of how tired he was, how hungry, and how scared. The drumbeat in his head strengthened his heart. El Guajito didn’t know that the spirits that lived at the top of the mountain were watching him climbing steadily and humming a drumbeat. They didn’t quite know what to make of him.
Morning turned to sunset and still El Guajito climbed as the stars rose and the moon came out to play in the darkness of the night. Finally El Guajito reached the top of the mountain. He looked around expecting to see the terrible beings that he had heard about all of his short life, but no one was there. El Guajito knelt and prayed. He said, “O great guardians of the mountain, why have you stopped the waterfall? Why will you let my people die?” El Guajito cried and prayed and called to the spirits all through the night and on into the morning, but no one answered. The mountain remained still and quiet. Finally El Guajito stood and shouted at the top of his little lungs, “Great spirits of the mountain, please help me to save my people. I love them so much I will do anything, make any sacrifice to save them. Let me save my people. Please help me to save them. Listen to me! I will stay here
on your mountain shouting at you forever if you do not listen to me!“ El Guajito began to cry, and the great spirits on the mountain were moved to look down on the tired, tiny, brave, little boy with such a strong heart. They were impressed by his devotion and by his love.
“Guajito,” came a deep, rumbling voice from the mountain face, “Guajito.”
“Yes,” stammered Guajito, who was trembling in fear.
“Guajito, is it true you love your people and wish to save them?”
“Yes! I love them, and I would save them at any cost!” yelled Guajito.
“We do not believe that is true, Guajito. We have been here for many centuries, and every year we send the water to the selfish people, and never once have they invited us to their ceremonies of celebration. We are never prayed to or loved or sung to. No one dances for us, Guajito. We do not believe there exists an unselfish person in this village. For that reason, we have stopped the water.”
“I will save them!" shouted Guajito. "I will save them. I must. If I can save them, then I will make sure that they are grateful, that they include you in the celebrations, that they give you honor and love, and that they dance for you. We will make a special dance just for you, great spirits of the mountain. This I promise on my honor. Please let me save my people," the boy cried.
“Very well, Guajito, if it is true that you are unselfish and will sacrifice to save your people, then this is what you must do." At that moment the ground began to bubble and up came a beautiful spring of the coldest, sweetest water in all the world. “You must fill your guaje with this water and carry it down to the people. It is magic water and will soon fill the river.
Once the river is full, the waterfall will begin again, and the rain will
fall. It will take you many, many trips up here to fill the river, but you cannot stop. If you stop, the river will cease to fill and no rain or waterfall will come. You may only stop once the river is full and your task is complete.
Do you agree to this, Guajito?”
“I agree,” said El Guajito. “I will take the water to the people. “
And so El Guajito filled his guaje, and he carried it down the mountain to the river and his beloved people. He poured water into the river and began his way back up the mountain, all the time humming his Guajito drumbeat song.
Many times, day and night, he made his trips up and down the mountain. The river began to fill with water, and the people were revived. They came out of their homes and ran to the river, never noticing Guajito. They bathed in the cool water of the river, they splashed, and they played. They scooped water in their hands and poured it over their heads. They sang the drum beat of the dance, "Guadalajara", for that was the name of the village. Meanwhile,
Guajito climbed up and down and up and down the mountain. Hungry and weary, he never stopped humming his drumbeat or climbing up and down to fill the river.
Finally, he reached the river with his last guaje full, and, as he poured it, the rain began to fall, and the waterfall began its rumbling roar, and the people were amazed. They ran to Guajito, who had fallen by the river, but they could not save him. The days and nights of climbing up and down the mountain had taken Guajito’s strength. He lay dying by the river, and he remembered to say to the people, “You must honor the spirits of the mountain who have given you new life. You must invite them to the spring ceremonies and dance for them. You must feed them, give them honor and love, for they have saved this village.” With that, little Guajito died.
The people were sad. They cried for Guajito so hard that the spirits of the mountain came down to see. They took pity on the people who loved this brave, little boy. They told the people that El Guajito would never die. They took his spirit and made it a bright shiny constellation in the sky to watch over the people. They made El Guajito into a spirit like themselves and called him Xipe Totec, the new life, the spring.
Every year the danzantes dance for Xipe Totec. Every year there is a ceremony in his honor. They even have a special danza called Xipe. It is fast and beautiful and honors little Guajito.
Three danzas are usually done in a sequence, the danza Guajito, the danza Guadalajara, and the danza Xipe. Guajito still lives on in our danzas, as promised by the great spirits.