Mitote

Last week, I explained how the word “mitote” is sometimes used as a synonym of “pleito” or, perhaps more frequently, “bulla” or “alboroto”. It essentially refers to any situation of conflict, confusion or chaos. Its origin is shrouded in the myths and legends of Mexico’s ancient peoples and, even today, it’s associated with Aztec war dances and rituals. The story which the native peoples tell sheds light on the word’s modern meaning…

Thousands of years ago, the Aztec gods Tepeu and Kukulkán created the world. They filled it with all kinds of living beings: plants, insects, animals of all shapes and sizes. It was then time for the newly created lifeforms to venerate their creators. Alas, not one living thing was capable of doing so, and Tepeu and Kulkulkán, frustrated with the results of their work, allowed the creatures to kill and eat one another. This is how the food chain came into being.

They gave it another try, this time creating man from clay, but these human prototypes couldn’t resist the rain and dissolved quickly. The gods tried again, this time creating man from wood. This attempt was more disastrous than the first, as the newly formed humans lacked memories and could not remember who their creators were. They propagated quickly and, to rid the Earth of them, the gods sent a worldwide flood. What few humans survived were transformed into monkeys (or took a boat ride to Mt. Ararat, if you believe Western accounts).

Almost ready to give up, the gods gave it one more try. They took kernels of white and red corn, recently fallen from the sky, and created man’s flesh and blood from the same. This time their efforts paid off. These humans were extremely intelligent- perhaps dangerously so. To ensure that they never attained the stature of gods, Tepeu and Kukulkán decided to cloud their vision so that they could see no further than what was before them. The haze which today prevents man from knowing the future or understanding the universe is called “mitote”.

In his famous book “The Four Agreements”,  author Don Miguel Ruíz describes “mitote” as the “cacophony of voices” in one’s head. He uses the word to describe the conflict or chaos generated by a person’s own mind. The Aztecs applied the term to their raucous and often chaotic war dances, which often foreshadowed or recalled times of great upheaval.

Today, the word is used casually by Mexicans in phrases such as: “¡Qué mitote se traen esos gueyes de la fiesta!” (What racket those party-goings are causing!) or “Hubo mitote en el ayuntamiento ayer” (There was a scandal at the town hall meeting yesterday). As a language student, you’ll probably not use this word often, but if you spend anytime around Mexicans it’s helpful to understand it. And, if you want to impress, drop it in conversation the next time there’s a “cacophony of voices” in your head…

 

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