Peasant Autonomy
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Story 44

Chiapas, South Mexico – around 1910 (2)

Aunty Modesta

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Richard Weil)

Chiapas, South Mexico.

Modesta, a young Indian woman, is sitting on a little hill by the roadside. She is waiting. At last, she sees a group of men arriving. About fifty Indians walk silently, gloomily, with big packs on their back. In front of them goes a white man on a horse. Behind and at each side ride three other horsemen. They are mestizos.

Suddenly two little children break away from the group and run to the woman: “Aunty Modesta, aunty Modesta,” they shout happily. Tears well up in the eyes of Modesta. She is so happy to see the children, but at the same time so sad when she thinks of what lies ahead for them. She hugs the children, picks up her pack, and walks to Candido, the father of the children. He looks completely dazed because he can't believe that his younger sister is standing in front of him. Only when the children pull at his hand and continue jumping and shouting that their aunty has come does he greet her. “Pedrito and Angelito,” he shouts to the children, “put the packs on your back and move on. The men on the horses will hit us with their whips!”

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Monkey Sidekick)

Chiapas, South Mexico.

In the evening, sitting near a little fire at a makeshift camp, Modesta explains how it had gone. Yesterday, she finally had gotten permission from her mistress in the town to visit her family in the village. When she arrived there, neighbours told her that her brother had to go to a monteria, a jungle camp, to cut mahogany trees. When his wife was very ill, he had taken a loan for an operation. Before the operation could happen his wife died, but still he had to repay the loan by working a few years in the jungle. When she heard that, Modesta had immediately gathered a few things and gone with a pack on her back to the road where the jungle workers would pass by.

“My dear little sister,” Candido says softly, “off course I am happy to see you, and Pedrito and Angelito too, but a monteria is hell, it is not the right place for a young woman like you. Go back to your mistress in the town; in a few years we are free, and then we will meet again.” Modesta doesn't answer. When their parents had died while she was still very young, her elder brother Candido had cared for her like a father and a mother together. Now, she will take care of him and his two little angels. She is surely not the only woman who is coming along to the camp. She is firmly determined to assist her brother and the two children, as much as she can. Silently Modesta and Candido stare into the fire.


The book The Rebellion of the Hanged (part 5 of the so-called Jungle Novels, 1936) from the German writer Ben Traven portrays the difficult life of the Indian jungle labourers, their hardships, their solidarity and their resistance.

Go to:
= part 1:
Trapped to work in the jungle camp - Chiapas, South Mexico – around 1910 (1), story 43.
= part 3, the next page:
The verdict of Modesta - Chiapas, South Mexico – around 1910 (3), story 45.
= part 4:
Machine gun - Chiapas, South Mexico – around 1910 (4), story 46.
= part 5:
Peaceful sunshine - Chiapas, South Mexico – around 1910 (5), story 47.
= the Table of contents, story 44.