If you make a road trip during your visit to Yucatán, it is quite likely that you will see women walking or traveling by tricycles on the side of the road near the little towns. They are the women who chop and gather the firewood for their families and their communities.
Firewood is an essential element in Yucatecans’ lives. With it the water is boiled to drink, heated to bathe, the beans are cooked, the tortillas and the rest of the meals are prepared. Firewood is necessary to make “cal” (lime) by burning the stone in a clay oven; then it can be used for building houses. And most importantly, the ceremonial rituals could not exist without firewood, nor the fresh bread made by the local bakeries.
At dawn, the women go out to the countryside. Sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. If necessary, the children come along and learn to take care of themselves in the jungle while they are also being taught on how to choose the right logs to take home. Sometimes women walk to nearby sites and sometimes they have to go farther away, by tricycle. It all depends on the type of firewood needed. For instance, pieces of tree trunks can be found in the “milpa” (cornfield) after men prepare the land for planting.
The women woodcutters leave early enough to return home in time to prepare the nixtamal (corn for tortillas) and food for lunch. It is also common to see them leave again in the afternoon – two hours before nightfall – to get enough firewood for the next day.
Firewood is essential in the colder months. With it the house is heated by leaving a piece of charcoal under the hammock that stays warm throughout the night.
Different types of wood produce more or less heat, and they know exactly what to look for. Some are used for charcoal and others for making a fire. The wood of the jabín (Piscidia piscipula) can be kept as charcoal, or be set aflame by blowing on it or fanning it. Therefore, jabín is a very desirable firewood. The sak káatzim (Mimosa bahamensis) can be set on fire and produces a lot of heat with just one dry log, even if the wood looks green.
The woodcutter-women carry an axe when they look for heavy wood, and a machete if they will need lighter, thinner pieces. The rolls of firewood that you will see them carrying tied to their heads are called “tercios” (thirds). I respectfully thank the woodcutters for their hard work, for preparing the food, for keeping the houses warm during the cold and humid season, and for being the sustenance of the Yucatecan families and Maya people.
Editorial by Andrea Medina
Photography by Alejandro Medina for use in Yucatán Today
Esta entrada también está disponible en: ES