Angel J. Garcia-Zambrano is a Venezuelan scholar who earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of New Mexico in Latin American Colonial Art and Urbanism. After receiving the Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, he devoted himself to the study of sacred geography and the settlement of Indian Towns during the Early Colonial Period. Currently he has found key connections between flora, myth and geography in Mesoamerican Indigenous cultures.
Abstract of paper given at Indigenous Traditions and Ecology conference:Cucurbits and Cacti in the Indigenous Ritual Selection of Environments for Settlement in Colonial Mesoamerica
The ritual selection of sites for settlement in Colonial Mesoamerica implied a metaphorical tie between a calabash gourd, a biznaga barrel cactus, and a hydographic basin. Familiarity with these plants' features, in shape and storage capacity, led indigenous peoples to look for a valley that replicated the vegetals' attribute for holding water. Thus, the ideal environment for settlement consisted of a round valley surrounded by mountains and enclosing springs, rivers, and lakes. Under these ecological conditions, the abundance of plants and animals in the locale was insured, and with them human life.
At another level of meaning, the hydrographic basis was thought of as a
precious bowl inspired by a biznaga cactus, a gourd or a clay vessel,
where humanity was created. Complementarily, the biznaga served as a
hiding place for desert migrants to survive under extreme conditions.
Among the metaphorical names for a biznaga were teocomitl or sacred bowl,
hueycomitl or large pot, and tepenexcomitl or Hill of the Bowl with Ashes.
The last title also implied that, during penitential rites performed while
migrations to the promised land took place, the biznaga was ritually
killed and burned. The ashes were then kept in a bundle, the same carrying
the guiding and patron deity. Correspondingly, every time the deity
revealed itself to indicate the site for settlement, propitiating rites
occurred over biznaga cacti.