Indigenous Past, Ecovillage Future
By Tracy L. Barnett
San Isidro Mazatepec, Jalisco, Mexico. Past, present, and future meet at Teopantli Kalpulli, an ecovillage-like intentional community on 92 acres about an hour south of Guadalajara. Teopantli Kalpulli is a Nahuatl phrase loosely translated as “sacred bioregional village.” The community was founded in the early 1970s to create an earth-centered lifestyle incorporating the sacred traditions of the founders’ indigenous ancestors. With 21 families, Teopantli Kalpulli has become Mexico’s largest continually inhabited intentional community.
Our tour began at the center of the community, where a giant ceiba tree, sacred to the Maya, spread its leafy branches over a ceremonial circle. The prehispanic kalpullis, Levi explained, were villages where people grew corn and practiced a form of sacred dance and the temescal — the indigenous Mexican version of a sweat lodge. Teopantli, Levi said, was one of the first intentional communities in Mexico that invited indigenous leaders to share their teachings, and those teachings were incorporated into the ecovillage structure.
“We learned from the Huichol people to link the planting of the corn with a calendar of activities throughout the year,” Levi said. Community members try to grow as much of their own organic food as possible, and they revere the corn and the Mother Earth as their ancestors did.
The community is designed for 55 families total, and is accepting new members. Ownership of the land is collective, Levi explained, with the community granting members permits to construct their own housing.
One change the village has seen over time is an increase in the educational level, Levi said. His parents were fortunate to attend college, but most of the other founders did not, and it was always a struggle to earn enough money to support the community. “Despite that challenge, they were able to build the infrastructure of this community through a lot of hard work and dedication,” Levi said. “Everything you see here we’ve put together ourselves, with no support from any foundation or government.”
Nowadays, as Teopantli enters its second generation, more community members have gone to college and brought back a variety of skills. Currently 90 percent of the residents earn their living from community-based businesses, and only 10 percent commute to town for work.
Next was a tour of the prolific garden. Nine hectares (22 acres) are plowed with an antique tractor and planted as a milpa (corn, beans and squash) the traditional “three sisters” of the ancestors. They also grow more than 100 plant species, including garlic, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, celery, calendula, eggplant, beans, sweet potato, yerba santa, carrots, beets, dill, green beans, and much more.
“This is a region that’s not particularly fertile; as you can see, it’s very dry around the edges,” Levi explained. “But we have put a lot of effort into creating this space where we can garden using traditional methods that don’t damage the environment.” Levi exchanges vegetables from his garden with other families who produce whole-grain baked goods, honey, soymilk, tofu, and a variety of other items. “Barter in the community has come about naturally,” he added.
“Life is not easy here,” Levi explained. “You have to be able to make the economy work for you; you have to be able to live isolated from the economic system. If you can develop a professional activity in this rural area you can make it work — but it’s not for everybody.”
Few communities like this one have survived for this long, he said. “There are about five similar communities in Mexico, but none of them with as many people as we have now in Kalpulli.”
We stopped at a comfortably spacious community dining area, where Beatriz and her two children, Yuma and Maya, were enjoying the sun on the patio. Beatriz is Swiss and her husband is Mexican; they are one of the new families in the community. We stopped to admire Beatriz's beautiful organic linen sweater, which she designed and knitted. She has made a business selling these sweaters. This one, she says, took about 80 hours to make, and will sell for 700 pesos — about $56 US.
We continued on our way, meeting Celia Rubalcava, who runs a soymilk business in her home, and Isaac, who was using a hand-powered mill to shuck dried corn, while his children played at his feet..
Next we visited to the temescal area, with small, domed structures ready for the next sweat lodge ceremony. Some of Teopantli’s sweat lodge ceremonies are open to the public, and others are just for the community. Here the community sponsors a type of semillero (training) ground for those who wish to conduct temescal ceremonies, spreading the tradition in this way throughout the larger Mexican society.
Now Levi serves as a member of Teopantli’s community council, and is responsible for long-range planning and development. The community council is comprised of members of four other councils: the elders, the children, the women, and the men.
And please see this video about Teopantli Kalpulli.
Tracy L. Barnett is a freelance writer and the founder of The Esperanza Project, an online magazine documenting sustainability initiatives throughout the Americas. At the time of this writing she was in Paraguay.
For more information about Teopantli Kalpulli, to volunteer, or to arrange a visit, contact Levi Rios at levisrios~at~hotmail.com. And please see video about the community.
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