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Annex III
Women's testimonies

  1. On the shelling and selection of the seed-grain...

    As the new sowing season approaches, the women undertake the task of carefully shelling the previously selected seed-grains, using their fingertips and taking only the grains from the middle of the cobs. They place them inside the tecomate (fruit of Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Standl.). One day before sowing, the grain is soaked to soften it and enhance germination. Some of the women select and set aside the cobs for seed-grain as they shell the maize that is to be consumed during the year. They learn how to shell the maize since their childhood. This know-how is transmitted by mothers or grandmothers to their daughters or grand-daughters.

    "I choose the seed. When I bring the maize down (from the loft) for us to eat, I separate the grain. My son-in-law tells me to do this. I teach my daughters. To store the crop we must use insecticides. Before, there was no problem; now after three or four months, we find holes in the grain. We do not leave it in the sun."

    "This is how the seed is chosen: only from the middle (of the cob). The grains, the good plump ones, are carefully extracted with our fingernails. These grains (from the tip and the base) are not used, because they are small and would give very small plants, but they are used as food." (Doña Concepción, 65, El Rancho, Chiantla)

    "We women learned to shell and select the seed from our youth. In my house, and generally at night, the women would sit around the basket of maize to shell the grain. The grandmother would separate a few large cobs; these were not to be shelled inside the basket which receives the grain for making the next day's `nixtamal' (maize paste for making tortillas and other foods). In the month of May we would put our hands in our mouths and blow on them: then we would begin shelling with our fingernails. We would always start in the middle of the cob, leaving out the tip and the base and taking care not to break the grain. The grandmother did this, telling us that we were little, that we were not grown up enough to do it and that it is something sacred." (Remigia López y López, 84, resident in Malacatancito)

    "When they bring the maize (the cobs) to the house, it is stored and then the leaves are removed. It is put into sacks and then it is shelled with our fingernails. We choose the cobs. The largest are chosen for seed-grain; not the smaller ones, because they might not do for the next year's crop. We must find the largest.

    "This seed comes from the highest land, far away, which we call Rancho Viejo. It is a small maize with small grains. From this we choose the largest grain as seed. It comes from the highlands, the very coldest; it is not a rainy-season crop and does not require much fertiliser."

  2. On the preparation of food...

    The women prepare maize in a wide variety of ways, but tortillas are "our daily bread". They are eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner and constitute, for the ethnic Maya populations, the most important food.

  3. On marketing...

    Administering the produce is the women's job. This implies that they must calculate and ensure that the harvest is sufficient to provide for all its different uses: seed, family meals and, if possible, a surplus to be sold for profit.

    There is an exchange of maize between neighbours. In places like Mesilla, the Tutuapeños exchange clay pots for maize.

    At times neighbours exchange one type of maize for another. This can also be for seed-grain. "I exchanged seed with my neighbours; when they have no need for seed. Some neighbours exchange it, the best seed for sowing, and what they get is not for sowing, but for eating." (Doña Francisca, Colotenango)

    Photo 9
    Post-harvest processing and selection of the maize to be used for the next sowing.The different classes of maize are shown. The maize for human consumption is spread on the ground, while the maize for sowing is arranged in bunches.

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