General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 Feb 2021/4 Dog
Text Size:

Link to page about the Maya Calendar
Today's Maya date is: 13.0.8.5.10 - 2991 days into the new cycle!
Link to page of interest to teachers
Click to find out how we can help you!
Search the Site (type in white box):

Presione para ir a la versión en español Article suitable for Top Juniors and above

Mexicolore contributor Abelardo de la Cruz

Armadillos - the view from La Huasteca

Extending our resources on armadillos, we are delighted to upload an article specially written for us by Abelardo de la Cruz, a Nahuatl native speaker from Tepoxteco, Chicontepec, Veracruz. Currently, he is a Ph. D. Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Albany, SUNY. He obtained his master’s degree in Humanistic and Educational Research (2015) and a bachelor’s degree in Law (2012) from the Autonomous University of Zacatecas (UAZ). This academic year (2020-2021) he serves as a Nahuatl instructor at the University of Utah. His fields of interest include the teaching of Nahuatl as a second language, the folk tales and the Nahua religion led by catechists and prayer specialists known as “motiochihuanih” from northern Veracruz.

Pic 1: An ‘ayotochtli’, Florentine Codex Book 11
Pic 1: An ‘ayotochtli’, Florentine Codex Book 11 (Click on image to enlarge)

The hunting of armadillos and their medicinal properties in Chicontepec.
The armadillo is a piltecuanitzin or ‘wild animal’ that inhabits the Huasteca region of Veracruz, Mexico. In the indigenous Nahua communities of Chicontepec the armadillo is known as calolo, probably because it has a carapace or shell that resembles its calli or house: calolo in Nahuatl means ‘animal with its house’. Possibly in earlier times it was called calolyo, meaning ‘something with its house’, referring just to this little creature, the word losing its ‘y’ in time. In other regions it’s known as ayotochin – a combination of ayotl (tortoise) and tochtli or tochin (rabbit), due to its similarity to both.

Pic 2: Hunting for armadillos, in ancient times without trained dogs; illustration by Heriberto García Rivas
Pic 2: Hunting for armadillos, in ancient times without trained dogs; illustration by Heriberto García Rivas (Click on image to enlarge)

Tlapehuanih (hunters) with their chichitlapehuanih (hunting dogs) go out hunting at night for mapachi (raccoon), epatl (skunk) and also the calolo. The raccoon and skunk are hunted in the milpas (small fields), because these animals eat ripe maize cobs, and their flesh is also cooked and eaten. Hunters sell their meat to individuals who are ill and lacking chicahualiztli (vital body force), for them to recover their energy.

Pic 3: A Nahua milpa and woods near Chicontepec
Pic 3: A Nahua milpa and woods near Chicontepec (Click on image to enlarge)

The calolo lives typically in the woods around Chicontepec. On locating an armadillo burrow, a hunter will light a fire at the entrance to the burrow; once the smoke penetrates the burrow interior, the calolo cannot withstand the smoke and emerges struggling for fresh air, at which point the dogs pursue it. Success for the hunters is usually assured. The meat will be eaten and some of it sold to local residents for 20 pesos. Those who have tasted armadillo meat, as I did as a child, say it tastes like pork.

Pic 4: Piece of armadillo used as food resource and armadillo blood used as traditional medicine against asthma by rural communities in Colombia
Pic 4: Piece of armadillo used as food resource and armadillo blood used as traditional medicine against asthma by rural communities in Colombia (Click on image to enlarge)

Locals consume armadillo meat, considering it as a pahtli (preventative) against future illnesses. In terms of the calolo’s curative properties, its main benefit is in warding off illnesses of the lungs. When Nahua children reach five years old, their parents give them calolo meat, to avoid them in later years catching cocoliztli, an infectious cough also known as tlatlaciztli, or yolicihuiliztli, pneumonia.
Commonly, Nahua women fry calolo meat in oil, and make pork rind from it. Armadillo fat, ichiyauhca calolo, is kept as a curative. When a person, young or old, falls ill with cough, pneumonia or even bronchitis, someone will treat them by smearing and gently massaging their neck with armadillo fat.

Pic 5: Close-up of an armadillo carapace
Pic 5: Close-up of an armadillo carapace (Click on image to enlarge)

The son of an armadillo hunter who lives in Chicontepec, José Luis, told me that when someone has a chronic cough, or even pneumonia, the ill person, called a cocoxquetl, has to eat armadillo heart. When questioned as to whether the heart must be cooked, José Luis replied that the yollotl or heart should be eaten raw to aid recovery.
Another Chicontepec resident, José Domingo, informed me that when an armadillo is killed and someone has pneumonia, a woman will boil ipancacalo calolo, the carapace or shell of the armadillo in water, and the cocoxquetl must drink a cupful of ipancacalo calolo iayo (‘armadillo shell water’). I was previously unaware of these two medicinal treatments but have every reason to believe in their effectiveness.

Pic 6: Eggs in an armadillo shell basket; note the armadillo embroidered in the table cloth!
Pic 6: Eggs in an armadillo shell basket; note the armadillo embroidered in the table cloth! (Click on image to enlarge)

When a local person is an expert at hunting armadillos, he will usually have several carapaces in his house. These grant him social recognition and confirm his status as a calolo hunter. It is often the case that a resident in need of armadillo meat as a remedy will commission a hunter to find a calolo, the fee for which is 100 pesos.
Hunters will commonly keep an ipancacalo calolo in their home as a decoration or will sell it to anyone interested. The most common use I have found for armadillo shells amongst Nahuas is as a chiquihuitl or basket. It is usually kept in the kitchen and used to store eggs or fruit. Having an armadillo-shell basket in a Nahua kitchen gives the room a feeling of elegance.

Pic 7: Hunted armadillos nailed to a tree
Pic 7: Hunted armadillos nailed to a tree (Click on image to enlarge)

Finally, the Nahuas of Chicontepec view the armadillo as a cualli tlapiyalli or beneficial animal, believing that its medicinal properties will bring them good health. Armadillo hunters do not hunt for sport, nor for profit. I believe they search out the calolo because the community sees it as part of their traditional medicine.
In communities and in the hills around Chicontepec the calolo population is stable, and not in danger of extinction, since it doesn’t constitute a staple in the basic Nahua diet. At the same time the presence of armadillos in Chicontepec is not seen as a pest: like the skunk it does not interfere with the cultivation of maize. On the contrary, these creatures are seen in a positive light, as the bearers of pahtli (medicine).

Pic 8: A traditional Nahua house, near Chicontepec
Pic 8: A traditional Nahua house, near Chicontepec (Click on image to enlarge)

Image sources:-
• Pic 1: image from the Florentine Codex, Book XI, scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• Pic 2: illustration scanned from García Rivas, Heriberto (1991) Cocina Prehispánica Mexicana, Editorial Panorama, Mexico DF
• Pix 3 & 8: photos by and courtesy of Abelardo de la Cruz
• Pic 4: photo by Fernando Trujillo, downloaded from Researchgate.net article, below*, used with kind permission
• Pix 5 & 6: photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 7: photo by Sean Sprague/Mexicolore.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jan 31st 2021

* Superb article on ‘Ecosystem services provided by armadillos’ (Researchgate.net)
Feedback button

Here's what others have said: