The Serpent of the Green Mountain

Note: This piece was originally written in Zapoteco.

In the old days, inside the Green Mountain, there lived a giant serpent who acted as if it were the master of the place, rixxo. The serpent was so old that its skin was as rough as the bark of a tree. Its aspect and size were the cause of much fear among the villagers.

They said that it would emerge to sunbathe during every rainy season, twisting itself around the green mountain, through the hills, ravines and plains of the Ngigua region. The animals and vegetation were abundant there because of the frequent rain that came down during the entire year. These downpours lasted for five or six days at a time, and the rivers would rise a lot. People did not come out of their huts when these downpours came because of the fear they had of the serpent of the Green Mountain.

When the rains began, the villagers knew that it meant difficult and dangerous times because the great serpent would emerge to warm itself up after the downpours. This is what happened, sometimes two or three times a year. These were fearful and dangerous days, as much for the people as for the animals; no one dared to even get close to the hills to care for his animals or to gather wood because, those who did not take the proper precautions, ran the risk of becoming very frightened, or even devoured by the enormous serpent.

After the heavy rains, the Green Mountain was enveloped in a thick fog that prevented anyone from seeing anything all around. As the fog cleared, little by little, people were astonished and afraid of what they could see from a distance, the giant head of the serpent whose body was twisted three or four times around the highest part of the hill. Its tongue was out and its eyes were shining like two balls of fire; they only got close when the animal was sleeping, or when the day became cloudier. All of its body was shining in the sun, as if it were something beautiful, but only when it went back in did people and their animals feel safe.

The years passed in this way. Many people came to love and respect the serpent because, thanks to it, they did not suffer through droughts; their land was fertile and produced good crops. On all sides, there were springs with running water. Still, there were others who were thinking about killing the serpent because it had eaten their animals or had frightened them terribly when they were on the hill.

On the side where the sun rose, the Green Mountain had an entrance that looked like a door. This was supposedly how the serpent came and left.

Time went on, and after the downpours people noticed that some of their animals were missing. They blamed the serpent for eating them. A group of people who were very angry at this decided to finish off the serpent. During the last season, the beast had come out very aggressively and scared everybody. It was after this that many men got together and started collecting firewood and stacking it up at the entrance of the mountain. Then they set it on fire so that the serpent would not be able to come out again. But the serpent, who possessed special powers, did not die. They repeated their actions over and over, but each time, the serpent came out to warm itself on the hill.

The serpent of Green Mountain, rixxo, became angry because the people of the hill would not leave it in peace. They were not aware of how good it really was. Thanks to the serpent, they did not suffer from droughts as they did later. But because they bothered it so much, it decided to leave the place, punishing the village that didn't want it. It came out on the other side of the mountain, and from there went to the coast. Wherever it slithered, the earth turned into stones. In some places, the mark can still be seen.

By going to other places, it took everything good that had existed in the village, Ngiguas: fruits, vegetables and, especially, rain. The elders say that everything changed from then on. The rains didn't come for many days, the rivers did not rise, the vegetation and the animals were getting scarcer. For lack of rain, the land was becoming barren and many places were developing ravines. The lands were shrinking because of erosion!

Nothing was ever heard again about the serpent of the Green Mountain.

When some downpours occur, and the year looks promising, Green Mountain is covered with fog again. Then the elders hope to see again, coiled around the hill, the giant serpent that their ancestors had known when it would rain as often as it was needed. But they fall into sadness when they realize that this is not possible, even when the white fog comes down as far as Coixtlahuaca. They know that nothing will ever be the same as it was when the serpent of Green Mountain was there.

Originally published in NUNI,, Year 4, No. 9, p.33-35.