The Legend of the Serpent of Water
Hñahñu People – Mexico
There on the mountain called R’anxu on the northern rim of the Mezquital Valley lived an enormous snake. It was called K’enthe (the serpent of water) because it was said to bring to the region. About three hundred years ago it was seen by some people stretched out on the top of the mountain. In those years it rained a lot and there was an abundance of the whatever the people planted: corn, beans, squash, potatoes; peaches and other fruits.
The people who first discovered the snake were probably hunters. The snake they saw was just there and no one knew where it came from.
The people who had seen it told others, and one day a lot of people met to climb the mountain together and see exactly where it was. When they arrived, they noted that the lands around were very productive, and they began to offer it the first of their harvest squash, green beans, ears of corn, quelites (greens), squash flowers, and fruit… They gathered these things to fill a big basket, and a group of people took it along with some children. When they saw the serpent, they thought was too big. Where it was coiled up it looked like a big bull lying down.
The people had said earlier now that we are going to take it something, perhaps when it sea men it will become angry and attack us. It would be better if we take along some children. Let’s hope that they will not have any fear and it will not attack them.
So the group took the path to the mountain walking quickly. But when they climbed and arrived in the thickest part of the forest where they knew the snake had been seen they started to walk more slowly. They didn’t want to frighten the snake so it wouldn’t get angry and attack them.
Those who had gone on the hike said that they were near where the snake had been seen before coiled up near the top of the mountain of R’anxu. There they stopped and spoke. From here on, only the children will carry what we have brought near to k’enthe, the serpent of water. The children went on, left the offering of food, and returned with no problem. The snake must have liked what they took; it didn’t find anything to them.
Three days later some people returned to see if the snake had eaten what had been left. They didn’t find anything, just the empty basket.
They brought the basket back to use again for an offering of food the same as the last time: corn beans, squash, potatoes and chayotes (when these vegetables were harvested) and many other fruits and vegetables that were plentiful in those times. Some times when they took the offering of food they saw the snake, and sometimes not.
When the snake was not there, they just left the basket in the place where they had last seen it coiled up, but when they returned to pick up the basket, they always found it in the first place the offering had been left.
During many years they left this food offering for the Serpent of water, or k’enthe. People from other places had heard about that mountain and its snake, and they came to see if it was true what they had been told about the enormous serpent that lived on that mountain called R’anxu.
The news had reached the ears of some persons called hechiceros (shamans) who spoke náhuatl (the language of the Aztecs) from the north in Tierra Caliente. This is an area where there is a mountain called the Cerro del Toro (Mountain of the Bull) because there is a formation in the snake could be found.
They were told that it lived on the top of the R’anxu Mountain. And yes, they found it and were very pleased, saying that it was a serpent of fertility, the same that they knew by that name.
Now since these people were náhuatl shamans, they knew that where this serpent lived there was always good rain providing good crops and abundant vegetation. These shamans said among themselves that they would return another day take that snake away with them.
They returned do their community and informed their people that, in truth, the serpent of fertility existed. As is known, these shamans are very intelligent. They met and planned how they would be able to take k’enthe to their own community.
It is said that it looks a year before they returned to carry out their plan. The most intelligent shamans arrived the day they took the serpent away. This is why nobody noticed how they came and went away at the time. It is only said that these shamans gathered up some of ther huge snake was accustomed to coil up.
After they had the earth, it suddenly began to rain very hard. Then a lightning bolt struck right near where the snake was coiled.
That huge snake was frightened, stretched itself out to its full length, and began to rise up into a black cloud along with those shamans who had come to take it away. To cloud began to move towards the north containing to stay there on its own mountain. The cloud took it away.
The cloud passed over the Cerro de la Cruz (near Nicolas Flores). There the shamans dropped two handfuls of the earth they had taken from where they found the snake.
The cloud continued straight north without stopping the heaving rain, lighting, and thunder. Then it arrived at a gap between two mountain ridges called Puerto Oscuro. Also, there they dropped two handfuls of the earth.
But this time the cloud turned to the east a headed straight for the Cerro del Toro (near Tlanchinol). It is said that is the mountain where those shamans got down.
At this moment it stopped raining and the cloud began to disperse over that mountain. The shamans took the remaining earth they had brought with them from the mountain where they had abducted the serpent of water (which they now call the serpents of fertility), and molded it on the ground in the form of a cross. With this the snake could not return to its place of origin. This is how the snake came to live in the Cerro del Toro with the people of this region and their powerful shamans.
And now it is known that the two places where they had dropped off the two handfuls of the earth, there started to be better harvest. Still years later, where they arrived with the serpent fertility, everything that is planted grows in abundance and there is a great variety of vegetation. This is because this is where are frequent rains due to k’enthe. And now in the area of the RꞋanxu mountain (actually it is called the Cerro de Banxú which is oyamel in hñähñu) where the serpent of fertility used to be found there is notably less rain and the harvests are less and less over time. It is a rare year when there is a really good harvest and less due to the big chance in the climate years ago when the serpent was removed.
Also the variety of vegetation that used to be is less due to the big change in the climate years ago when the serpent was removed.
But in the place where it is said that the serpent of fertility was taken, there are still large quantities of everything that is planned.
The only sign left for the inhabitants in the area of the Banxú mountain of the serpent of water is the flash lightning that is seen in the night in the direction of the Cerro del Toro or when the when the light sound of thunder called ‘temblor de agua’ (trembling of water) is heard in the afternoons of the year, especially of the light rains that do still occur in the summer and autumn.
Story told by Leonardo Antonio and transcribed by Jorge Antonio (2007).
Under license Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA.
Rä B’ebe Rä K’enthe
Hñahñu – Mexico
Nuni ha rä tꞋoho RꞋanxu mi tꞋenä mä yabꞋu ge ja mi bꞋuhnꞋi nꞋa rä däta KꞋeñä mrä thuhu rä kꞋenthe.
NꞋa rä pa, bi thandi mi bꞋoni ha made rä ndehe rä tꞋoho RꞋanxu, nubꞋu bä thandi de unꞋu yä mꞋotꞋa huähi de gä detha, yä juꞋu yä mu, yä ixi mä rꞋa yä peni unꞋu mi ja mä yabꞋu.
De unꞋu yä pa de nuꞋu to bä handi hingi fädi te mi pehni pe zäge ua mrä o mia mefri, nixi nuä rä KꞋeñä bä thandi hinto bi bädi hanja o hamꞋu bi zohniꞋä o ha brä ñꞋehe rä zuꞋueꞋä.
Pe nuꞋu toꞋo bä handi rä mudi rä bi xipa marꞋa yä jäꞋi, nubꞋu nꞋa rä pa bi muntsꞋi ndunthi yä jäi, pa ma bä handi habu xa mi bꞋoni nubu bä handi nꞋebi da nguenda yä jäꞋi, bi gamfri ge ngu mrä hogä zuꞋue ( hingi fädi hanja bi da nguenda) ngetho hinto xki hianda nꞋa rä KꞋeña nguꞋä nguꞋä rä ndäta, mi kamfri ge nuꞋä KꞋeñä mi bꞋuhni ha rä tꞋoho ngu mi ka rä yꞋe hange mi hogi gatho nuꞋu te mi potꞋä yä jäꞋi.
NubꞋu ñꞋengä yä jäꞋi ma gä häntuähu te dä zi, nubꞋu bi mudi bi thätsua nuꞋu te mi hogi rä mudi ha yä huähi ngu yä tꞋumu yä xidju yä manxa, yä KꞋani, yä domxu, yä peni. Gatho nthäntsꞋi bi ñu nꞋa bꞋotsꞋe bi ma nꞋa hängu yä jäꞋi ko rꞋa yä bätsi. Koä bi mbengä yä jäꞋi nubꞋu bi mäꞋa bä thandi ximrä däta KꞋeñä, nuni ha mi bꞋoni xki mpantsꞋi ua mi bꞋenga nꞋa rä däta ndämfri.
NubꞋu bi ñengä yä jäꞋi nubya xkrä mäha te gä hätsuahu. Mä dä tega ma rꞋihihu dä zaju, ma nꞋa xahño gä tsixu rꞋa yä bätsi. Xähmä nuyꞋu hingo dä pidi njabu hindä nkue hinte dä nkue hinte dä yꞋotkahu.
NuꞋbu bi guꞋu rä tꞋoho ya getbu bi tsoni bi mudi bi yꞋo rꞋa ma njante ha yä däta mboza de nuä rä tꞋoho habu ya mi fädi mi bꞋui nuä rä zuꞋue mine dä Ꞌuini, pa hindä pidi hindä pontua rä kue bꞋu dä yatsꞋi yä njohni.
Ya nuꞋu toꞋo xki hyandi bi mä ge ya getbu ma da tsoni ha nzäntho mi bꞋoni, nubꞋu bi gohi bi mꞋai bi mä ge nubya nzoke nu yä tꞋukä bätsi go geꞋubi thogi ma bä tsokua ma tsꞋu getbu ha ra beni rä KꞋenthe. NubꞋu yä bätsi bä pengi xhño. Zäge nuꞋä rä KꞋenthe bi ho nuꞋu te gatho bi thätsui hänge hinte bi yꞋotꞋe o himbi nkue njani gantho bä pengi xahño.
NubꞋu rä hñupa bi mengä rꞋa yä jäꞋi pa mä bä handi bꞋu embi bi zi nuꞋu te bä tsokui bä handi ge ya mi otho nuꞋu te xki tsokui, nsokse nuä rä bꞋotsꞋe mi jani.
NubꞋu bä ha nuä rä bꞋotse pa bi thätsua manꞋaki ngu nuꞋu xki thätsua rä mudi, o ora ya mi hogi yä dethä, yä ju, yä mu, yä rꞋokꞋa, yä xamu nduthi marꞋa te gatho mi hogi de nuꞋu yä jeya bꞋu ge rꞋa yä pa ora te mi thätsui rꞋabꞋu mi joꞋo.
NubꞋu hi mi tsudi mi tsokua ha xä rä beni nuꞋu te mi thatsuabi pe nuä rä bꞋotse, xtä mani yä jäꞋi dua hä, nuä ya mi tsudi nuni habu rä mudi bä tsokuni.
Njani ndunthi yä jeya bi tꞋini nuꞋä rä KꞋeña de nuꞋu yä jeya mi fädi ge ja mi bꞋuhni nuä rä KꞋenthe, marꞋa ya me yabu bi bädi nꞋehe, bä ehe ebi hyandi bi bädi bꞋu xi majuani nuꞋä mi ode mi mangä yä jäꞋi de nuä rä däta KꞋeña mi hma bꞋui nuni ha rä tꞋoho RꞋanxu.
Njani bi bäꞋä rꞋä jäꞋi yä thuhu yä ndeznä mya me pahai (njani fädi tꞋembibye nu ha bä ehe nuꞋu yä jäꞋi u) getbꞋu nꞋa tꞋoho rä thuhu doro tꞋoho. Njani nꞋa rä pa nuꞋu yä jäꞋi, bä ehe e bi ñꞋani te ma tꞋoho habu mi bꞋui nuä rä KꞋenthe.
NubꞋu bi sipi ge mi bꞋu ha rä ndehe rä tꞋoho RꞋanxu. NubꞋu bi thogi mä bä KꞋätsi hanbu bi sipi mi bꞋui. Bä handi, nuyu yä jäꞋi bi johya ngeꞋä bꞋestho bi bädi ge nuä nꞋa mrä hmukꞋña njani mi hutꞋu, koa ge nuꞋu mya bädi mya puni jäꞋi hange mi pädi ge nu ha mi bꞋui nuꞋu ya KꞋeñä mi tena ra yꞋe mi hogi nuä rä za te dä hmotꞋi xä mi ja yä nkꞋantꞋi nzändho.
NubꞋu bi yengä yä ndeznä, nege nuni dä za gä penju nꞋa rä pa e gä tsixu. NubꞋu bi menga yä hai pa bä ma, ge hä majuani mi bꞋui nuä rä hmukꞋñä.
Koa yä ndezna fädi ge yä dänga bädi, nuyꞋu bi muntsꞋi ha utꞋa yä mfeni xañho pa ha bi japi e bi zixa nuä rä KꞋeñä pa ha yä hai.
TꞋeñä ge bi tho nꞋa njeya pa bä pengi e bi zitsi, njamfri ge bä ehe nu yä puni jäꞋi nuꞋu ma nꞋa mi ja yä mfeni pa nuä rä pa e bi zitsi. Hange hinto bi bo rä ndokꞋñä himbi bo rä kue hinte bi yꞋotꞋuabi.
Nsokse hmä ge nuꞋu yä ndeznä bi go tsꞋu rä hai ha mi bꞋonga ma mpantsꞋi nuꞋä rä ndokꞋñä, ngu xä ka uadi bi go nuꞋä rä hai ua ha gä botꞋä ndunthi nꞋa rä mꞋogui ha mi bꞋonga ma mpantsꞋi rä KꞋenthe bi mudi bi uäi ntsꞋedi bꞋestho bi da nꞋa rä yotꞋahuei xä getbu ha mi bꞋonga rä kꞋenthe.
NubꞋu nuä ndokꞋñä bi ntsu hange bꞋestho bi ntuntsꞋi bi njutsꞋi pa maña ha rä mꞋogui ko nꞋe nuꞋu yä puni jäꞋi toꞋo e bi zitsꞋi, nubꞋu bi mudi bi thogi nuꞋä rä gui xki boho pa mahuifi ko nuä rä ndokꞋnä mi nkꞋuentꞋihma ha mbo rä gui pe ya hinte b iza bi yꞋotꞋe, ra gui bi zitsꞋi.
Nuni rä gui mar i thogi ha nꞋa rä tꞋoho rä thuhu ponza tꞋoho.
Nuni ja mä ri dohni nꞋa käꞋye rä hai nuä xki hyäxa yä ndeznä.
De gehni bi thogi mänjuanthu nuꞋä rä gui, rä yꞋe hi mi tsaya ko yä huei yä nganyꞋe maritho ha ngu tsꞋu nꞋa rä moꞋmhai ha di nthe yä tꞋoho rä thuhu gothi bꞋexui nꞋehni ja mä ri thohni maꞋnꞋa KayꞋe rä hai. Pe nubya nuä rä gui bi bꞋahni pa mboxhyadi pa di mä mänjuantho pa ha rä doro tꞋoho. TꞋenä ge ja nuä rä tꞋohoꞋä yä ndezna xki yꞋutꞋa yä mfeni ge ja gehni ha mi nꞋe dä tsotꞋä nuä rä hmukꞋña pa nuꞋu.
NubꞋu nuꞋä rä gui bi tsongä ha xä rä ndehe rä doro tꞋoho, Nubia nuꞋä rä gui bi mꞋai bi mudi bi gäi pa njabu nuä rä ndokꞋña b iza bi mꞋonga ha rä hai, ko nꞋe yä ndeznä.
NubꞋu bi mꞋa rä yꞋe nꞋehe rä gui bi mudi bi mꞋedi ha nuꞋä rä tꞋoho, nubꞋu nubya nuꞋä rä hai bi bongi, yä ndezna bi gohi ma mpantsꞋi nuꞋä rä KꞋenthe pa njabu ya himbi za bä pengi ha mi Ꞌbui hma, njani ya ja bä mꞋui ha rä doro tꞋoho ko nuꞋu yä me pahai yä dänga ndeznä.
Njani ma paya, fädi ge ha bi mudi bi zogi tsꞋu nuꞋä rä hai nuꞋä xki hyäxä nuꞋu yä jäꞋi, nubya fudi di hogi yä motꞋi, pe ma tsꞋu ri mani ha ri tsonga rä hmukꞋñä, nuni ja gehni, ge nuä r aza te dä motꞋa yä jäꞋi di hogi xahño xä bi ja nuä rä yä nkꞋantꞋi nzäntho, nꞋe nubya ja bi jani nduthi yä yꞋe.
Nubya getbꞋu ha rä tꞋoho RꞋanxu ha mi bꞋuihma rä KꞋenthe mapaya rä thuhu BꞋanxu (oyamel) bi mudi bi ma yä yꞋe yä motꞋi nꞋandi ri uni nꞋa tꞋuki, hustho yä jeya di hogi tsꞋu, nubꞋu xä mi uäi ndunthi nꞋe yä nkꞋantꞋi mi j ama hämꞋu ya otho, ri puni ko nuä rä mpadi bi nja.
Pe nuni habu bi tsonga rä kꞋenthe, ma mpaya bi unga xahño nuä rä za te motꞋi.
Ngetho bi tsꞋxä nuä rä kꞋenthe ha mi bꞋumha pa habu jamfri bi tsꞋitsꞋi, hange nubia tꞋena ge nsokse bi zogi rä yä seña pa nu yä mengu ndetsi ha mi bꞋui nu yä mfexhni o rä hyatsꞋi yä huei bi hnꞋeki degä nxui pa ha ri go rä doro toho o nu yä ntuthe dintꞋode degä nde pa ha bi bꞋä nuä rä toho, nuyu thogi ora andi da uäi ndunthi xoge ra jeya o made pa nuyä zäna ora xä uäi ndunthi yä xaie.
Story told by Leonardo Antonio and transcribed by Jorge Antonio (2007).
Under license Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA.
The Hñähñus, whom the Nahua peoples ‒ the Nahuatl-speaking peoples ‒ called ‘Otomí’ (Cortés Rivera, 2007), are the fifth largest indigenous people in Mexico with a population of around 700,000.
Archaeological and historical studies suggest that the Hñähñus inhabited the highlands of central Mexico as early as around 4,000 BCE. However, some authors think it likely that they were in the area of the Transversal Volcanic Axis of Mexico as early as the eighth millennium BCE (Pueblo Otomí, 2022). Today, most people of Hñähñu origin are located in the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Mexico and Querétaro.
From early times, these people inhabited the area where the fabulous complex of Teotihuacan stands, and this has led some researchers to suspect that the Hñähñu may have been the founders, or at any rate an important part, and possibly the builders, of this monumental multi-ethnic city which flourished between the 2nd and 7th centuries CE. They are also associated with the construction, between the 9th and 11th centuries CE, of another important city in the region: the Toltec city of Tula.
However, it is the fall of Teotihuacán that perhaps had the greatest impact on the future of the Hñähñu People given that, shortly afterwards, large groups of Nahua people began to arrive in central Mexico, displacing the Hñähñu from their established areas of settlement.
Although the ‘Legend of the Water Serpent’ seems to place the story between the 17th and 18th centuries, perhaps we can see in it the remnants of centuries-old tensions which existed between the Hñähñu and the Nahua peoples. This is insofar as we see that the Hñähñu blamed the Nahua for the theft of the serpent and, with it, the loss of fertility and abundance in their lands.
The truth is that, for a long time, the belief that the Hñähñu People were a marginalised people has existed. Furthermore, they have been seen as a people who have been exploited by the other peoples with lived alongside them mainly by the Nahua and, later, the Spaniards. But, perhaps the latter is the only fact that is true, given the damage perpetrated on native peoples during the colonisation of America by European nations. In fact, López Aguilar (2010) comments that:
It would seem that the process of disqualification, and the look of contempt [towards the Hñähñu People], began with the Spanish conquest. This highlighted the fact that their miserable state was part of liberal, modernising and very late ideas for the documentary narrative. It is possibly one of the founding myths of the Mexican Revolution. (p. 170)
This points to the fact that, regardless of the Hñähñu’s situation before ‘the arrival of the Castilians’ in around 1520 ‒ as the Codex Chimalpopoca (ibid.) says ‒ what seems quite certain is that, with Spanish colonisation, the Hñähñu People went into decline, resulting in poverty and marginalisation. It is known that the Hñähñu population was decimated by migrations allowed, or directly forced, by the Spanish in many places, and also due to epidemics brought by the Spanish during the invasion (Moreno, Garrett and Fierro, 2006).
Finally, it is important to note the loss of culture and traditions the Hñähñu population suffered as a result of the introduction of Christianity. It should also be pointed out that the Hñähñus adapted, up to a point, to this religious imposition. However, old sacred traditions, far from the sight of the Franciscan and Augustinian friars, continued to be practised. As Moreno et al. (2006, p. 9):
Although they publicly practised Christianity, the beliefs surrounding the forces of nature and their representations remained alive. Over time, a syncretic religiosity was formed, taking elements from both worldviews and resulting in a kind of Mesoamerican Indigenous Catholicism.
Once again, we find a strong animist, ecological, spiritual component, very common among native cultures all over the planet. This is a form of spirituality that the so-called ‘civilised’ European nations took upon themselves to uproot everywhere in order to replace it with the Judeo-Christian anthropocentric worldview. This was despite the attempts of Francis of Assisi, in the 13th century, to embrace a loving encounter with nature.
We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Dr. Richard Ramsay, Dr. Verónica Kugel and Érik Abraham Ávalos Ángeles members of HmuntsꞋa Hem’i – Documentation and Advisory Hñähñu Centre, for their generosity in sharing with the world this legend of the Hñähñu People of the Mezquital Valley.
- Antonio, L. & Ramsay, R. (2007). ¡Mänga ya bꞋede! – ¡Cuenta las historias! – Tell the stories! Hidalgo, México: HmuntsꞋa HemꞋi Centro de Documentación y Asesoría Hñähñu.
- Cortés Rivera, D. (2007). Historia y tradición oral en la construcción de la identidad Hñahñu: la telesecundaria de El Alberto, Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo [History and Oral Tradition in the Construction of the Hñahñu Identity: The Telesecondary of El Alberto, Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo] (Tesis doctoral). Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico D. F.
- López Aguilar, F. (2010). De la identidad a la inestabilidad: Reflexiones sobre el hñahñu prehispánico [From Identity to Instability: Reflections on the Pre-Hispanic Hñahñu]. In Moragas, M. & Morales, M. A. (coord.), Estudios de antropología e historia: Arqueología y patrimonio en el estado de Hidalgo, pp. 145-174. Hidalgo, Mexico: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo.
- Moreno Alcántara, B.; Garret Ríos, M. G. & Fierro Alonso, U. (2006). Otomíes del Valle del Mezquital [Otomi of the Mezquital Valley]. Mexico D.F.: Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas de México.
- Pueblo otomí (2022 Sep. 29). In Wikipedia, https://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pueblo_otom%C3%AD&oldid=146257872#cite_ref-7
Associated text of the Earth Charter
Principle 5e: Manage the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of ecosystems.
Other passages that this story illustrates
Preamble: Earth, Our Home.- The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air.
Preamble: Earth, Our Home.- he global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples.
Principle 7: Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.
Principle 10: Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
Principle 10a: Promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations.