“If we expect to get food from the earth,” he says, “we have to give something back. So at planting time we always say a prayer and bury a little stone or a coin in the field, just a little message to the earth, so that she will help with production.”
Like those who taught him, Ramirez is passing his knowledge on, to a son, Vladimir Lenin Ramírez Ramírez, and to other family members, so they will keep the traditions going. “The young ones will carry on for us,” Panchito Ramirez said. But he admitted concern over the dwindling of Indian communities, which have been reduced by marriage to outsiders. “I’d like for my children to marry Indians, but there just aren’t enough of us. So our people are leaving the mountain to find new families. They’re scattered all over.”
Robert M. Poole is a contributing editor for Smithsonian. Photographer Maggie Steber is based in Miami.