Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 13, 2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
XTABAY IN THE BONETE TREE

Bonete trees, a native, common component of the Yucatán's forest, are closely related to Papayas. They produce a torpedo-shaped fruit with a good Papaya taste, so the local Maya are often seen with long sticks knocking fruits off to eat. We discuss Bonetes at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/jacarati.htm.

The other day my friend Luis and I were talking about this year's big Bonete crop when he casually mentioned that in his village behind his family's house there used to be an enormous one, one much larger than you ever see nowadays, but the neighbors started complaining about the Xtabay living in it, so they had to cut it down.

Well, everyone here knows that Xtabays (EESH-tu-BAIS), pose a singular threat: If you're a good ol' boy wandering home late at night drunk, you very well may meet up with a strange woman who'll entice you into a little fooling around, and then the next morning you'll wake up all tangled in a thorn patch, your clothes and skin torn to pieces and feeling awful. You'll have been afflicted with the viento malo, or "bad wind," that leaves you with a terrible headache and innumerable indefinable pains and miseries that no doctor can cure, only a traditional curandero, who knows the right spells.

Though many say that Xtabays live only in big Ceiba trees, others like my friend know they also are found in all kinds of overly large trees, such as the cut-down Bonete. Everyone in Pisté knows where the Ceiba is in which the local Xtabay lives. And all across the Yucatán if you're a tree that somehow has survived generations of hurricanes, wildfires and all the rest, you're going to attract an Xtabay, and then the local good folks will have to cut you down to get rid of that Xtabay.

I've been thinking about how such a practice could have arisen. Maybe the Xtabay-tree-cutting impulse arises from the urge for uniformity that traditional, tightly knit communities impose on their members, to keep problems from arising because of inequalities of any kind. Super big trees draw special attention to the property owners, so the culture, unable to articulate such an abstract and debatable premise as the need to for everything to be evened out, and being too dogmatic to make exceptions for trees, comes up with Xtabays, and cuts down the trees they live in.

Another way that belief in Xtabay might be adaptive is that by eliminating outstanding features such as super-big trees the community enhances it chances of avoiding dangerous, unpredictable influences of the outside world by being overlooked because of its mediocrity.

Anyway, even understanding why the Maya may need Xtabays in their culture, thinking of those folks cutting down such a big Bonete because it had an Xtabay in it, I just want to spit.